BY MINA HAMEDI
Sometimes my eyes hurt and my mother asks, What are you trying not to see?
My scalp itches and she says, What are you running from?
She says things were not spoken out loud in those years. All three of her great uncle’s sons were addicts. The youngest was named Huseyin and he was sweet, gentle, and good. He wanted to be an artist. He loved Oskar Kokoschka. Maybe it was the erratic brush strokes or the contorted angles. The painted faces were gaunt, hollow-eyed. Maybe Huseyin loved the colors. They were sickly but they were real.
Huseyin wrote letters to my mother when she moved to Pittsburgh for college. She met my father on campus through mutual friends. A few years later, they moved to Istanbul and settled in the town where my mother grew up. It was on the coast of the Marmara Sea. On a clear day, you could see the islands in the distance, especially one named Proti. Proti was the island of exiles. Ruins of a monastery, named after the “Transfiguration,” rest on the highest peak.
Huseyin would often stop by my parents’ apartment. Many nights he’d be out at a bar when my mother would receive a call to come pick him up. They’d hear stories about how he didn’t make it home so he slept in front of his building. His wife and children opened the door for the mail and milk and found him. Years later, my father would visit him and make sure he had food and clean clothes. Huseyin was the father of two boys and he died alone. I wonder why he was not meant for this world.
I read about the monastery and the exiled Byzantine emperors. One had his eyes gouged out. I imagine what it would be like to hear the sea but never see it again. A transfiguration is a complete change in form. An experience of radiance. Some demons are apparently capable of transfiguration, too.
My mother tells me, We are tested.
I’ve wanted to tell you guys for so long, he sobs.
Ultraviolet skies shiver as the Nile flows upward. I reach across the table and put my hands on his arms. The others do the same. He balances his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray. The wind picks up as the river boat speeds.
We sit in our small group, while my mother, her sister, and my grandmother sip fresh mint tea under shawls. My father and uncles smoke at a table on the other side of the boat. I marvel at how quietly we are moving. The shores were covered by papyrus fields and water hyacinths, creating little labyrinths of greenish blue water.
He takes deep breaths, looks down.
We’re proud of you, we tell him, and he continues. He is leaning forward as if every confession brings him back to us. He wants to expel even more, I can feel it, but he is afraid. Afraid of what the others will say.
Goddamn it, he says.
His sister rises, and they both head downstairs to their rooms. She spent the day chasing after him around the temple grounds. He’d walked to the reservoir, hoping the water would calm him.
I get up from the table and walk up to the sun deck. I take out my little notebook from my jacket pocket and begin writing. I started recording everything recently. I’d watch and listen to interactions, observing from within. I realized after difficult conversations, I was forgetting the connective tissue. I was forgetting how one thought formed the next, how confessions became epiphanies.
I remembered phrases. Horrible ones.
We are tested.
I met a boy on a warm summer night. He left his home of thirty years in search of something new and moved to New York.
For my birthday, we drove to Monroe and stayed in an old dairy farm with our closest friends.
There were ruins on the grounds, just up the hill. A fire pit, a stone archway, a path. I walked through the archway and up the path. I tried to feel different.
That night, everyone drank. The house had three staircases leading to the second floor and we made a game of finding each other. I found him sitting in the empty tub, talking to his best friend. Come sit, they said. But I knew I couldn’t stop moving. I had to check on the others. I had to remember every detail.
A few friends played music, and he helped them. He had a way with sounds; his deafening ears hearing things I could never pick up on. When we tumbled into bed that night, he held me. I listened to him breathe.
Near dawn, we always separate. He rolls himself inside the blanket, protecting me from his sweat. Sometimes, he sleeps on the couch so his anxious movements don’t wake me up. I don’t mind the movements. I’m learning the different ways to touch and to be touched. I’m changing the spaces between us, trying to be wholly covered.
We spend most of our time telling each other stories. I tell him about visiting the tomb of Nefertari in the Valley of the Queens. I have no photos but I remember the colors: blacks, yellows, and greens. An orange that if I were to graze, might crumble like fresh earth. I tell him I remember the Sesame Street special that took place in the Metropolitan Museum and that there was a little boy, an Egyptian pharaoh, who haunted the room where his sarcophagus lay. The god Osiris weighed the little boy’s heart against a feather. A demon spoke of “yesterday meeting today.”
He describes the taste of every drug he’s gotten his hands on. He holds his hands up, as if to mold the scene, place the people. His fingertips are rough, from hauling boulders and building homes by lakes. Frantic, harsh days and hazy evenings. A constant return to oblivion. But no longer, he’s decided. The haze is a deceptive form. The bottles whisper, he wants to stop listening.
You’re the devil, I say to him in our worst moments. Hate pours from my eyes. Or at least this is what I imagine he sees.
I break a few things. I feel the dents on the floor. Then I walk to my bedroom.
I will rewrite their stories and keep them whole. Keep them good.
They are safe with me.