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  • You see, dear child, things were different then. People actually smoked cigarettes indoors. We listened to jazz. Men wore sports coats and women wore, well, what women wore then. We partook of primitive appetizers like cream cheese and chutney with water crackers and smoked sausage with French whole grain mustard, and drank vodka with fruit juice. When people said Omigod! they used three words. Gentlemen rode velocipedes and wore silk hats (just kidding).

    It happened at a Christmas party, one of those my friend Larry threw every year combining Jesus's and his birthday, ten days apart. About 40 of the usual suspects were there, and I knew almost all of them. Larry always tried to broaden the perimeter of his circle, so he invited newcomers too. This time he had advised me that a new acquaintance would be there, a graduate student, fresh from Turkey.

    Larry had told me that she had called him in response to a classified ad he had placed seeking a roommate. She was living in a college dorm that she would have to vacate when the students came back. Larry was in his sixties, but that did not stop him from petitioning young women to rent a room in his disheveled second-floor flat. Charming old goat that he was, he succeeded remarkably well. In exchange for paying the full rent (not much actually) he would supply board – do all the shopping and cooking, and even clean up. Most women who lived with him put up with his eccentricities and tended to remain friends for a long time – a few even more than friends.
  • And here, in your mother's own words, is how all this came to pass.

    The first reality that I faced as soon as I landed in Boston was to find a place to live. I did not have enough money to live on my own. It was suggested that I become someone’s roommate and I should consult advertisements to find situations to explore. My departmental secretary handed me a Phoenix newspaper open to the roommate ad pages, and asked me to look through them and choose some that appealed to me. Larry’s ad kind of stuck out and I decided to call 666-1313. He answered and without much discussion asked me to meet him at Harvard Square. Of course, I did not understand most of what he said, where Harvard Square was or how to get there. He patiently explained all that to me but I could not make sense of it given that it had been only a couple of days since I landed in Boston and my English was still pretty spotty. But I kept the time and the location in mind and hung up. I managed to get to Harvard Square, find the newsstand there, and then sat on a bench. I decided that even if I failed to meet this person, this is already was a winning situation; I learned how to use subway, and the people were fun to watch.

    I sat there and watched people pass through the traffic island to see if I could pick out Larry. As several waves flowed by, I could not figure out who I should be looking for. Then I noticed this man who seemed to be the only one that wasn’t just passing through. As he did not look like somebody I might want to connect to, I decided to ignore him. He looked very suspicious to me, with his funny dark designer sunglasses, very old fashioned clothing, and a fragile appearance. After another two rounds of pedestrians, he was still there and it was becoming clear that this was the man I was there to meet. Indeed, he finally approached me and asked “you are not from Turkey by any chance, are you?”

    I replied, “you are not Larry Yont by any chance, are you?” We both laughed and he suggested that we go to see his apartment. It was a strange suggestion I did not decline, having come all that way to see a room to rent. We walked to his station wagon and drove there. When we arrived there, I felt oddly secure and comfortable with him. It was that welcoming feeling in his space, however chaotic it was. He ushered me to the kitchen where the table had been set with cheese, crackers, cherry tomatoes, and slices of roast beef. He asked me if I would like to drink anything. I asked for a cup of tea, which he was pleased to fix that for me.

    I watched him while he was making tea, and apppreciated the pleasure he clearly felt doing it. He was very pleasant and wanted to find out many things about me. He clearly enjoyed how hard I tried to communicate with him with my broken English. He told me that I would need to contribute rent, but he was to fix breakfast, lunch and dinner for me. I was there over an hour without seeing the room, and then I had to leave He gave me a ride back to Harvard Square. Only on the way out did he show me the room that he wanted to rent.
  • Although charmed by the man, she declined his offer. First the location was not convenient to her school and she was not at ease using the transit system. Then she thought about how her family would react when they learned she was living with an older gentleman she had not been properly introduced to. She had always lived in dormitories or with her parents. Cohabitating with a man, even as a roommate, was not something a young lady should ever do. But Larry persevered. He made sure Aygül was doing OK, introduced her to interesting people, showed her around town, and tutored her in dirty words in English.

