May 29, 2021
Write a story in three sections, each section recounting the same event from a different character’s point of view.
Mami didn’t get along with Babaanne, and it was the worst-kept family secret. Both women were courteous when in the same room, but there was always this uncomfortable tension that could be felt from the moment you came in. And for that reason, among others, honestly, it was a pain to have Babaanne and Dede visit. But they still would, sometimes for months at a time. It was obvious that it was hard for Baba, certainly more than for the rest of us. It was, after all, his mother and his wife that couldn’t get along.
That one day we had guests coming in the afternoon. It had been 40 days since Hasan was born, and Babaanne had organized a little event with some of the Turkish women that lived in town. Mami hated them all, there was really not a softer way to put it, but it’s important to understand that the feeling was completely mutual. It’s also important to understand that Babaanne organized the event behind Mami’s back, giving her little more than a two-hour notice right after Mami asked Baba why she was cooking so many dishes. Baba would lie for years before actually admitting that he had known about the party all along but had never found the right way to tell Mami. He didn’t want to upset her, yet at the same time denying his mom the right to organize a Mevlud for who would be her first and only grandson was out of the question.
Baba and Dede left so that the women could feel more comfortable and, as they started arriving, some of them with children my age, we kids retreated to the toys’ room. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have left Mami alone in a room full of people that had never acted with anything other than disdain towards her. But I was a kid then, barely eight, and I didn’t understand the harm it could cause. Next thing I knew, there was a loud sound—glass breaking. I ran out to find Mami in tears, a tray upside-down in her hands, glass chattered at her feet, tea running over the floor. Babaanne’s face was white with fear. For the longest time, I thought that she was afraid of Mami, that in her angry streak she might do something to her. Later I’d understand that it was Baba she was afraid of, and what he’d say once he knew she’d driven Mami over the edge. That, also, was the reason why Babaanne didn’t reach for the phone or made any attempt to call Baba. It was me, horrified and worried, who had to call Baba and tell him to hurry back home because Mami’s feet were starting to bleed.
When her son called her to tell her that the baby was a boy, Sude Hanim told herself that that useless Colombian had finally done something right. It wasn’t a secret to anyone that she had been wanting a grandson from Murat for a long time now, but that good-for-nothing woman that he’d ended up marrying kept dodging the idea of a new child. The moment Murat said he was going to the US, Sude Hanim had known that her best bet was to have him get married and then move there with his wife. There were a lot of bad things that could happen to him in America, but the worst possible one was that he ended up marrying an American woman. It had happened to Filiz Hanim, whose son was supposed to get a master’s and then head back to Turkey but had instead found an American woman and had been living outside New Jersey for close to ten years. He had divorced his wife after five years together, as it was to be expected, but now he was stuck in the US because the wife had kept custody of their two kids, and he didn’t want to leave them behind.
Sude Hanim hadn’t gotten Murat married, there just wasn’t enough time, but she had succeeded in the second-best thing she could do—getting him engaged. The fiancé was an engineering student who had it very clear that after graduating she wanted to get married and start a family. But it was all in vain. Not even five months into his life in America, Murat had called off the engagement. It was too much pressure, he’d said. A couple of months later, when Sude Hanim had visited, he had introduced her to his “coworker”—a tiny little thing from a country called Colombia, who was unusually quiet and smiled all the time for no apparent reason. The next day, organizing his son's drawers he’d found a couple of t-shirts and underwear that they’d probably forgotten to hide. Eight months after she went back to Turkey, Murat announced over the phone that he’d gotten married, and six months later his wife had given birth to a premature little girl, that by the look of it was the biggest and fattest premature creature the world had ever seen.
But all of that had taken her to that moment, to the moment where she’d finally be able to introduce a grandson, named Hasan after her husband, to society, to all those women that she knew judged her for raising a man who—unlike their husbands—had turned his back on his Turkish culture the second he’d stepped foot in America. All she needed was that plain daughter-in-law of hers to take it easy and behave for a couple of hours, that was all she asked. She had made all the food, since in the eight years they’d been married that woman hadn’t even taken the time to learn how to cook something appropriate, and she had moved the furniture around to make sure that everyone could fit. She had asked Murat to drive her to the houses of all the Turkish families in town which, granted, weren’t that many, where she had enjoyed some tea while personally inviting them to little Hasan’s Mevlud. She had even found a woman who knew how to properly read the Quran and asked her to lead the ceremony.
