By Gabrielle Anaïs Tekerian
Many threads are on the ground before me. I pick one up, lick the tip, look to the eye and focus. The thread is midnight blue. I step home to weave my story.
The Midnight Blue Thread
I begin with imagination, an image I can’t quite see. A child who looks like him is smiling up at me, a girl with his hair. As a girl, these daydreams were my solace. Now they are tinged at the edges, veiled and sad. Something of too little too late. I really daren’t dream of that. The blue cord weavesto memory. I feel relief, yet it is still complex. The 80s films we watched together as children that I know off by heart, my brothers’ jokes at dinnertime, the smell of her clean linen. I think of my grandmother’s cookery. I repeat her movements like a mantra, fold, brush butter, fill pastries. I return to something of ritual as if I had lit a candle. It is hard work and yet my hands are familiar in this movement. This is a step home. I feel connected and I can fill the house with nourishment. I think of holidays, a wide flat beach in Wassennaar, the Netherlands, flaxen and pitted, blue bins marking the expanse graphically. I breathe, hear his tinkling piano music and laugh, his light bright blue eyes. I see her face, still young but somehow always older than me. All the lost loved-ones. I place my feet upon the twisted threads. My twisted threads to home.
The Oak Brown Thread
I sit down at my table to write. The table is wooden and imperfect. I found it on the street outside and I gave it a home. The thread is brown like old Dutch oak. My friend Isabella said to me years ago, “You make family wherever you go”. Is family home? I try to think now practically: a home is a building with four walls and a roof. There are some belongings inside, some bought, some received, some inherited. It’s enough. It keeps the rain out, a shroud has no pockets. I look at the wooden armchair in my apartment, made from old Dutch oak and inherited, and I know I am stoic and resourceful. Generations of women who survived. The thread travels onwards. I think of his apartment, present, ever-standing, safe, the large tree proud and perfect outside his window, and I feel the support of him, the scaffolding of his body and how I wouldn’t have got this far without him. A man who stands like oak. And I step on alone.
The Sunlit Yellow Thread (The Backstory)
My eye falls to this story’s beginning now that sweetly lies resting upon my apartment’s wooden floors. As I write this, I am here in Paris where I live. Something in me is renewed each year and views summer days through my eyes as a child. There is that sense of a six-week summer holidays stretching out. A seeming endless amount of time disappearing into the horizon. Back then, this was positive. Now, there is an acid throwback of slight dread. It is the time of the yearly Paris exodus, as les vacances ensue. As I remain, I feel the chill of the void. My solution to this is to give myself projects, the kind that keep my hands busy and my mind at rest. This summer it was interior design. This was also a very practical need – it was easier to think of what I didn’t/don’t need in terms of basic necessary furniture. And yet, my interior design project rapidly climaxed in the purchasing of a kilim. I bought said kilim from, I think, the only unfriendly Middle Eastern man I’ve ever met (and I am related to several from that part of the world). I loved the kilim but disliked him, so I performed an odd sort of exorcism of him as soon as I arrived back in my apartment (by exorcism, I mean lighting a scented candle and hoovering). I look at this kilim-carpet now as if looking through a kaleidoscope of moving gestalts. The colours waver in patterns. As I stare, I return to the childhood homes where there was not just one carpet, but carpets in excess, and decadence. They were not reserved only for the floor, but were put upon tables and hung upon walls. They were rich, opulent and full of deep colour, thick texture, woven intricately like our stories that we swallowed deep with the equally rich and opulent food of my father’s family. This carpet before me is a thread from my past. We weave our stories, a step to home, to soften the touch to ground.
The Terracotta Blood Thread
The thread turns deep burnt red and my father tells me of the deep red earth of Africa. I know he misses the earth of his childhood, the open expanses. He says the word Africa, sounding out each syllable, “Af-ri-ca”, with relish and a Swahili accent, which he spoke in Nairobi where he grew up. My father was raised in Kenya yet he is an Armenian. The thread continues back a generation. My grandmother grew up in Addis Ababa and can speak Italian like a Napolitan soldier from the regime, due to the fascist occupation of Ethiopia in the Second World War. I speak Italian too and this makes me laugh each time I hear her guttural, joyful accent. Her parents sailed there in escape, from Eastern Turkey, via Beirut; the Coptic church opened their arms to Armenians, being fellow Christians. My paternal grandfather lived in many places – the Sudan, Khartoum; Egypt, Alexandria; Greece, Athens and Syros, having been forced to leave Turkey in genocide, before arriving in the UK and eventually settling in the US. Meaning half of me, if we can be so precisely divided, comes from a people who were forced to leave their home, the then named Constantinople or Smyrna, and Aintab. Imagine being forced to leave your home. Forced to leave and to die along the way because of some kind of difference. I think of the 65.5 million forcibly displaced and 22.5 million refugees leaving their towns, their places of worship of whatever sort and their stories, the woven tapestries of their lives. When man draws lines in the earth, tell me, where are we free to step? It’s happening now and every day, political decisions and ineptitude leaving us homeless... in the case of Grenfell tower, homes burnt blackened. My family’s earth is stained with blood red.
