The Turkish Loser

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I immediately jumped up and bolted to the exit. I yelled, “I’ll see you outside!” while performing my prison escape.

On my way out, I didn’t even bother confronting Oguz or bid farewell to other friends, I just ran. I figured there was plenty of time when I would be forced to confront the disappointment I’d feel upon seeing Oguz and Neval as a couple in the future.

Maybe, if I were lucky, their relationship would end up as just a fling and would be over by Monday. Of course I’m not lucky at all and I couldn’t be more wrong about that wishful prediction, but we’ll get to that later.

I waited outside in the dark opposite the douche bouncer who looked relieved to be rid of a parasite like me from his precious club. Soon afterward, Nazan and Ponytail caught up to me.

“We parked next to the minibus station. Are you walking with us there?”, Nazan asked.

“Sure”, I shrugged. I looked at my watch. Yes, this was a period in time, actually not as long ago as you might imagine, when people still wore watches to tell time instead of taking thirty seconds to pull their cell phones out of their front pockets and checking the time at the corner of the screen.

“It’s too late for the minibus”, I said, “There are some that runs twenty-four-seven, but they only take me halfway. And it’s impossible to find a cab out there.”

“So what are you gonna do?”, Ponytail asked.

“I don’t know. Take a cab from here?”

“Are you nuts? Taking a cab all the way over where you live?”, Nazan asked, “That’s gonna run you like a hundred million!” (Don’t get excited. In Turkish Lira, that was the equivalent of a hundred bucks. They got rid of the last six zeros a while ago so now the numbers between USD and Turkish Lira almost match up. Hooray third world economics!)

“I know”, I responded, “But what other choice do I have?”

Nazan looked at Ponytail for a quick approval, he seemed benevolent. “Why don’t you come stay with us?”, she asked.

I would have loved to be around friends a bit longer, but I couldn’t have said it outright. The thought of being alone, spiritually crushed by my DVD collection would have been too much to bear after that disastrous night.

To be honest, I don’t remember it that well, but I probably could have gone home that night. It really was tough to find a cab after the minibus dropped me off at the last stop, but it wasn’t impossible. All I had to do was to wait around a half an hour or so and a cab would have surely driven by. If I really wanted to go back home, I could.

Of course according to Turkish tradition, I couldn’t accept outright. “Are you sure?”, I asked with my best puppy dog eyes, “I don’t wanna be a burden on you guys.”

Ponytail did the typical “Aah, what burden? Don’t be silly” while waving his arms around to accentuate the absurdity of such a question.

I pretended to think on it for a second. “Sure, why not?”, I said, “Thank you.”

So we made our way to Ponytail’s car, which was about a mile’s walk from the club, in order to drive for about an hour and a half to make it to their suburban, gated community outside Istanbul city limits.

The night wasn’t over yet by a long shot and the thought of blissful sleep that would enable me to shut my consciousness down, which had been constantly hammering me in the head for being a giant loser, at least for the night was still a far away reality.

On the way over to the car lot, none of us really said much. I think we were all still trying to get over the ear-rape we willingly participated our frail bodies into for no apparent reason. It’s hard to have a conversation with someone whose ears are still ringing with the bells of Notre Dame.

When we got to the parking lot, we realized that Ponytail’s car was behind a long slew of vehicles that were also waiting to find a way out of the cramped lot. In a sane universe, a parking lot works thusly: Every car has their designated space that doesn’t impugn on the physical space of other vehicles. When it’s time to leave, the driver simply backs up and drives out of the lot.

But this is Turkey, and maximizing profits beyond any measure of rational thought is the name of the game. Therefore, all of the parking lots around Taksim, either small or large, maximizes their businesses during the crowded club-hopping weekends by cramming as many cars into the lot as humanly possible. It starts off subtle, a couple of cars peppered here and there, blocking some exits. By eleven at night, the bird’s eye view of the whole place probably looked like a screenshot of Tetris a second before you lose the game.

Ponytail was one of the first to park on the lot that night. Since his car was at the back, we had to wait for who knows how long to be able to begin our long drive. Yes, this meant that it would probably take me longer to get to Nazan’s house than it would have for me to make it to my place, but I was still staying where I was.

