Eavesdropper: Create a poem, short story, or journal entry about a conversation you’ve overheard.
Mami knew that there was trouble in paradise, and she would’ve been lying if she said that it didn’t at least make her smile. I was fifteen at the time, so I could understand the happiness under her fake indifference. I didn’t blame her, though, it was a very human reaction to the very human anger and bitterness that she’d been keeping inside all these years.
Gizem and uncle Orhan had been married for about two years now, and I still had nightmares about that wedding. We had flown all the way from Baton Rouge, and even if Mami had been adamant that she didn’t want to go, Baba had managed to convince her, like he always did. Babaanne made it clear from the beginning that this was the wedding she cared about, the first real wedding in the family. Not like whatever that was that she had gone to back in New Orleans, close to seven years before. After all, what kind of wedding had the two kids of the couple running around? It was no secret that Baba was the favorite child, but as much love as Babaanne felt for him, as much hate she felt for Mami, the woman who had taken him away.
Uncle Orhan and Gizem had met in med school in Istanbul, both from conservative families from Konya, it had seemed like a match made in heaven. And Babaanne didn’t miss an opportunity, ever since we stepped in Turkey, to make it clear that Gizem was the only daughter-in-law that mattered. Surprisingly enough, she would love me and Levent to a fault, where one would’ve thought that she might hate us as well, but I guess the love for Baba overruled everything. Mami, as painful as it could be for her, had never interfered in our relationship, making sure that we called them every day, talked to them on special occasions and others. She didn’t have to, that was the truth of it, but she did it because she knew that it was the right thing to do. Babaanne, at that point, just thought it was Mami’s duty, and never recognized that she was just being better to her than she deserved.
Gizem had given birth about two months before, but to the day that Babaanne called Baba, no one in our family had seen the baby—Babaanne didn’t even know if it was a boy or a girl. Gizem and uncle Orhan had moved to Ireland shortly after their wedding, and that had been the last we’d ever heard of them. Over there, rumor had it, they’d both been accepted into residency programs, but Orhan had decided mid-semester to quit his. No word to anyone or anything, Babaanne had learned through Gizem’s family, who had complained about how Gizem was overwhelmed being the sole breadwinner.
Back when Baba was stationed in Clarksville and Mami had to quit her job to follow him, Babaanne didn’t seem to mind, so when she called Baba worried about uncle Orhan, all alone without a job, Mami couldn’t help but laugh.
“That’s cruel, Ily,” he told her. “My mom is having a hard time.”
“Well, your mom can suck it,” she said, unapologetic as she had always been, and Baba rolled his eyes. “What? Now you’re not gonna tell me you feel sorry for her.”
“She’s an old woman, Ily, and you’ve always taken everything too personal.”
He was lying, willingly, mainly because he knew there were far too many implications into accepting that she was right.
The more the story kept unraveling, the more satisfying it was for Mami. I knew she wasn’t proud of it, and that was the reason she had decided not to comment on it anymore, but the truth was her feelings were legitimate.
When at uncle Orhan’s wedding, Babaanne had made sure that she humiliated Mami to the fullest extent of her ability. First things first, was making sure that Mami and Baba wouldn’t be in the same space. For that, she had chosen to segregate the wedding party. Two salons, one for men and one for women. For Mami that meant that she’d have to be on her own because neither Baba nor Levent nor I could be in the room with her. It’d make the women uncomfortable, Babaanne had said.
“If it’s a matter of women being uncomfortable,” Baba had told his mom, “then she can come with us to the men’s salon. She won’t feel uncomfortable then.”
“Are you crazy?” Babaanne had said. “Then all the men will be looking at your wife!”
“Yes, mom,” Baba had said. “I’m sure everybody is waiting to look at Iliana. I’m sure they have nothing more interesting to do.”
“I said no, Oktay, and when I say no, that’s what happens.”
“Then we’re not coming,” Baba said, firm as I’d never seen him. “I’m not gonna put my wife through that. She’s already making enough sacrifice by coming all the way here to a place where she doesn’t understand the language, the culture, nothing.”
“Sacrifice? You call that sacrifice? She’s your wife, she has to do it. Sacrifice the one I’ve made, losing my oldest child to America. You never served your own country but now you go around wearing American uniform, you go fight their wars, you stayed over there because of that woman and you turned your back on us. You won’t turn your back on your brother on his wedding day, shame on you if you do.”
When the wedding ended and we met Mami outside the hotel, she was in tears, puffy red eyes, nose running.
“I hate you,” she told Baba, looking at him straight in the eye. “I hate you and all of your family and your culture for all you’ve put me through. Remember one thing and one thing only. I’ll never forget this day, and I’ll never forgive you for it.”
And she never did. She also never talked about it, but when I asked one of Baba’s cousins, she told me that Mami had spent most of the time just looking around, trying to find someone who would communicate with her. But whenever someone tried to approach her, Babaanne would make sure she assigned them something to do so that they couldn’t talk to Mami. From that day on, I decided not to talk to my grandma anymore. I became the king of excuses, each one of them a brick in the wall I was building to keep Baba’s family at bay. Now that she had lost us of her own willingness, Babaanne was finally seeing that what Mami had done for so many years her Turkish daughter-in-law hadn’t even bothered to do once, and maybe, just maybe she was learning a lesson. I didn’t care anymore though, and neither did Mami, and I was glad we didn’t.