I met my husband while I was a clerk in a video rental store. He was a frequent customer and, though he had never said a word to me, I knew from the first day I saw him that we would marry. One night, I dreamt that we were riding bicycles together and when I woke up the next morning I was filled with a determination to speak to him.
wasn’t exactly the assertive type, so the thought of asking his name
actually made me nauseous. For most of my shift that night, adrenaline
would rush through my body every time I heard the ding of the front
door. Finally, near closing time, he walked in and began his video
rental search. He was wearing blue track pants, and I could hear the
swish, swish of the fabric as he made his way through the aisles.
Occasionally, I saw him look up over the the video racks towards the
front of the store and my stomach tingled with excitement. Tan skin,
black hair, sea-green eyes. He was beautiful.
I made every attempt
to act normal when he stepped up to the counter. Did you find
everything you were looking for? This is a great one. Enjoy your movie. I
didn’t know how to stray from the workplace script. As I handed him his
receipt, he finally said his first words to me.
“How was your hurricane?” he asked awkwardly.
“It was good.” Actually, it was horrible. Our city was still recovering
from the two week blackout and devastating damage of Hurricane Wilma,
and I was sick from my diet of ramen noodles and canned beans. “How was
yours?” I asked.
“Good. What is your name?”
I pointed to my name tag, “Melissa, and yours?”
“Where are you from?”
“Okay, well, nice to meet you, Ibrahim. Enjoy the movie”
He walked out the store and I watched him as he made his way to his car.
“I do!” I yelled out, to the amusement of my coworker and the discomfort of my next customer.
months later, we married. It was a small ceremony held in the Florida
room of my mother’s house. We planned it in one day. I found my dress at
a designer discount store but ran out of time to look for shoes. I was,
literally, a barefoot bride. It was a short courtship and we still had a
lot to learn about each other’s culture but we were young and in love
and the challenge of blending our histories didn’t even faze us.
month after we married, I was pregnant. And just two months shy of our
one year anniversary, Malik was born. We moved into a one-bedroom
apartment with a kitchen so small I could reach each wall with my arms
not even fully extended. When we signed the lease, the only furniture we
had was Malik’s crib and dresser. We collected hand-me down pieces and
each night slept on a pull-out loveseat in the living room.
time, it was all we could afford. Ibrahim was working two jobs and I
stayed at home taking care of Malik. We became familiar with the
overdraft policies of our bank and were frequently cashing in our loose
change. We were both university students trying to squeeze studying into
our schedule and although Malik was our motivation to graduate, he was
also our distraction from studying.
But our biggest challenge
since Malik’s birth has been figuring out how to encourage his sense of
identity. One day, when Malik was just a few months old, Ibrahim and I
were in the financial aid line at school. Standing behind Ibrahim was a
student with a Turkish flag printed on his black tee, “Türk müsünüz?”
Ibrahim asked him. “I’m sorry?” the student replied. “Are you Turkish?”
Ibrahim repeated in English. “No. I’m not, but my mom and dad are from
Turkey.” Ibrahim was frustrated with the response and in the car on our
way home he vented, “If your parents are Turkish, then you are Turkish!”
he yelled angrily.
We questioned how we could instill in Malik a
pride of both countries. We realized that the difficulty of teaching
Malik to be a Turkish-American was in understanding what it meant to be
either. As an American child, I was raised to be independent and
encouraged to move away from home when I grew up. My husband was taught
to be obedient to his parents and encouraged to support them as they
aged. As parents, we are trying to build a bridge between independence
and obedience. We have become domestic diplomats, promoting and
defending our cultures.
It seems we are infinitely making plans to
move to Turkey. We talk about styaing for one year so that Malik can be
immersed in Turkish culture. We want to teach him his history as an
American and as a Turk, not as something to be recited, but as a
catalyst for understanding the diversity and beauty of his existence.
once told me that American kids are the only ones that throw balls, all
other kids of the world kick them. We used to joke that Malik’s first
word would be “football” and we would ask, “Which one?” In reality,
Malik’s first word was “Baba,” the Turkish name for dad, and when we
give him a ball, he throws it right back.