After some silence when everyone was being lulled to half-sleep by the car’s motor running, Ponytail said, “I just don’t understand Oguz.”

“What do you mean?”, Nazan asked.

Ponytail turned to Nazan. He definitely didn’t need to keep his eyes on the road at that moment. “I mean, didn’t that girl, what’s her name?”, Ponytail searched his memory for a second, “Deniz! Didn’t she have a thing for Oguz?”

Fuck. What a perfect way to open another wound at such a time. However, who could blame Ponytail, or anyone else? No one knew of my infatuation and subsequent abhorrent failure with Deniz.

“Oh yeah, she did!”, Nazan confirmed wholeheartedly, “She probably still does! I think that’s why she doesn’t hang out with us anymore.”

Thanks Nazan. I had to be remembered that the girl I would have begged to be with me was casually rejected by one of my best friends, who called her an Ewok by the way (Yes, yes, so did I!).

“I just don’t understand”, Ponytail said with a confused look, “How do you reject a chick like Deniz, a cute girl with definable female features. Say what you will about her physique, but at least she’s got boobs.”

I expected Nazan to be disgusted by Ponytail’s objectification, but she just said, “You’re right.”

“And this girl he hooked up with, she’s ugly and as flat as a board to boot. I don’t know her well, but she sounds like a really annoying person too. I just don’t understand some people’s tastes in women sometimes.” Ponytail looked at me through the rear-view mirror, “What do you think Ergen? Is Deniz prettier than Neval?”

“Shit yeah!”, I said without even thinking. I didn’t care if anyone found out how I felt about Deniz at that point, not that they would have figured it out anyway. I stared deeply at the handle that opened the door on my side of the car.

For a moment, I fantasized about running out without saying a word, making my way to the Bosporus Bridge and jumping off without a warning. It would have been a quick and refreshing death, since the bridge was just three or four miles away from Taksim.

With my flabby body yearning to drop the pounds at the sight of even the most rudimentary form of exercise, suddenly putting my lazy, saturated fat-filled system through four miles of running would have meant that I would have left at least a thinner, better looking corpse than before embarking on the run. It wouldn’t necessarily be a case of “Die young, leave a good-looking corpse.” More like “Die young, leave a slightly less disgusting blob.”

All of the cars in front of us finally fucked off and it was our turn to escape Taksim. By the time Ponytail started driving, it was already around three in the morning. While making our way outside Istanbul, Ponytail asked, “Is anyone hungry?”

“I can eat an entire calf”, Nazan exclaimed with a violent case of drunken munchies.

“I guess”, I said in my best “I’m still depressed so I don’t really give two shits about what happens within the next couple of hours” voice. In reality, of course I was always hungry and I could always eat.

“There’s a pretty good Iskembe place around here. What do you guys think?”, Ponytail asked.

Nazan jumped on that shit in a second. I acted like I didn’t care either way so in short, it was time for some late-night snacking.

Iskembe is basically Tripe Soup, and if you don’t know what that is, make sure you’re not eating anything while Googling it. I have a feeling your pussified American stomachs won’t be able to handle the simple truth that a large chunk of The Eastern World eats shit like this, sometimes literally.

24-hour Iskembe restaurants are pretty popular in Turkey. For some reason, it’s the perfect drunk person food. The places that serve it are usually brightly lit, cheap-looking eateries full of shitfaced people trying their best to adjust to the light and sober up. Most of the time these places look like a weekly meeting of Moody Mole People.

I ordered Kokorec, which doesn’t have a direct translation in English, so make sure you’re not munching on anything right now because I’m actually about to explain to you what it is. Or at least have an empty puke bucket handy just in case.

Basically, Kokorec is chopped up lamb entrails grilled on a griddle and mixed with tons of different spices. It tastes like overcooked calamari marinated in red pepper and oregano, but damn does it taste great? The traditional way to serve it is simply between two pieces of bread without any other toppings or condiments. Okay, you can put the bucket full of puke away and wipe your mouth now, I’m done explaining what Kokorec is.

While I was taking tiny bites off of my kokorec sandwich, Ponytail must have noticed that I was still fairly depressed. He lifted his head up from his tripe soup, “You’re still bummed out, huh?”, he asked. Meanwhile, Nazan hadn’t touched her soup due to the fact that she was passed out on her chair.

“Kind of”, I half-heartedly answered, “Not that I don’t appreciate what you’re doing. It’s just that…”

“I understand”, Ponytail said, “Just take your time.”

“Thanks”, I muttered.

“You know”, Ponytail said, “You’re the only person I can think of from your film class that will make something of himself. Your knowledge of film is incredible.”

“It’s not something to be proud of”, I whined.

“Why not? What’s wrong with being really good at something, no matter what that thing is? If anyone else has a problem with that, they’ll catch up, believe me.”

It was almost four when we left the iskembe place. Around five in the morning, we made it to Nazan’s home, a beautiful suburban three-storey house lined up next to hundreds exactly like it around a giant, well-groomed park. We snuck into the house without disturbing Nazan’s parents. She led me to the guest room and I passed out immediately, my last thoughts being those of gratitude that this infernal night was over.

The next morning, I got up to meet Nazan’s parents for breakfast. They were excellent specimens of Eastern Turkish culture. Her father was obviously strict but levelheaded. It was clear by the haunting way he leered at me that he still didn’t approve of a strange man being brought up to his house by her daughter. But I bet Nazan had already alleviated the situation by easily proving to her father that I wasn’t anything but a friend. I could imagine the conversation.

“How dare you bring your boyfriend into our house without my permission?”

“Dad! He’s not my boyfriend! He’s my friend from school!”

“How do I know he’s not your boyfriend?”

Nazan laughs maniacally: “You’ll know as soon as you see him.”

And he did, obviously. I was not the type of boy who would be lucky enough to date Nazan and he must have seen that immediately. But his traditional Eastern Turkish upbringing wired him to still make sure that he protected his family by looking tough as nails to any outside influence. Hence the constant stink-eye.

Her mother, on the other hand, was incredibly nice and courteous all the way. She might have asked some questions about me to Nazan but she trusted her daughter and there obviously wasn’t any bad blood between us from the start.

After the awkward breakfast, Nazan, Ponytail and I hung out by the park the whole day. It was around this time when I started feeling a sort-of rebound infatuation to Nazan. Some feelings I felt for her resurfaced every now and then but I did not let them get too far into my consciousness because I immediately knew that she wouldn’t have anything to do with me. But that day, those repressed feeling really began storming the gate with only my forces of self-repulsion and self-hatred there to protect my castle of increasingly low confidence.

There wasn’t anything about her that looked or felt classically sexual in the least bit that day. She was wearing a generic grey sweatshirt and sweatpants. No make-up, her hair pulled back and tied with a pink ribbon.

However, this was the first time when I could clearly make out the curves of her voluptuous body. The sweatpants were loose but the outlines of her perfectly rounded hips were clearly visible every time she walked. She obviously wasn’t wearing a bra under the sweatshirt and I could finally be privy to the real size and shape of her breasts.

Perhaps because of the immense physical attraction I felt to her or because of the way she was dressed, coupled with the desperation I felt after the previous night’s failure followed by an emotional meltdown, ready to cling to anything that would make me feel remotely wanted, desired or sexually potent at any possible rate, my brain tricked me into actually believing Nazan might be a viable romantic option in the future.

Of course I immediately shelved such illusions as far into the deepest, darkest crevices of my psyche where even the most fearless psychiatrist couldn’t reach as soon as I got to my senses.

Thank the god that I don’t believe in that Ponytail was with us the whole time to involuntarily keep me in check just so I didn’t say or do anything dumb I would have regretted for the rest of my life. For those of you who just thought, “Oh no, was he talking about rape?”, what the fuck is wrong with you? I meant telling her that I had feelings for her or asking her out on a date or something.

As we strolled through the green and peaceful park like picture book Alpine mountain folk for a couple of hours, Nazan realized that the last bus to Istanbul had already left. Night was falling and both her and Ponytail said that they didn’t feel right letting me embark on a five-hour journey home full of creepy cab and minibus rides at night. They proposed that I should stay the night again and we could all drive to school on Monday morning.

