The Promise FulfilledPosted: September 8, 2015
Since writing my short story for the anthology Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, & Intimacy – I have been asked many times what my story has become and how things have developed. It has been a hard road, but also one laden with lessons, hardships, and, finally, beauty.
It is bemusing to my family and friends how confused I get about how old I am. This may seem like a simple thing, but honestly I have lost the number. Why? When my wife Joan went into the hospital for the last time it was on my birthday. Obviously there was no celebration or acknowledgement of it. She passed away a week and a half later.
The year after her death I was numb. I do not remember anything from that year. I have pictures of my son during 8th grade, as well as of some other things we did that year – but it is a lot like looking at someone else’s life. Sure, I am in the photographs, but I don’t remember being there.
In the second year after Joan’s death. I began getting back into a more normal schedule. Work, dropping my son off at school, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning – I took great joy in the mundane things necessary for life. Rather then seeing it as a burden I actually relished being a single father in the sense that it gave me things to do and accomplish. But this activity was married to an empty loneliness that I couldn’t explain to my friends. At the same time I found that the passion I had for my career and work was gone.
One day, while driving my son home, he asked, “Baba, are you going to start meeting people again?”
I was completely taken aback. I managed to stammer out a question to him as to whether he wanted me to do that. He replied that he thought it might be a good idea. This nudge from my son was necessary for me to climb out of my shell.
I have nothing against Tinder, Minder, or other online dating sites, but I decided early on that I would turn to them only if nothing worked out elsewhere. My friends introduced me to a few people – all beautiful people whom I enjoyed the company of – but for a variety of reasons we just did not sync up.
I was introduced eventually to a woman whom I thought was perfect. She was beautiful and intellectual, we shared common interests, and she was an independent and professional woman – traits I value highly. We began seeing each other. For a few short months it was amazing.
I believed the relationship was perfect. After having been married for 18 years I was naïve and did not understand that what you perceive is not always how things are. I fell in love; the word “marriage” was brought up and discussed.
And then one day she simply ended it. No real explanation was given. Much to my chagrin, two months later she was married to another man.
It was almost like losing my wife all over again. I was devastated, not believing that two people could become so close and then one of them could simply walk away. The deceit involved knocked the breath out of me. I retreated to my home and did not leave it for a month.
When I finally emerged, I realized that over the eight years of my wife’s illness I had banked up a huge amount of vacation. I decided to travel and clear my head, away from my comfort zone. I booked a month and a half long trip to Turkey.
Once there, I traveled all over central Anatolia. Cappadocia, Konya (ancient Iconium), Beyşehir, Bursa, and Istanbul. I had been to Turkey before in 2009 with Joan. Due to her ill health we restricted ourselves to Istanbul. It was a hard trip because though we saw many sites, there were days when the effects of months of chemotherapy meant she was sick and had to stay in bed.
At the end of this long trip to get away from my life, I found myself back in Istanbul, experiencing those familiar sights and sounds again. One day, my Turkish friend Murat asked, “What do you want to see today, we’ve seen most everything.”
In that moment I had a clear memory of my wife telling me about an artisans’ market she wanted to visit in Istanbul. But the next day she had been sick so we had stayed close to the hotel instead of visiting the market. So when Murat asked me what I wanted to see, I mentioned the market and he told me it was just a short walk from where we were.
We walked through the old city and eventually came to what was a 2000-year-old Byzantine church that had since been converted into a mosque. A courtyard and garden surrounded the mosque. It was very pretty. My friend and I entered the mosque and I appreciated the amazing porphyry columns and Byzantine stonework. The mosque had left many of the original features of the church intact. It was very impressive and after taking the time to offer prayers in a space that has continuously witnessed prayers for thousands of years, I went outside. Arranged around the garden were small shops run by artisans: glassblowers, gold leaf illuminators, jewelry makers, and ceramic artwork – all were represented.
The artisans’ market my late wife Joan had wanted to visit became the setting for the beginning of the next stage in my life. I walked into the first shop I found on the courtyard and came face to face with a beautiful woman. I talked to her about her extraordinary ceramic art that I later found out is frequently exhibited and purchased by collectors. I learned her name, Ayşe, and ended up buying a very ornate and beautiful ceramic plate from her. Included with the item she left a card with her email address. I decided that evening that I would email her.
A week later, I was back in the U.S. Ayşe and I began exchanging emails. At first mainly just curious and platonic, she asked questions about where I lived and what I did for a living. I asked her about her art, background and living in Istanbul. I cannot say definitively when things shifted. Only that after exchanging emails for a month and a half, we both agreed to shift to Viber and phone calls so we could communicate in real-time. For the next several months a relationship blossomed and we both realized that this could really become something if we were both willing to consider it and go the extra steps needed.
In January of this year I flew back to Turkey. Ayşe and I met again, explored Istanbul together, and decided that everything that had transpired from the previous year until now had culminated in this moment. I met her family and her father, and asked him for the hand of his daughter, managing to make it into a comic moment since I did not know the Turkish protocol for this rite. The typical practices of teasing or playing practical jokes on the fiancé were suspended, but we did exchange engagement rings.
Both before I left home and after I returned, I talked to my son. I wanted him to understand how this would affect him, how important it was for me to be happy, but also what my expectations were for him inside this new life. He was genuinely happy for me. Just a few months later, I brought my son to Turkey so he could experience the country and meet Ayşe and her family. We had a great time and my son was thrilled with Topkapı palace where the Sultans of old used to live, and with Suleymaniye Mosque with its amazing soaring architecture.
And so it is that after much heartache I find myself happy and excited about this new stage of life. Before Joan died she told me she wanted me to be happy always, and she told me to promise to remarry because she knew I would be lonely otherwise. I’m happy to be fulfilling the promise I made to the wife I lost, in no small part due to a clear memory of her that came at a crucial point and led me directly to the woman I love now.
Read more by Alan, here.
Alan Howard is an Engineer and Operations Manager at Cisco Systems Inc., where he has worked for the past 16 years. He lives in Atlanta with his son, and enjoys kayaking, hiking and writing when he has the time and energy. You can read more of his writing at his blog Get Busy with Life and in the anthology Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy.