“On the blue summer evenings, I will go along the paths,
And walk over the short grass, as I am pricked by the wheat:
Daydreaming I will feel the coolness on my feet.
I will let the wind bathe my bare head.”
I had a lost childhood with a father who did not care, a mother in psychiatric treatment, and disabled siblings. I remember that my father spoke to me only to convey his restrictions and temper tantrums, which were a blend of physical and psychological violence. My mother had given in to the life in which she was suppressed and took part in my life by bullying me as a means to take revenge for her suppression. As I started school, the dress codes were transferred to me too. I used to dress however I liked when I lived with my grandfather, but when my father came, my clothes would be checked, and then I was brought to his ‘presence.’ My mother, who was usually comfortable about the hijab, would panic when she saw him and didn’t know what to wear. She, too, was forced to get in the hijab, was prevented from accessing education, and endured violence by my father. The pressure I went through in my early adolescence had nothing to do with religious rules. My father was a person who took an active part in Turkish nationalist ideology; he occasionally consumed alcohol as well. He would always complain that I wasn’t a boy; he would teach me about military qualities. This was the only communication we had. I would imitate men so that he would love me; I would talk about my desire to kill, my knowledge about weapons. I took the concept of a creator from my grandmother and adopted it.
I first heard about Yunus Emre, anecdotes, and the story of creation from her. I loved the creator, and I would talk to them all the time; I would complain to them about the injustices in the world. When I entered puberty, the period in which I was going to decide which high school to go to was near. My father had laid down many conditions for my attendance at the high school, like going to the school in my neighborhood, not wearing skirts, Internet restrictions, etc. Since my grades were very good, I transferred to another high school on my own. This transfer coincides with the time my father met a cult…
My father quickly began to attend talks, and his social circle had changed. He wanted me to stay at a religious dorm so that I could continue my high school education. A few close friends were staying there too, so I didn’t mind. I left the house hastily; I didn’t have any idea about what kind of a world I was going into. There were mostly the children of fundamentalists in the dormitories I stayed in. There wasn’t any respect for private space. Our wardrobes would be meddled with; stuff like make-up would be taken to the supervisor’s room. In the evenings, these things would be spilled in the middle of the conference room like garbage, and we would be condemned. In the whole dormitories, my two roommates and I were the only people who weren’t in the hijab. I remember that I was scolded in front of everyone just because I went down to get dinner in capri shorts. We would get up earlier than others, leave in secret so that no one would see that we wore mascara. It bothered the supervisor women that I drew; they would come up to and get angry at me, asking, “Can you bring them to life?” Students wouldn’t accept us in their groups; they would emphasize our ‘irreligiousness’ whenever possible.
Meanwhile, the situation at home had changed as well. My mother was wearing only black because my father wanted so, and she was acting more hostile towards me than usual. My father wouldn’t look at my face; he was trying to destroy my self-respect and self-love by insulting my looks (especially my hair). The situation in my friends’ families was not different. They got in the hijab one by one, they were unhappy, and they were cold towards me. Now I was completely alone.
One day, a staff person came to me and said, “There’s a letter for you.” It was from my father; I was very excited that I received such interest from him for the first time. There were praises for me and ‘exemplary stories’ about why I should veil. I put the letter in my bag, my eyes filled with tears. What warmed my heart was not the sentences that told me I should protect myself from men; it felt like his daughter for the first time. I called him and said to him that I was thankful for his letter, but I wasn’t thinking about veiling for the time being. Suddenly, there were insults all over the place. After that phone call, he stopped providing for my needs. When I needed to buy clothes, he said that he could give money only for veiled clothes; my phone was broken, and I was starting to feel desperate.
Meanwhile, the girls in my dormitories were constantly telling me how he cared about me and blamed me for my rebellion. One day, the supervisor called me to her room and said, “Let’s try once; you’ll be gorgeous.” I remember the first time I looked at the mirror after I covered my head. I said, “This is not me.” I was very uncomfortable. The bonnet was squeezing my ears, and my neck was sweating as if I wrapped a scarf around my neck. All the girls came into the room and hugged me. My roommate came and took my photo, and we sent it to my mother. After all the good wishes, it was decided for me. My family was satisfied. The dormitory was satisfied. I wasn’t. No one asked how I felt even once. In the following years, when I tried to talk about it, my mother would say, “You shouldn’t have veiled; you did it on your own; we didn’t force you.” The truth would be deliberately twisted, and consciousnesses would be clear this way. However, the pressure was coded in my genes because I knew very well that I didn’t have a choice.
