Dora Guo

It’s always a strange feeling to return to a place we know very well. We remember every little detail: a friend’s grandma living around the corner, the beaches, the mostly warm weather with one or two rainy days. We unintentionally look for some sort of novelty when we first come back — new fencing maybe, a new supermarket, a few new faces in one of the verandas. Though we look for things that have changed, we hold onto the shred of hope that we’ll still be greeted by Uncle Mehmet who owned the supermarket when we were kids. A good morning shout with a smile feels like enough to confirm that everything is just the way it was. Maybe it’s because of the heightened sense of belonging or maybe we’re just afraid of the possibility that something could have happened while we were away. We hope that our safe space stays as it was.

With quick and confident steps on a newly constructed concrete — yes, it was the first thing I realized, something had changed after all — I am walking towards my grandparents’ two-story summer house. I am barely keeping my posture straight since I am struggling to carry three of the maybe 10 bags in our fully packed car. My heart is beating super fast, but at the same time there is a slight smile of serenity on my face. Our elderly neighbors are looking at me excitedly as they dine with their families, ready to jump up from their seats to greet me. It’s been one whole year since we have seen each other, but it’s the 19th time I am walking down this little path toward our house.

I was practically born into this neighborhood. Nineteen years ago, as a 10-day-old baby, my parents brought me to this house in a small seaside town, and since then, everyone here has been like family. I later learned that even my first word was the name of our neighbor Ayse. Our housing development is moderately big, but small enough that grandchildren go into every house for, maybe, a cup of milk with some cookies, and leave laughing. All houses are very similar in architecture: two widish verandas which make every house seem a little different from each other because of how they are decorated, a very small balcony that some people opt to close so that they can add one more bed to the house for their grandchildren and an open kitchen with a window that looks directly to the front veranda. Every year, since we were little kids, my best friend and I have walked back from the beach wrapped in wet towels. We stop right on the corner where we leave each other and always decide on a time, which we never follow up on, to meet up. Smells of Tarhana soup and pilaf rise from those little kitchen windows and blend with each other. I exchange an “Enjoy your meal” with every neighbor on the path down to my house. Already very hungry, I wash off the sand on my ankles and climb down the stairs with the voice of my grandma in the background: “Please be a little quick this time, dinner is almost ready.”

Our verandas are also attached: right wall to one neighbor and left one to the other. It doesn’t feel like a loss of personal space because we are not like new acquaintances who try to make sure they are not raising their voices during a family discussion so the other house might hear. We passed that point years ago. Our grandparents were here first, our parents grew up together and we, the third generation, were each other’s first friends. Struggling to learn biking on a three-wheel bicycle, we watched each other hesitantly change into two-wheel ones. There is now this unbreakable connection between all of us. If tea is boiling in one of the kitchens, cups are exchanged from each neighboring veranda and dessert plates are passed. We know each other’s favorite meals and if those are cooked at one kitchen, we make sure to send them on to the neighboring dinner table.

Every time we enter the town with our car and follow the route through the nearby supermarket to the estate, I feel like I am back again in my safe space, my comfort zone, my community. Due to my father’s job, I have moved often and called many cities home. However, my home here has never changed. It has always been the stable spot where I knew I would end up at the end of each year. No matter what happened, I would be here again. 

Usually, on my first morning here I wake up a little earlier than my regular time. I make a cup of coffee or tea, whichever seems to complement my mood on the day, and I watch the large grass courtyard in the middle of the houses. As neighbors start to wake up and run back and forth between the kitchen and the veranda, they notice me and always wave, telling how much they missed seeing me here. I take my bicycle and wander around the small town. There usually are a few newly built houses. It’s the same old “Altinova,” the same place I learned to bike, the same place I love.

The nights are for friends and fun in the resort. One of the most significant things that makes this place what it is in my heart are my friends here. I made my first and forever best friend here. Yelling at each other with dough on our hands and flour on our faces, we childishly fought while making a cake together. Two days later, my best friend came with a huge plate in her hands. Since we were so eager to taste the cake, we had to talk through our problems because we didn’t even think about the possibility of eating it without each other. Though it was for the sake of the cake that day, we learned to solve our problems with every little disagreement we had.

In childhood, every interaction shapes your perception of the world. However, that challenging time that we call adolescence is more about deep relationships and personal realizations about how the world operates. It changes your mindset and how you view concepts like friendship, love, success.

As I grew older, I made an effort to see coming here as an escape from the real world. Back in the city I had all my schoolwork and responsibilities, but here I was trying to hold onto that little girl. However, even though I tried to unsee it, I was growing, and so were my friends. At nights, around the picnic tables outside, our voices raised, we intensely tried to establish our evolving ideas. Growing up in different cities with different lifestyles, we had more to discuss now than the next game to play. Living away from your friends means having so much to talk about when you finally see each other. Yet, it is somehow hard to accept the changed person you have in front of you. Sitting under the stars, we wrapped ourselves in blankets and talked about our love stories, friendship issues, future goals, even thoughts on religion and politics. Together we managed to always hang onto those children inside ourselves, but we watched each other change and grow every single year. Sometimes as things got busier in our lives, we could only meet up for maybe three or four days, but we always knew that we had next year, that next year we would still be here.

Goodbyes have always been difficult here. However, this past summer it was harder than before. With the inexplicable impact of leaving not only the house but my country, I knew that things would not be the same next year. The small town started to feel confined already and internet access problems worried me. I expected more than a small beach and familiar people from my vacations. I longed for new experiences and explorations. Everything is simpler through childhood and adolescence; you don’t contemplate too much. Adulthood, on the other hand, is a phenomenon you realize only when the time comes. It is a shift in perspective, a time explicitly designed for deliberation and planning. The idea of leaving for college was maybe a first step in early adulthood and it made me realize that from now on we all had our own lives. Lives slipping by in different time zones, lives that we had so many things planned to fit into. Next year, even if we don’t find anything changed here, we would be changed. We will hardly arrange a week to see our families; we will be rushing after internships, research papers and trips abroad with other friends. We will never have this much time to spare anymore; we won’t be able to act like we don’t have a care in the world. This past summer, all of our neighbors gathered around our car right next to an extensive field. They cried, hugged me tightly, wished me the best of luck in everything and told me how proud they are. They too were aware that this was different than before. It was the end of something. We all felt like it was the end of an era.

Dilge Buksur |