The house was full within half an hour, and the women were talking with one another while Sude Hanim patted herself in the back looking at what seemed by all means like a successful event. All that Patricia had to do was bring the baby, sit down, and stay quiet. She had heard a little bawl earlier in the morning, but she didn’t know English so she wasn’t really sure what it was about. One thing she was sure of, though, was that her son had the patience of a saint. Sometimes, when they argued, that woman would be incredibly loud, and she couldn’t understand for the life of her how a woman dared raise her voice to her husband like that.
Patricia was sitting next to the chimney, with Hasan in a car seat on the floor next to her. The car seat was facing her, and to top it all she had covered it with a blanket, so no one could really see the baby. Sude Hanim was starting to get bothered. She tried to be cordial to Patricia every time other Turkish women were around, not wanting to give them the smallest reason to feel sorry for her daughter-in-law, but there was no way she could keep it going for much longer. It was then that it occurred to her that she should send her for tea. It was the bare minimum, and somehow the only one thing she had learned how to do. Patricia rolled her eyes but obliged, and as she walked toward the kitchen, Sude Hanim sat down on her chair, took the blanket out, and reached for little Hasan. He smelled like baby powder as she took him to her chest and the women started conveying towards her. Then, a noise, and when she turned around there was Patricia staring at her in anger, a tray upside-down in her hand, teacups shattered at her feet.
Years later Patricia would look back at that incident and recognize the beginning of the end of her marriage. That day, when Murat came home to find her, standing in the middle of broken glass, unable—or unwilling—to move, tears rolling down her face, there was very little he could do besides kicking all the women out. Of course, she had done it on purpose, she’d later on explain, lying in her bed with bandages on her feet; she simply hadn’t been able to stand his mother interfering in her life yet again. Who did she think she was to take her son out of his seat, more so when he was sleeping, finally, after being awake and crying all night? My mom probably didn’t know, Murat attempted to justify in vain. That same night Patricia would burst into the guest room, infuriated, taking every single one of their clothes and throwing them into the front lawn. She didn’t want to see his parents or their clothes when she woke up the next morning, and she’d made it very clear to Murat before retreating to their room and locking the door.
She knew something like that would happen, that was why she’d told Murat her parents should wait to come to meet the baby for a least a couple of months in order to give her some time to fully heal. Contrary to Hazel’s birth, Hasan’s had been incredibly long and painful and had ended in an emergency c-section that had saved both their lives after a placental abruption. She’d had nightmares months after the fact, in some the baby died, in some she was the one who hadn’t made it, leaving two kids behind. But he had already prevented them from being there for the birth, so there was no realistic way he could keep them away any longer. Murat felt guilty, and Patricia had known that even before she’d agreed to marry him not to outrage his mother. He felt guilty for breaking off an engagement he didn’t want, for falling in love with a woman who wasn’t Turkish or a Muslim, and for daring to make a life with her. He was so plagued by that guilt, that he had a constant need to overcompensate.
The thing was that, as patient as she had been, Patricia was starting to get fed up with him and his permanent need to make it up to his mom. That morning, she’d discovered in horror that Sude had organized a celebration for her son without her knowledge or consent and she’d invited those women who hated her so much and who she frankly despised. It was like being in a perpetual courtroom, always on the defendant’s chair. Those women would always find a reason to criticize her, her culture, her way of life—when Patricia frankly couldn’t see what was there to envy about the way they lived theirs. When she had confronted Murat about it, he’d made a half-assed apology about how he’d forgotten to mention the ceremony, and that it was an important tradition—funny how he’d later add insult to injury by telling her he wouldn’t be there because it was for women only.
Sude had ushered her to the kitchen to get tea ready for the guests, and she figured that it’d be a good time to take a break from all the unintelligible chit-chatting and weird stares. She went to the kitchen and carefully placed the tea the way she had been taught, then started walking back with her eyes on the glasses. But when she lifted her sight and saw Sude with the baby in her arms, that baby that she’d worked so hard to put down, she lost it. Enraged but without really thinking, she put the glasses down. As they broke, the boiling tea splashed on her feet and ankles, burning her skin. Tears were streaming down her face as she heard Hazel’s voice calling her name. She was there but she wasn’t there. It was too much for her already.