(More excerpts from the journal of Gokhan Yilmaz, aka The Lord of the Sky)
Last week, readers will recall, I met Amir, this guy from Dubai who was telling me about the prospect of getting some weed from Chu, a city on the southern Kazakhstan border, and selling it back here in lovely Astana. We’re waiting to do it sometime in the next few weeks or months, not sure. The whole purpose, for me anyway, is to raise enough money to get the hell out of Astana. Where? Maybe back to my beloved Istanbul, if I can manage to pay the necessary 1,000 euros to be exempted from compulsory military service.
Anyhoo, this morning got an email:
My Dear Son,
I hope you are well – even finds you at all. You move around so much! That is why I don’t send more of your care packages. I’m afraid they will end up lost in the mail. Are you still living in that apartment with the purple wallpaper? Well, at least the bed looks big and comfortable. You always like to get your sleep!
Are you working? I am sorry to hear about that school that didn’t pay you. You are right, my son! That manager belongs in jail. These Kazaks! They don’t know how to do business – I always told your father that but he never listens. If your father hadn’t partnered with that Kazak we wouldn’t have had half the problems … But I know you’re tired of hearing these things.
You know how I feel about your decision to stay in Astana, and how your father feels about it, too. I wish we could be there to support you somehow. But we are a broken family, each off in our own corner of the world. At least your brother Yelçin is doing well. He and Susan are expecting a baby, did I tell you? I know you and Yelçin don’t really keep in touch. He doesn’t keep in touch with me that much either, just every now and then out of a sense of duty. He says that I can come and visit them in Chicago when the baby comes, to help Susan out. I am looking forward to that at least. Of course, I will try not to overstay my welcome!
Gokanım, I feel like you are still angry with me, but it troubles me to discover the reason. I know it can’t be because of the divorce. You know how your father was behaving, with his Moscow “adventures,” spending all of our money – your money, and your brother’s – on his girlfriends. What could I have done about it? You and me, we were in Istanbul, trying to get by, your father hardly sending us anything. I had my teaching of course but you know how the prices are in Istanbul! You accused me of “not being a proper wife and mother.” That statement has always bothered me. Canim, what exactly did you expect of me? I was lonely without your father, and so yes, I did bring some men home from time to time. Now that I think about it, I know it was because I was angry at your father (you were right about that!).
But you were angry too, Gokhanım. You were disappointed about having failed out of Hunter, and disappointed you had to leave your studies and your life in Los Angeles. You were angry when you had to go back to Turkey. But what could we – I or your father – do about that? We’ve been over all these things too many times. Plus, you are old enough now to – as even you admit – take responsibility.
All that is past now … I know where you stand on your military service, and don’t wish to push you. I understand your “political reasons,” about not wanting to risk having to go to Syria. I agree, it’s a messy situation, a chaos. But maybe you wouldn’t be sent to Syria. Maybe with your language abilities they would consider you for teaching duties! Or perhaps some administrative work.
I know these matters bore you, my son, but I mention them only because I feel a duty as your mother – despite everything – to look out for your best interests. You have your life in Astana, but something tells me that you are unhappy. I wish I could send some money but you know how things are. I barely have enough here to look after myself without being a burden on my sister and her husband. That is why I couldn’t have you come and stay here. There is the visa issue, sure, but also where could you stay? You know my sister’s place. It’s basically a 2 plus 1! Where could we all fit?
Oh, Gokhanım, must we pass the rest of our lives in such a way, always a burden to our loved ones? I know you often felt this way, especially after the family business failed, and when you failed out of Hunter, and later when you were at Sabanci, that we considered you a burden. Maybe we did, I don’t know … All I’m saying is maybe consider, son, going back home to Turkey. The military service is only one year of your life, right? Not even that much, now that you have finished your university at Sabanci. And then it would be all finished! You would be back home in Turkey, with all the advantages of a regular citizen. You wouldn’t be stuck the way you are in places like Astana, as a yabancı, limited only to this and that. As I said, I know you are tired of hearing it, but I put it to you in this way, just in case you were thinking there were only bad ways of looking at it.
Yani, that is all for now. As I said, I would love to send a care package – with some clothes, and a few other things from Toronto that you might like or need. Cash is tight but maybe I can manage a bit of that too in the next month. Please keep me updated on your situation, especially if you have to move again. And please try to look after yourself, Gokhanım, and remember your mother loves you. That may seem hard to believe at times, and you may not wish to believe it, but when you feel down or depressed, promise me you will remember that you are loved!
