Istanbul Nights: A Memoir of a Fling
I have no excuse or explanation for the fling. I have half a mind not to tell you even – do I return to this blog after two years only to brag/complain about my love life? – but I will do so, despite myself. Bear with me, forgiving readers.
Shortly after Memorial Day, I broke up with my boyfriend of over one year, a man whose love, like a warm lamp, had remained with me from the beginning. I broke up with him not because of a lack of love but because of a lack of compatibility – lifestyle, family, and religion all competed. The last few months of the relationship, I cautiously deliberated, and finally met him in a park for a short, mournful talk. I went on with life – teaching, writing my dissertation, and spending time with Mom – in an effort to heal naturally; I had no interest to date again for a few months.
Then, a few weeks later, I took a trip to Turkey and developed an impossible crush on Mikio. It was impossible because Mikio is much younger than me, and has a girlfriend. I find I cannot wrestle with the lightning bolt he has struck through me; but I don’t understand it either.
A group of us from my university were traveling to Turkey on an educational trip, the sort of experience I relished: travel and education. I knew that Mikio, an undergraduate student, was 10 years younger than me, and that he had a long-distance relationship with a sweet girl in Singapore who he spoke about endearingly. Yet during the two weeks we spent traveling, I began to look forward to seeing Mikio every day. I began to hope that he would sit next to, or near, me. That he would stand next to me at a museum, or in a group photo. I anticipated the smell of his skin or hair as he walked past me, the way he smiled over his glasses, the way he followed a teasing joke with a gentle elbow. We often stayed up late at night, jet-lagged in the hotel lobby, talking about life, travel, and love. I was a sleepy, smitten girl, despite my best intentions otherwise.
On one of our last nights, we sat alone on the hotel balcony overlooking the Bosphorous strait, the seagulls languidly circling us above, the night darkness approaching below.
“I have a crush on you,” I said baldly after stumbling through some preemptive thoughts. I expected nothing but an apologetic let-down. He said nothing, and silently leaned his head on my shoulder. I continued, “You had better tell me why you love your girlfriend so much, because I think I need to hear it.” But he said nothing, and I announced, suddenly shivering from my own words, that it was time to return to our own, separate, rooms. To me, that was the end of that.
The next evening – one of our last in Turkey – our group took a taxi to Ortaköy, a neighborhood in Istanbul famous for its nightclubs. We wore our traveling best – I had on a black cotton dress that required no ironing – and walked in to the club, which perched over the dark Bosphorous, under the Bosphorous Bridge, glimmering in blue light as cars drove across it, to and from Europe and Asia.
As the drinks arrived and the club filled with well-heeled Turks, I somewhat reluctantly found myself next to Mikio – I had decided not to make a move. Yet he began to dance with me, the smell of his skin closer than ever before. My body felt electric with adrenaline. And when we ended up, alone again, on the balcony overlooking the water, I suspected what to expect next.
This is where I don’t feel like saying more. There are parts of this night that are beautiful, too beautiful, perhaps, for a blog post. We stayed up long enough to hear the first azan (prayer call), one hour before sunrise, which startled us.
Despite stating that was the last we’d do this, we spent the next night together too, kissing in the rain under the Galata Tower, in an uncharacteristically empty Taksim Square, and along the Istiklal Cadessi of Istanbul, our hands held together underneath a hastily-bought umbrella, our feet dampened, the passing others mere shadows.
And when we returned on the flight to Los Angeles, we finally made promises not to renew our temporary romance. Our affair had surprised me, and made him more certain he would stay in his relationship. So I took myself, painfully and as quickly as possible, away from the lightning bolt in my heart.
Yet I cannot see him without a thrill, an inescapable joy, the very essence of happiness itself lingering in our smiles.
I have no conclusion but pain, no words but longing. I do not look for advice – I know it wasn’t a smart decision; an unethical misstep – just an understanding reading. Be gentle in your comments.
I remain a raw, cautious woman, on a persistent search for love.