I am proud of the blood red thread, the terracotta earth – it pains me that they say this is a lie.
The Delft Blue Thread
I find my mother, she is Dutch / Irish / Scottish: beautiful, freckled, blue-eyed, impish. I latch on to her culture too, being practical, recycling, riding bicycles. My tall, large-breasted physique is fitting, yet I am dark-haired and other-nosed and not quite right there either. My brothers and I support the Netherlands in football (in full bright orange attire). We are in a Dutch bar in London surrounded by many seemingly cynical Dutch supporters with blond hair and blue eyes.It occurred to us, that we are supporting Holland but with all the passion, zeal and hand gestures of Middle Easterners haggling in a souk, holding on to the last painful second - we aren’t realistic enough. I should stop. I am playing with the stereotypes that strangle me. I am trying to be whole and yet the map of the earth covers and slices my body. For I know I am not able to belong if belonging is about a nation. I can’t ever be from only one place. A sense of nationalism is quite lost on me and has been for as long as I can remember. I rather regarded the cultures I am from like a child in front of a pick-and-mix stand, helping myself to a bit of this from one and a bit of another and so on. Diverse, yes, and also confusing and a long story. I don’t know any other Dutch / Irish / Scottish / Armenians – except my brothers. If home is about belonging, I don’t really, anywhere.
The Pomegranate Red Thread
I am not the only mixed drink cocktail or mongrel dog. There are many, and more and more as globalism grows. I wonder if the very idea of nationalism needs to be more fluid and encompassing for this. Could nationalism, as it is, be understood as one big fixed gestalt interlaced with many introjects? This is the knot, the larger question. How can we define home with so much scattering of people? Can home be place bound? For me, it’s about something finer than that. I see these threads as traces of lines drawn across the earth, people marching across sands. It is sad that there are few traces of Armenians in these places that they were forced to leave. And, as the sands can move over the dessert, lines disappear by the breeze or wind. Tides suck and sway the water, sands at the shore carrying it here and then there again, the earth washed and carried by the river. The word ‘diaspora’ is Greek, meaning to scatter. I can find a sense of some home in that word. We are in flux. Home too needs to adapt to the subtle changes. “On those who enter the same rivers, ever different waters flow” ~ Heraclitus.
The Cornflower Blue and Lobelia Thread
My family is scattered like a bowl of rice fallen, springing off in many directions as the grains hit the floor. The next generation, we (my brothers and I) grew up in London and my cousins in San Francisco – one now lives in NYC. Whilst visiting Paris this summer, she stayed in the apartment of an Armenian family, a friend of a friend kind of thing. This apartment is special, and we, two daughters of the diaspora, feel like we are returned to some kind of Armenian mothership, the pulsating womb itself.
Deep red pomegranate models and motifs–old ingrained and embossed books in Armenian, Turkish, French, English – musical instruments lying about waiting for fingers, a large piano, and I can almost smell the deep scent of cinnamon. And of course there are carpets, carpets everywhere. We laugh at its almost clichéd Armenian-ness. But we are sprawled on the carpets drinking French wine, talking art, family, life with my cousin, playing with her daughters, and I feel at home and the closest I’ve ever felt to her. New life and cornflower blue and lobelia threads appear in my hand, bright and hopeful as my nieces, as if I am being given the seeds of meadow flowers. They are here and the sounds of Paris’s city symphony are amplified, exquisite and joyful. I spend much time with them (this and each summer in Paris) and each time Paris becomes more my home. The volume fades as they leave. Paris feels empty and grieving. Even the August sky turns grey. The rain is that kind of horizontal and I am a heroine from a romantic English novel, sad and in keeping with my environment. I am lucky to have a rich home within my family; I know this is not the case for all.
