By Alba Brunetti
I am supposed to meet my friend on İstiklal Caddesi, near Galatasaray High School. But then he calls and tells me his bag is big, can I meet him closer to where he is? Of course I can, and I start walking. I am expecting a large, rolling suitcase, but what he has is the size of a carry on.
"That’s not so big," I say.
"It’s heavy," he replies, "all my winter clothes are in it."
He is going to take the night bus to his family home. He will drop off his winter things and bring back his summer things – all in a small carry-on bag. We continue to walk. He tells me he would like an apartment in this part of town, something with just a few things, like a Japanese house and he slides his hands together and apart indicating shoji screens.
When I first came to Istanbul, I came with a carry-on bag. I was only supposed to stay for 10 days. I remained for a year, accumulating more clothes and notebooks than I could carry with me. I like to accumulate. I like the security of things. I like to hold on. I think the great majority of us does. When I left Istanbul, I gave away all the things I could not take back in a large suitcase. And when I returned to New York, I gave away all my possessions. I hadn’t intended to. I had hoped to sell my things, to make some money to help fund my move back to Istanbul where I wanted to settle.
Because I like to hold on to things, I left selling my possessions until the month before I was to leave, keeping them in storage in Brooklyn. Nothing sold. One person expressed interest in my coffee table, but soon lost it when I could not provide better pictures. Another woman came from the West Village to look at my iron bed frame – she wasn’t sure if she wanted an iron bed or a wooden one. After a few days, she decided not to buy it.
So, in the 10 days before I was to return abroad, I needed to empty my storage space on Fulton Street in Brooklyn. I gave my friend Lenka my bed. Housing Works got most of my clothes and furniture including the dresser I had had since I was six. What they wouldn’t take the people at the storage place helped me to move to the street, and within two minutes the antique table with the broken leg, a small pine dresser, and other odds and ends had been scooped up by passersby. All during that time I had to trust that I could empty that storage unit before leaving. It wasn’t easy giving away my things – people hadn’t wanted them as much as I had. But, in the end, all of my possessions were gone – to Housing Works and Goodwill, to friends, and to strangers.
When I began my new life in Istanbul, I intended not to accumulate or possess too much. For the first nine months, I lived in shares with roommates. I traveled with my two suitcases and as is the custom, the owner of the house or apartment provided me with sheets and towels, cups and saucers, curtains and chairs. I did not have to think too much about things.
My one weakness was for notebooks. How could I ever write in the notebook where I list my to-dos? These were my indulgences; possessing them made me happy. I moved them from house to house. But moving and living with roommates was tiring. To work, I needed my own place and the quiet of my own rhythm. This was the main reason I decided to rent my own apartment. That my friend could visit me without scheduling and planning with roommates was an added plus.
I moved into my friend Ezgi’s former apartment. This apartment had been our friend Can’s before she had rented it. He had left her his couch, his bed frame, his plates, and his grill. She had left me those things, as well as her table and chairs, her mattress, her cups, and her cutlery. I was on a budget, so I did not accumulate much and for everything I did accumulate, I did so mindfully. I bought towels and sheets, three small, honeycombed-patterned bowls that looked Japanese, and tiny serving plates that are typically used for Turkish breakfast. Then I went back and forth trying to decide if I should buy six teaspoons. My budget is tight, do I really need six? The three I already have find their way into my coffee cup and oatmeal bowl and honey jar every morning. And if I wanted to add some yogurt to my breakfast, I needed to wash one in order to do so. I bought the spoons and wondered if I should be living more simply.
My friend begins visiting me more often. He is between homes and is trying to decide where to live. I am happy when he comes and stays. I do not know how to define what we are to each other. Using words like lover, boyfriend, or partner implies some kind of possession – mutual or not – and these words do not come close to what we are. In relationships, as with things, I like to hold on – and hold on too long. By now I have also had a lot of practice in letting go. We are choosing to be together and perhaps, at any moment, we will also need to let go. I am fine in this new, undefined space. It surprises me that I am fine with it – as it surprised me that I had been able to let go of all the things of a former life, a life that defined me. I was a New Yorker living in Brooklyn, with bulging bookcases full of books both read and unread. I had a life of long workdays and family commitments. I also had friends that I saw all-too-rarely. I had dreams of being a writer and creating things of truth and beauty. I let all of the material things go so I could be that writer.
I am writing now as my friend sleeps and when he wakes up, I will take out the patterned bowls that look Japanese and fill the serving plates with honey and sugar cubes and jam. I will take out the six teaspoons I bought and place two in the serving plates, one in the bowl of olives, another with the tomatoes and cucumbers, and the last two beside our teacups. We will have breakfast and talk. When we are done, we will clear the plates. Then each of us will go out into the world with what we possess, not the things we have accumulated or hold on to – but our bodies, our health and the clothes on our backs – and the only thing that is truly ours – this moment.
Alba Brunetti is a writer, editor and coach currently based in New York. She lived in Istanbul in for six years and considers it home.