8 Years Later

Just write.

That’s basically what I got from authors that have found a way to beat ‘writer’s block’.

I don’t think I have that but today I was thinking about what I should write. Then I sat on the laptop and paused for a second without anything coming to me so I started. Just writing. Let’s see what sticks out. What comes to me as I spew these words on the ‘paper’.

Maybe I’m a little hesitant because I usually write my feelings on here. The past few days have been kind of great but there were instances that were hard.

I moved to Brooklyn, New York when I was 7 (again, literally putting this in to get a few of my friends angry lol).

When we moved from Iskenderun, Hatay, Turkey we didn’t know a word of English. That included my mom, my sister and my dad. My dad had already been living in Brooklyn for the past 4 or so months before we arrived but, trust me, he didn’t know the language.

My sister and I had each other. My parents had us and we had them. We had to rely on each other. For everything, all the time.

As I’ve grown I realize that this is not the normal way to grow up. Kids get to visit their grandparents when they’re on holiday. Even on weekends. We didn’t.

Kids get to go play with their cousins. We didn’t.

Kids get presents from their aunts and uncles on their birthdays. We didn’t.

Kids get to ask their aunts and uncles questions about their parents. They get to listen to the type of person their parents were before they came around. We didn’t.

Sounds a lot like I’m complaining but I really didn’t notice this until Eliz began telling me about her childhood. She’s a single child. Yet, as she told me, she never felt like she was an only child. Her family was tight knit. She got to spend time with many of her cousins. Be it from her uncles, her great uncles, her aunts, her parent’s cousins. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, whatever the occasion. For us, that wasn’t the case.

Again, not complaining because we had amazing times. Also, as a kid if you grow up a certain way, that’s it, that’s all you know. Until I was introduced to how Eliz grew up I didn’t think I missed out on anything. I still don’t feel that way. We did have our aunt there with her kids as well. Although they came to New York much later than us and left for Canada. Sure it would’ve been nice to spend those formative years near more extended family but it didn’t happen for us.

We didn’t see our grandparents for 8 years. We didn’t see our uncles, aunts, cousins. We had cousins that were born and were 7 by the time we first saw them. I was 7 when I left. 15 when my grandma saw me again. I remember it. We had come in very early in the morning.

It was a summer day in Iskenderun. She has a gate around her house. We parked the car out front and my mom went in. It was the break of dawn. The weather was beautiful. I remmber getting out of the car and the sky was beginning to brighten. I could see the mountains right behind her house. I went to the trunk of the car to grab the luggage. My mom stepped in and walked up to the front door.

We knocked and there were screams. Everyone was already at the house. My aunt, my uncles, my cousins. All there, ready to greet us. They had prepared for our arrival. They prepared together. Until this moment, I didn’t think about that. How they were all together and making preparations. It was just another moment that they were together and we weren’t there. Like countless others.

My grandma opens the door. Clearly, she’d just woken up. Huge smile on her face she kisses her daughter, my mom. Gives her a big hug. I look back and my dad is still unloading some luggage. By this time my grandma grabs my sister. She begins to say some things in Arabic. She’s fluent in 2 languages. No doubt expressing her emotions in a way that she can’t in Turkish.

It’s my turn. She gives me a hug and a big kiss. Then she turns to my mom and, in Arabic, asks “Where’s Mehmet?”. By no means am I fluent in Arabic but I understand some words. I look back and say grandma it’s me. She takes a big step back. Looks me up and down. And sighs.

The person before her isn’t the same person she said bye to 8 years ago. This is a 15 year old man. This isn’t her 7 year old grandson. He’s grown so much. He has a little mustache. Hair on his chin. He isn’t 4 foot nothing. Granted, he isn’t that tall but he’s certainly taller.

As I  write this and think of this moment for the first time since I experienced it, I’m teary eyed. I never really thought about things in this way before. Never thought about it from my grandma’s perspective.

What must she have felt? She didn’t recognize her own grandson. She thought she’d greeted my dad and I was still grabbing the luggage. She remembers a time when my dad looked like me in that moment. As a 15 year old. In her eyes, for those 8 years, every time she thought of us, maybe she saw Mehmet as a 7 year old. She saw Ezgi as a child. She didn’t have those 8 years. She didn’t make memories and have those moments when you realize how much a kid can grow overnight.

It was tough on us but like I said we didn’t know any different. I digressed a bit here but what I wanted to discuss is that because we were away from family we became extremely close.

Ezgi was always looking out for me. She was my best friend. Some kids don’t get along with their siblings. That was never the case with us. We always had each others’ backs.

Our parents and us were always very close. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my aunt’s family more. They also lived in New York for a short period. Then they moved to Hamilton and we joined them in Canada. They were our second family. They still are. During that 8 year span there were many birthdays we celebrated together but there were many we spend just us.

The initial tough part is what brought us so close to each other. An incredibly simple task as taking the bus was tough. This is before Google Maps. New York is a big city especially if you don’t know how to get to specific places using public transit. Take a cab, you say? Who can afford that? Not us.

We went through some hardships but we always had each other. I didn’t know any different. Now, it is different and I think we are all struggling with it. I’m engaged to be married. Ezgi is married with a baby on the way.

There is going to be additions to the family. Sometimes without thinking I’ll say something to my brother in law. He’s weirded out by it. Ezgi does the same thing to Eliz. It’s a learning curve. That’s why the past few days have had tough moments.

As I mentioned Ezgi has always been protective of me. When we told her about a decision Eliz and I made she said something that was rude frankly. In her eyes, she is still protecting me. We simply don’t need to anymore. Our family is getting bigger and it’s going to take some screw ups to get it right.

In the past I may have swept it under the rug. Or the more likely scenario, I probably wouldn’t have heard it because I was watching a game. Feelings were hurt but I just looked at it like ex-Navy Seal leader Jocko Willink. He always says “Good…”. So, that night as I thought about it, I said “Good, this is a perfect learning experience”. We had a great conversation. Cleared it up.

The power of talking openly with your family members should not be underestimated. It is so powerful. It could’ve been easy to leave it alone, try to forget about it. That’s what leads me to grinding my teeth. I couldn’t have let it go. Maybe Ezgi would never have known how I felt. It was a 20 minute conversation that may have saved me weeks of anxiety and regret. I would’ve fixated on it. I’m glad we spoke. I think the only way to truly solve problems that come up within the family is to discuss it thoroughly. Have an open conversation. Most things can be resolved quickly. Some take longer. If you don’t take the first step then it may eat away at you. This is my life at 25. I’m working towards being happier. It takes work to be happy. It took courage to have that conversation. I hope I can continue to have that courage going forward.

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Author: Mehmet Akcagliyan

I am the Master of my Fate. I am the Captain of my Soul.

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