Completely blanking on the English word for milk and panicking on the plane.
Landing at Dulles International Airport.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air playing on the TV when I walked into my cousin’s house.
These are the only three distinct memories I have from December 18, 1995. It was probably just a normal winter day for most people in the Northern Hemisphere, but for me, it was the day my life changed. I wrote more about that day in this post.
It’s been 25 years since my family left our home to become immigrants in a foreign land. This is the first time that I’m home on that anniversary.
There have been a lot of feelings.
But I’ve been thinking about my life as I’ve worked on taking back my narrative and healing my wounds. This year has been pivotal for my mental health, for my relationships, and for my identity.
Much like the beautiful city I get to call home, my soul lives on two continents, but the bridge in my heart is not as steady as the one over the Bosphorus.
Until recently, I felt that this sentiment was an exaggeration, but to be perfectly honest, I have felt completely alone since that day 25 years ago. In being a first-generation immigrant who had to grow up fast, I’m not the first nor am I unique.
But as with everything in life, my experience is uniquely mine.
My family, my thoughts, my fears, my struggles to belong to two worlds that never completely felt mine.
There are a few distinct patterns in my relationships and struggles for the past 25 years.
They bullied me the first few years I went to school in Maryland. My first “best friend” in middle school was the first in a lifetime of people who would take advantage of my need for belonging and gaslight me. I hated my life in middle school so much that I made my parents transfer me to a different high school so I wouldn’t have to spend 4 more years with those people. In hindsight, I had people try to reach me in middle school to help me separate from that person, but I am so fiercely loyal that I saw them as the threat instead of the one in my life.
High school was the first time I found my footing, and I made some pretty great friends, even though I was a transfer. I’m still best friends with one, though she and I didn’t really become best friends until junior year. I floated through a few disparate groups my freshman year, the most reliable being the seniors I met through my cousin. It wasn’t the first time I connected more with people older than me. My experience in high school wasn’t the worst, but my home life was getting worse and the loneliness I felt grew. Everything was a constant battle. It was exhausting trying to explain to my friends the hoops I had to jump through to simply go to a movie or why I had to always bail on plans. I began to feel like I couldn’t actually really belong anywhere and I kind of floated in and out, even with my closest friend group.
High school was when I carved out a secret life for myself, at times destructive but mostly, just wanting to have a moment of relief and control. I always got along with authority figures, gaining their trust, so when I would walk into my first period class my junior year, asking my teacher if I should be there and walking out without being marked absent wasn’t uncommon.
I didn’t realize it then, but I was building a fortress around me because if I was going to feel lonely, I would also feel protected. I don’t think I was ever truly protected because my heart has been shattered so many times.
In friendships and in love, I’ve been drawn to the people who “needed” me in the sense that they would use my energy until our relationship got so incredibly toxic that it blew up. It’s the friendship breakups that hurt the most, to be honest.
I have trust issues. While I felt alone in the place where I had to learn how to belong while fighting daily battles with my family, I was feeling more and more disconnected from my home and my identity. Anyone who’s met me knows that I have fierce pride and love for my Turkish identity and my home. But every time I visited, I felt more and more disconnected. I felt like an imposter, so much that I stayed away for 11 years.
I don’t look or sound like an immigrant
“Wow, you don’t have an accent.”
“Oh, you’re Muslim?”
I’m white-passing, but any time I fill out a form, I always put Middle Eastern. I no longer have an accent unless I’m extremely tired or drunk. And the accent I have is more east coast than Turkish.
I’m more of a foreigner in my home than I am in the United States.
I can’t even explain the toll that takes on a person and how makes me feel alone, but the one thing that’s been the hardest has been my name.
I lost my name.
Unless you’re Turkish, you’ve been pronouncing my name wrong for the past 25 years. I was 10 years old when we moved to the US. I was already in battle when I finally began school that the first time a teacher tried to pronounce my name and it came out as “Brock” I just said “Yeah, that’s how you pronounce it” instead of correcting her. I was already an outsider. My outfit was already getting weird looks. I had an accent. It was the middle of the school year.
I gave up my name to keep fighting bigger battles.
Later on in life, I would take on a pen name, losing my identity more and more.
It wasn’t until when I was in Turkey last summer and I could use my real name when ordering coffee and hearing the barista call out my name I realized how completely lost I’ve been without my name.
I’m not unique in this but the thing is, after 25 years, I now have an accent while pronouncing my name so I have to get over that before I can teach others how to say it correctly.
I still don’t know where I belong.
I think I will always feel alone because the older I get, the harder I’m finding it to tell my story over and over again to people that I want to let into my heart. The more I share, the more alone I feel because how do you fit in a lifetime of straddling two worlds and every scar that comes with it into a conversation over a bottle of wine or two?
How can I trust people not to take a sledgehammer to the bridge in my soul with every microaggression or every letdown?
How can I explain the battles in my head when I don’t fully understand them myself?
25 years ago, my world got split into two and I’ve been trying to keep the bridge from crumbling ever since.
I was hoping to have a clear epiphany by the time I finished writing this post, but honestly, I’m still not completely sure how I’ll ever feel complete.
The only thing I can do is keep healing and hope that along the way, I eventually find peace.
*Lyric in title is from “My Attic” by Pink