Your Devoted Mother
Well, was it long enough for you, bro? Sorry about my mom, once she gets going she really can ramble. She’s right, too. We’ve been over all this shit before. I’m really over it, trust me. She does have a point though, about being a burden. I realize things can’t be easy for her over there. She and my aunt were never that close to begin with. When my parents were together and the business was doing well, I think my aunt envied her. Because we had a nice house in Istanbul, I was going to Galatasaray High School (really prestigious, trust me) and we could afford to send my brother to Northwestern University in Chicago. My brother, he’s doing really well. He always was the responsible one. Studied engineering, something with a job at the end of it. He and his wife (she’s American) have a good life in Chicago. You may be wondering why I don’t go and live with him. He doesn’t want me there, bro. Trust me, I know it. We send each other maybe three or four emails a year, just “hope you are well,” kind of stuff. Plus, he knows all about my shit, my history I mean, and he worries about me coming over and freeloading. I can see him saying that to Susan, stuff like, “If Gokhan comes over here, he’ll sit on the sofa all day, smoking weed and playing video games. We’ll never be rid of him!” I don’t resent him for that really. He’s just doing what he feels he has to do. He and Susan are trying to start a family, most likely. They don’t need any distractions in life right now. As far as I am concerned, forget about it. One shouldn’t live one’s life like that, constantly thinking about the possibilities. Deal with the now.
I read over mom’s email again. Nice to see the part about maybe sending some cash over. Even a few hundred would help. Speaking of having to move again – bingo, brother!
Speaking of “the now,” would you believe it? My landlady slipped a note under the door this morning. Said her sister is coming to Astana for the summer and so she wants to give my room to the sister. Can you fucking believe that? And I’ve been a good tenant (mostly). I mean, I have paid all the rent, mostly on time. Sometimes I am a few days late, but at this moment I can honestly say I don’t owe her anything.
But I’ve got it covered. There’s a hostel just down the road that has rooms for 100 bucks a month, really cheap. The only problem is all my shit – clothes, some furniture, my laptop, personal effects – that I need to basically carry over to the new place. I don’t have the cash to pay somebody to do it. So it’s just me, the Lord of the Sky, a one-man moving service. Our man James always says, “You can’t take it with you, so travel light!” Wise words perhaps, and I know James practiced that philosophy during his many years of travels, but I also happen to know that he wishes now he had held on to some of that stuff. Sometimes you throw the baby out with the bathwater, as you Americans say. So bro, I try to keep some shit as I go along.
As I pack up, I blast a little G n R. Fuck it! What can the landlady do about it now, eh bro? “Rollin’ like a freight train! Flyin’ like an aeroplane! Feelin’ like a space brain one more time tonight!”
I know, bro. You’re probably wondering about that deal from last week, when I met Amir down by the Ishim River and we talked about possibly getting some weed down in Chu and bringing it back here to Astana. And then there is this potential job at a start-up design company I may be starting sometime this summer. Dude, I know you are expecting some kind of concrete update. We shall see, bro. Most of my life, as you can see, is kinda up in the air right now.
A knock at the door. It’s my landlady! Hold on, bro …
She’s gone now. Just wanted to remind me that I have until Friday, and to turn the music down. I was polite, of course, because she’s giving me the extra days. That at least gives me time to get all my shit in order. Right. I go back to packing, with the G n R down a little … I switch over to “Civil War,” one of my favorites.
I like that opening bit: “What we’ve got here is … failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach …” I put my clothes into the backpack and suitcase, along with some books, some writing I’ve done. I’m trying to put together a book, if I can ever sit still long enough. I think it would be an interesting story, these travels of mine.
When will they ever end? That’s the question.
The song makes me think about Syria. People ask me sometimes, “Aren’t you a patriot? Don’t you care what happens?”
My feeling about it, dude, is like the old saying: Too many cooks spoil the broth. Down there you’ve got all these people fighting – and they’ve been fighting for seven years now. More and more people get involved – from America to Russia, to Iran, to Turkey, to the Kurds, the Syrians themselves, the pro- and anti-government ones, plus every mercenary on the planet who wants to make a buck. What have they solved, bro? I ask you as one human being to another. Has it gotten better, or worse?
The song continues, and I sing along:
I don’t need your civil war!
It feeds the rich while it buries the po-or!
The song ends, with Axl asking, “What’s so civil about war anyway?”
Amen to that. Besides, as you know by now, brother, I’ve got my own shit to sort out. Too many cooks … Yep, I’m no philosopher or pacifist – I’ll fight my corner, trust me – but something tells me the world as a whole would be better off if everybody minded their own kitchen. Of course, if you feel like helping me pack my shit, that wouldn’t bother me at all. Laters!
James Tressler, a former Lost Coast resident, is a writer and teacher living in Istanbul.