‘I try to hold on to what I remember, wondering where and what home is for me.’ Ege Dündar hasn’t seen his home, his mother, and his beloved dog in three years. He is building a life guided by memories.
We grew up together. I vividly remember opening the door to see him on my father’s shoulders, his confusion and his size, no larger than my mother’s palms. Tarçın, mum called him, for his light brown fur: Cinnamon. His life had begun on a farm in Hungary, consoled by the warmth of his mother. One day, when he was only a baby, he was taken far away. As a child, I often thought about whether he would get a chance to reunite with his mother someday; whether he missed her, or if after all these years their separation was no more than a distant memory. I was a single child, and I felt he was the closest thing I had to a brother.
Waking up was always special. Before I had properly opened my eyes I’d hear his clicking paws running up the spiral staircase, sliding slightly as he tried to turn into my room, bouncing on the bed in a flash. His long ears and bulging eyes were the first thing I saw every morning. We’d play on the bed, as my eyes would come into focus. The sunlight shone through our seasoned window panes. I could hear starving seagulls yelling in flight; they were nesting in the crevices between our crimson roof tiles and lavender covered walls. My mother would then come in and push the windows open, the mimosas casting delicate shadows on the carpet. Sometimes she’d join in, cuddling. Sometimes she’d just stand there, looking at us, smiling, as if her piercing, arctic blue eyes saw through everything with ease.
It must have been about three years ago that he started falling ill. The last time I was with him – that is, the last time I’ve been home – he was as childish as ever, chasing kittens away, barking incessantly at fallen leaves, scratching his paws on the parquet floor, impatient for walks. These were better days.
My mother called me late one evening.
‘The vet is saying he has this condition. The heart can’t get enough oxygen.’ We could hear him wheezing through the night, gasping for breath. ‘Fluid builds up over time, enlarging it.’
Like anyone confronted with death I tried to hold on to his life.
’Let me see him’, I said.
She turned over her camera and there he lay, tense, breathing rapidly in his sleep as if he expected to be woken up at any moment. It pained me to be staring through a glass screen, no more than a voice echoing through his worried mind, unsure where the rest of us were.
I wished I could explain what had happened since we had last met. How people were rounded up late at night and how at sunrise, it looked as though nothing had happened. How dad was imprisoned for his journalism, shot at, exiled to Germany.
How mum was illegally held hostage after they confiscated her passport. How the government had chewed up the aspirations of a generation and how I ended up stranded on this island, in London, having not seen them for three years.
He was only seven years old. I didn’t want him to think I had deserted him. At first, I was in denial: I knew I’d make it in time; I knew my father had used nothing but words, that he was neither a spy nor a traitor, that none of this should really be happening.
Tarçın’s heart wore out. Last time I saw him on camera he was panting, in his cosy blue bed on the vet’s table, tubes piercing his body. Every hour was consumed with stagnant updates. Our belief that he would make it slowly dwindled. Mum was beside him, holding whatever was left together. She didn’t talk to us for two days after he died, as we mourned in each of our solitary lives.
I dreamt of him, a few nights after he died. He ran up to me on the front porch of our summer spot in Seferihisar. He was elated, joyous as I petted him. I noticed that there were bugs flying off of his skin, before he sped away like a string of light across the yard, as if he had really missed running.
I write his name on every fogged up window I find.
Perhaps it wouldn’t have hurt as much as it did if people all across the country hadn’t experienced similar upheavals. If my friends – model citizens: writers, teachers, students – hadn’t been persecuted just like we were. If, still dignified, sometimes gravely ill, they hadn’t been slandered and sent to jail for nothing. Waiting, incessantly, for nothing.
If my grandfather, who I also haven’t seen for three years, hadn’t been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and I wasn’t forced behind yet another glass screen trying to capture fragments of his fading memory.
I try to hold on to what I remember, wondering where and what home is for me, without my return.
I reach for it in memories: the green tablecloth on our kitchen table; the sound of our doorbell; the rhythm of the sprinklers out front; the gatekeeper’s whistle as he patrolled the streets; our ivy-covered garden surrounded by iron bars, sheltering us from the dimly lit street and the lurking gaze of strangers out there.
Home lingers in my memories of conversations with grandpa over Salep in winter, talking about his years as an imam in Bulgaria, pondering god and the universe; in my grandmother singing along to songs from her archaic kitchen radio, garlic reeking over the frying pan, the feeling of her hands in my hair.
It lingers in my mother and me in the back of a beat up dark blue Peugeot, listening to Leonard Cohen: grumpy me, a 50 Cent and Eminem fan as a child, growing into a Cohen fan; our mission to find the hotel he stayed in after his İstanbul gig.
Home lingers in the red bike my father taught me to ride, with the comfort of his hands behind the saddle, although he’s long let go.
I remember in pristine detail charging out the door and into the evening with Tarçın, racing each other and, foolishly, the setting sun. I remember the first time we ever saw snow with him, right there, in our garden. Where he now lies buried.
All of these things aren’t really lost. The past isn’t just what has passed. It’s a part of who we are. Maybe we are so eager for the future that we overlook the persistence of then in now. The past’s permanence lies in our inability to hold on to it. Its transience makes it perpetual.
The bank wants to seize our house. Because the government blocked our sale, we were unable to pay our debt. Mum will soon have to leave the home she was forced to live in by herself. Yet I’ve learned home is much more than objects or indeed a place. In my mind, her laughter accompanying the sound of my piano still echoes off the walls of the ancient cistern underneath our house. The one thing that hasn’t lessened has been the only thing that stands against time: love.
My father and I, among many others, have been sent into exile, for no good reason. I couldn’t be with Tarçın when he died. Perhaps I won’t see his grave or walk into that house again, but someday I will return to Turkey. Weary ferries will still oscillate between opposite shores, the afternoon light shattering into violet fragments over the Bosphorus. The streets and people I love will be older, some will have passed, but nothing will take Tarçın, my family or my country from me. I will remember how home grew under my skin. As I toughened up and as life, like a beetle, circled around a familiar street light, home shimmered with a warm hazel hue, guiding me through the dark.
When you wake up in the mornin’, mama, look inside your mirror.
You know I won’t be next to you, you know I won’t be near.
But I’d be curious to know if you can see yourself as clear
As someone who has had you on his mind.
Bob Dylan & George Harrison – Mama You’ve Been On My Mind
Ege Dündar was born in Ankara in 1995. In 2005 he co-authored the fable book Duvar with his father Can Dündar. He produced and presented the weekly music show ‘Alternatif’ in Numberone TV between 2011-2013. He worked as a Sunday columnist in Milliyet Daily newspaper in 2013. His writing has been published in BirGün and LeManyak. A graduate of International Politics at City University Ege Dündar lives in London and has been working at PEN International for the last three years, campaigning for free expression. He is the founder and coordinator of the young writers’ platform İlkyaz. His family is currently campaigning for his mother’s right to travel, click here to find out more.