The Cut or Absent Thread
I listen to her voice, simultaneously deep as if from the dark belly of a whale and light, and as wise as a celestial being. She sings “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home”. Home. I write about home, questioning whether I know what it means to be at home. Perhaps because feeling at home is something I rarely felt until I began to train as a psychotherapist. I have tried to make things mine but always sensed a transience, that the bottom could fall out. Things will always die or leave, that’s the way of things. Loss is mine though. I know that. Loss is part of my home. The curse of a large family is the many funerals. Grief is a part of who I am. A welt. J tells me a story – he is interested in mythology. It is the myth of the ‘three Parcae’– three beings who control the thread of life from birth to death (‘The Parcae’, Alfred Agache, ca 1885). Each time somebody dies, Morta cuts a thread. I try to reach those threads. You cannot touch someone when they have passed. I cannot touch them now. I move on and there is a longing. Both hands outstretched in reach for a place. Homesickness is existential, a part of who I am, a longing for something. I search for connection to others. I don’t want to feel the icy wind of aloneness. It is complex. My cousin sings Armenian songs of returning to a homeland. The absence of home intrudes and is operating both metaphorically and literally. The homelessness I see each day in Paris preoccupies me – it pierces my heart. The Smiths sing “I never never want to go home because I haven’t got one…”. I imagine it’s something like being orphaned. So many of us feel fragile and alone.
The Sand Coloured Thread
As a younger person, I was filled with dreams of travel, I liked to wander and explore. I feel differently now, no longer possessed by a spirit-wind pushing me on to leave like the women in ‘Chocolat’ (Joanne Harris, 1999).
I know what Isabel Allende meant as she writes “I always keep a suitcase packed” (‘Paula’ 1994); I was ready to escape even if only to the books quivering upon the bookshelf or incessant daydreams of the future life I would lead. Perhaps we can only know the meaning of our homes if we leave them. I’ve lived in four countries and I feel closer to England after this – I appreciate more where I grew up, its sweetness and honour. This summer I watched (and joined in) with nephews and nieces building sandcastles; I understand their satisfaction, having built something up, to then crush the sandcastles in with their feet. Some things need to be destroyed or, less violently, let go of to build the home we want to live in. I lost myself; therapy and becoming a therapist has been a return. I walked many different ways to return to myself and make within me a home.
The Thread is Crimson
I touch my belly. Fertile. Woman. If I have a child, my womb will be a home. My arms can protect, my body, fight – a woman warrior. I link the French word ‘chambre’ to the English ‘chambers’, and think of the heart space
and wonder if the heart can be a home we can reside in wherever, regardless and with reverence. The thread swells blood red. My body-self is my home. How I trashed this house as a younger girl, smoking cigarettes and not taking care. I think of the global warming crisis and how we are not taking enough care of our environment –home, our earth. I sigh.
I like to write, I like the space for thought, the slower pace, the exacting precision of choosing words carefully. Having time to express myself – it feels like a bubble bath of luxury. Returning to this writing is a home, a place where I can hide in the valley. My breathing settles and I have all that I lack. It has been a safety, a shelter since I was a child. On dark days, I bring my journal with me. I place it on my table and just knowing I can write calms me. It is the root chakra connecting me to earth and myself, my return.
I speak to my therapist about the image of a fox perfectly curled from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail, safe at home, like in a nest. She says she would like to put some feathers in the nest and I appreciate this. As therapists, we build a safe haven for those who have perhaps known little of a safe home. A nest they can return to. A place to yield into and surrender. With new clients, questions around stable homes are asked on assessment forms. I think of the building I give therapy in, its high spine and ancient walls, as if a well for tears, in the centre of Paris, like a jewel in the midpoint of a crown. I am thankful to my supervisor for giving me a home to work here in France. Knowing the feeling of home is important. Getting grounded, rooted, putting seeds in the earth so that they can grow, building something.
I am trying. Moment by moment, home is here, I tell myself. Like Luke Skywalker (think Yoda’s voice), I was ‘always in the future, never his mind on where he is’. Being present little occurred to me. I think of the present moment as a hut on the cliff face – there may be wind roaring or a tide menacing threat, but it can be a retreat, a safety and a freedom.
Here I am at home. I place my hands together in prayer position, in faith and trust, feel my breath on my fingers, my heart beating beneath my skin. In this moment I am alive, I am breathing – I kneel and remember humility and grace. My heart is still beating. Here is home.
The writer lives and works in Paris