I started writing out the past as part of my Narrative Exposure Therapy- the sessions alone weren’t enough and I was too self-conscious in the sessions to say it all. On days when I don’t have time to write, I will share some of those autobiographical writings, giving me a chance to reflect still.
I was born in the late 80s to Turkish Cypriot parents in a tiny village at the very north of Cyprus. My mum was 20 and had just remarried my dad. They had gotten divorced barely a year after the arranged marriage. You see, my dad had his family ask my mum’s for her hand in marriage. Her mum told her she didn’t have much choice, as she was barely taking care of my paralysed grandfather. They promised to treat her well and she went along with it.
She went from being the “bosbori” (baby) of the house to running a house, pregnant and hard farming. My dad’s temper, jealousy, possessiveness and late drunk nights were too much for her. He would go to the village gave (caf for men) after he was done with the goats and drink and gamble the evening away. But she was strong-headed and left him. Only to have my grandmother convince her to go back to him. She was pregnant. What would people say? Divorced women were not respected.
When I was 8 and she told me this story, I was so angered by the injustice that had been done to my poor mum, aged just 18. But now I’m just angry at her because of who she became.
And so I was born. And then two years later another sister was born. And my dad carried on in the same way. We were poor, living in the home of relatives who had moved to London. My parents’ siblings were all flocking to London in search of a better life, or with that dream of saving money to build their own home in Cyprus and mine made plans to do the same.
I spent the first few years of my life living a proper rural village life. I have a few scenes that play out in my mind from around age 3. I know I was 3 because my parents were still with me in Cyprus. In one scene, I’m on the back of my dad’s tractor while he is loading his tanker with water for his goats. My mum would always say that I adored my dad as a toddler. In another, my mum is waking me up at the crack of dawn, because her brother from London is there. I’m too sleepy to get up but note that they are having snails round the fire and as this was a favourite of mine, this disappointed me.
Soon after that last scene we all flew to London. I have no memory of the journey. I have two memories of my first time in London:
1- -An aunty we were staying with giving sweets to her children and not us.
2- -At the airport a couple of months after arriving with my grandmother, who was visiting and was flying back to Cyprus. My mum told me and my younger sister to follow my gran to the sweetshop at the airport. I was dragging my baby sister who had just started walking behind me, annoyed she was delaying our arrival at the sweetshop. Eventually, I realised my gran was checking us all in, turned to my baby sister and started wailing and sobbing that they had tricked us. We were going back to Cyprus and my older sis and parents were staying in London. I cried all the way to Cyprus. That memory has always been so vivid. And the flashbacks won’t stop. I remember the exact rhythm of my wailing and the words it contained. I remember how little I was and how big everything around me was. I remember constantly being told there was no reason to cry and how silly I was being. But no one would tell me what was actually happening or why.
I have always assumed that my mum as unaffected by this. She is always so cold and matter-of-fact when she talks about it. It was necessary because they couldn’t both work and save money with us all there. A couple of months later they sent my older sister back too. Did she shed a single tear for us? Did she miss us? Was she glad to be rid of us? For years, she has never uttered a single word of love or affection to me. Not once. She’s so cold.