Of course taking a cab from there to any part of inner Istanbul would have cost an arm and a leg, but as far feeling unsafe at night went, other people were usually afraid of me at night instead of the other way around, me being a bearded freak with scraggly hair and a body type befitting Andre the Giant Junior.

Regardless, the thought of being around friends a little while longer during these frail times felt right. Also, I crossed my fingers that Nazan would wear a shirt without a bra for the night. My wish didn’t come true but it was worth dreaming about.

That night, as it usually was with most Sunday evenings when large Eastern families are concerned, there was a big gathering of aunts, uncles, cousins and what-have-yous at Nazan’s house that night. She told me that it was okay to participate as an outsider, but asked me not to act like my usual obnoxious self around her extended family. Of course I was going to be on my best behavior, especially after that skin-piercing look I got from her father.

By seven pm, Nazan’s house was packed with thirty-odd various relatives, all of them wondering who the hell the weird fat kid was. It was a grand dinner full of homemade traditional Eastern Turkish delicacies, details of which would take me a whole other book to get into. Male family elders comparing each other’s guns followed soon afterward.

At one point, Nazan’s dad pulled out his rifle and asked me to handle it. It was the first time I’d ever seen a real gun. For some reason, holding that heavy contraption in my hands, I vowed never to touch a gun again.

I think her dad pulled that stunt to make sure that I knew he was the alpha male of his own domain and even though her daughter might not have had any interest in me, I think he wanted to make sure I didn’t make a move on Nazan either. I don’t know where he could have possibly gotten the idea that I might have had a thing for her? Perhaps around the 468th time I blatantly leered at Nazan’s ass in front of her entire family, he thought something might have been up, literally.

A couple of days later, Nazan told me at school that many of her aunts and cousins thought I was her boyfriend and that maybe bringing me to the family gathering was her way of showing her family that we were in a serious relationship.

“You never brought any of your other boyfriends home”, her aunts told her, “This one must be special.” Nazan said that even after she explained to everyone over and over again that I wasn’t romantically linked to her and that we were indeed just friends from university, she suspected that some members of her family still didn’t believe that I wasn’t the all-important boyfriend.

For some perverted reason, hearing that made me feel the best I had felt in years. The idea that there were some people out there who were convinced that Nazan and I were an item regardless of the truth made me think I was at least a winner in somebody’s mind.

Within the constructed universe inside some of Nazan’s family members’ brains, I kissed Nazan frequently, held her hand when going out to the movies, and perhaps even had sex with her. Who knows what sick thoughts inhabited their skulls?

As Jack Warden said at the end of Being There, “Life, is a state of mind.” What’s the difference between a proposed subjective reality that someone wholeheartedly believes and your own objective reality? What, that doesn’t make any sense, you say?

You may be right, but I still preferred the relatives’ version of reality to my dreary and lifeless one. I had to hold on to this feeling of bliss since it was only a matter of time until Nazan beat the thought of us being a couple out of her aunts’ and cousins’ heads once and for all and that lovely thought no longer percolated within the mental energy streams within the universe.

That Sunday night, after an exhausting weekend, I was lying alone on my bed in the guest room when I came up with a fantasy that drove me wild. I thought about how awesome it would have been if Nazan showed up in my room in the middle of the night, wearing nothing but a thin, see-through nightie.

“I haven’t had sex in so long”, she would say, “Even though I find you to be physically repulsive, biologically you are a man, and I am a woman, and we are both straight. So what do you say I fuck your brains out?”

She’d carefully sit at the edge of the bed and say, “Shhhh. We have to be quiet, otherwise we’ll wake up my parents. Get ready, I’ll get on top. Also, this is a one-time thing, and you’re gonna keep this strictly between us. After tonight, you’re gonna act like none of this had never happened.”

I would calmly nod, trying to contain my utmost happiness and gratitude, then we’d go at it.

Of course none of this actually took place. I just slept through the night, only to be woken up by a non-ponytail-wearing Ponytail when it was time to head to the University. No one came into my room. Of course I thought about masturbating to that fantasy but how pathetic would that have been if I went through with it, even with my low standards? Besides, I was too freaked out about what I was going to have to face at school on Monday morning.

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