    Then, three months later, she accepted his party invitation. I arrived with my girlfriend. We had known each other a long time, and following the breakup of several prior relationships on both sides, had been living together in her house for six years. Although not married, we considered ourselves a couple. We were generally compatible and sort of codependent, but neither of us was sure we were actually in love. I was OK with that. I had come to terms with the idea that all relationships have limitations. If a certain je ne sais quoi was missing, it was, well, normal.

    You see, I had always felt restive with girlfriends once our relations sort of normalized. No matter how much I enjoyed their company, I always was left with a vague sense of longing. My liaisons had always been with Americans, but something told me that my soul mate would come from abroad, or perhaps I would travel somewhere where I would finally encounter her. Of course, I never told anyone about these feelings – except my therapist, and then only after I realized it had happened.
  • And so, dearest one, it was at Larry's party, surrounded by old friends and across the room from my girlfriend, that this young woman with flowing dark blonde hair wearing a beige jumpsuit and smelling like roses approached me and said. Hello, my name is Aygül and I am from Turkey.

    Hello. Would you mind spelling that for me? I replied, a bit flustered.

    She said she did not understand, so I let the question pass, and told her my name and that I was an old friend of Larry's. Her blue eyes dazzled me, and her tentative English charmed me. So I said, It a pleasure to meet you. Larry told me about you. He said you are new to America. Why are you here?

    Not knowing whether "here" meant "America" or "at this party" confused her, but she retained her poise and eye contact. I forget the rest of the conversation, but before long, I felt a pang of recognition, and with that a certain discomfort. I excused myself, saying that I hoped to see her again sometime. She said that would be nice.

    We did see each other a few times over several years, at Larry's place or at gatherings with other friends, and each time I was more captivated. I'll spare you the details, but four years after we met, when she had returned to Turkey to teach and I was still with my girlfriend but feeling adrift and bereft, I realized I must have her in my life. Nothing was going well. The bottom had dropped from my career. I was working in a deli making sandwiches and slicing cheese. My partner wanted to adopt a child but did not want to marry. She insisted that I pay half the mortgage payments but refused to share ownership of the house. She said wanted togetherness, but she made all our plans. It made me feel like I was her hired hand, not her lover. When I managed to say I loved her, she brushed it off. I guess I wasn't very convincing. Eventually I stopped saying it.
  • What to do, kiddo? Adding to my misery, Aygül and I were separated by 7,000 miles. We corresponded by email and occasional furtive phone calls. Even the emails were occasional, as she had to travel to a different university to access the Internet and could only get there on weekends. But she told me she loved me, and that gave me hope that we would work something out.

    Things went on that way all through the winter. In early spring – just about now –we both made fateful decisions. Having been made miserable by her departmental chairwoman, Aygül decided to up and leave her post. She proceeded to store her personal items at her parents' and book a flight for Boston.

    At the very same time, I accepted an offer to attend graduate school in Zürich. It came from a Swiss friend who was chairman of his department and provided full support. I simply could not refuse, despite the problems it would cause for us. I steadied myself and informed my girlfriend that I would be moving to Switzerland (one of her favorite destinations), but that I did not intend to come back to her (not what she had hoped to hear). I did not want to hurt her, but did not know how to avoid it. As soon as I could make arrangements, I stowed my personal things at my parents' house, sold most of the rest, and moved in with a nearby cousin.

    Upon arriving in Boston, Aygül stayed with mutual friends who had no idea we were in love. We did not want to reveal that to anyone, but suspicions grew anyway. That summer was a delicate and bittersweet time. Though near one another, we got together only occasionally. I helped her find a room of her own, and then one day she delivered me to the airport and I left the country.

    On my first summer break, we married. We weren't able to fully cohabit until I returned from Europe with my degree three years later. It was, by then, almost eight years since we had first met. That is a rather long courtship, don't you think? But it worked out for the best, even for my girlfriend, who soon found a nice guy who didn't want to live with her.

    And of course, it worked out spectacularly for you! So especially today, on my wife's birthday, I want you and all of Cowbirdom to know I love you madly!

    ~ Your Baba
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