My classmates were surprised, but they didn’t question. They thought that my views had changed, but the only thing that had changed was my looks. I felt that the way people looked at me, doing everything I enjoy secretly, the implications they made while talking to me were draining me day by day. I thought a lot about hurting myself and suicide. My two close friends started to be honest with themselves after they got over the sluggishness of their transformation. Saying that it happened with pressure was perhaps the first step to approach yourself. Later, one of them had the chance to be herself, and the other one was married to an oppressive person; her dreams were left unfinished. My roommates would wear revealing dresses and go out in the evening and go to school in the hijab in the morning. I never joined them because it was much more important than what I wanted to do for myself. Being in this hypocrisy was hurting my human pride. Avoidance and acceptance were like two sides of a scale; one would continuously win over the other. I was even erased from social media. It broke my heart to act like someone I didn’t want to be. I was a bird in a cage; they always reminded me of that.
There was nothing I could do about this. My father was continually expressing his strong disdain for women who were not in the hijab, and he was talking about actions he thought he was entitled to take against them. House arrest, violence were the foremost examples. I endured these even though I never took my hijab off. He said that I was a rebel; he would train me. He was keeping an eye on me as I started university after many fights and sanctions. It was enough for him to have a temper tantrum only if my wrist was showing, if I wore light-colored clothes, if I wore a necklace. He repeatedly emphasized that there was a supervisor above me, and I had to obey him until I got married. According to him, my brain was washed, and Allah didn’t love me. He had said many times that I was cooperating with the devil. He would check my class hours, take me to school, and wait until I got into the building. I couldn’t make friends; I was afraid to drink tea with someone in the first year of university. I was terrified that he would see it and take me away from school. I would run home after my classes were over, my heart beating fast.
Meanwhile, I turned to work on myself, and I read a lot so that I would have hope. I got to know new worlds; more importantly, I became closer to know myself, even just for a little bit. Now, I was trying to create little spaces of freedom for myself. I would change my class schedule and go out for a few hours. I would let my hair breathe some air; at least, I would leave my neck open. This was so precious to me. One single step I would take for myself was making me stronger. But the insults on my clothing continued in my circle. For instance, the hair showing from the front of my head could become a big deal. The home was a whole different world. I had to dress how he wanted wherever he was. I was drowning, but I had the hope to reach the shore. I was petrified; years of insults caused me to start hating myself, one tiny stress would fill my eyes with tears, and I would run away from the fighting. The thing that opened my eyes to myself was being introduced to love. I fell in love; I fell in love a lot.
At first, even this person criticized me, and I didn’t get mad at him even though my heart got broken. Now I knew why people did that. People had developed automatic responses because society, family, faith dictated them. We were guilty of not veiling well; our faith was insufficient. We were traitors who let down those who fought for us on February 28th. The extension of a political process turned me into an outcast. I could neither be myself nor get accepted into a group. The person I was in love with was my support. For the first time in my life, I told him bravely, without giving up, without being interrupted and in tears. It wasn’t just about me; we knew it. It was for all the women who cried secretly in the corners of dormitories, rooms, classes, who avoided mirrors. I wasn’t the devil; they were evil towards me. Talking to a man without holding myself back proved to me that I had come a long way. I had grown up; I didn’t lie to myself. I told myself, let them be ashamed too. My father, my supervisor, or the government — let them be ashamed for once. I talked. Thank god, he understood. He never let my hand go.
The air from the sea touched my hair for the first time when I was with him. Among touches, I enjoyed having my head caressed the most. All those learned norms and despair were idle when the sun was shining; being a woman was beautiful, and I was in love. This is not a story of success. I’m still miles away from the person I want to be; I don’t know if I’ll ever have the courage to get there. I still don’t want to lose my family and upset the family of the person I love. Somehow, I always come after others. I’m still not completely honest towards the world. I know, this is no success story.
But I’m still proud of myself. It’s a significant change for me that a bullied little girl strengthened her wrists and insisted on her choices. It’s also a new change. I’m 20 years old; life is bright; nature is fascinating and beautiful. Maybe the sun will shine for me one day. Love in my heart, salt on my lips, dew in my hair; I hit the road. To arrive at my identity. Together.
(Image: Bar Bahr/In Between)