Run, Forrest, run!


A teenage boy wearing thick glasses, no jacket over a thin white blouse and flip flops over his grey socks is feeding bread from a plastic bag to the seagulls on the river bank. He tears big pieces of the soft loaf and throws them in the air, pausing from time to time to take hungry bites himself.  When both the boy and the birds finish their lunch together, he folds the plastic bag and hides it in his fist before shoving it in his trousers pocket and crossing the street, disappearing among the old houses on the other side of the road. My baby is sound asleep against my chest, tucked in the elastic wrap and I can feel his warm breath against my skin. I stop in my walk to watch the scene. I know it’s one of those moments that are going to turn into lasting memories and stick with me for a long while.

Just like my midwife’s coffee scented breath in the wee hours of the morning as she’s blowing softly on my face during labor, while I’m feeling my baby’s head with my fingertips before he finally comes out later.

Or his heart pounding like a racing horse’s under that pink flowered tree in the park, as he pulled me closer and closer, giving me long kisses before allowing a short distance between our mouths and resting his eyes on my lips while uttering the question he’d been rehearsing so many times. It was a cool evening after a rainy day this spring and I felt like peeing.

Or seeing that second line on the pink test at 4 am on March 8, sitting on the toilet in his bathroom and trying to live through the next day as if everything hadn’t completely changed forever.

Or his warmth when I cuddled in his arms on our first night together and my chest exploding from the incredible heat as he so full of himself assured me: “Relax, I am here for you.” Back in Harmony street, early December…

Or sitting in my seat on the bus taking me from Konya to Cappadochia, my dark red fingernails matching the fresh bruises on my face, and the whiteness of the skin on my neck reflected in the clean window. November 1, last year.

Or landing in Cambodia in such perfect darkness that night in February last year, my 85 year old Swiss friend sitting beside me, a long saliva string with sparkling beads hanging from the corner of his mouth all the way down to his shirt, while I’m struggling with such a strong combination of anxiousness, curiosity and fear.

Or that rainy evening in March last year, landing in Istanbul to meet a beloved friend on her birthday after a delayed flight. Looking for flowers and cake in the airport and ending up with a huge lolly pop in my hand as I’m walking up to her in that impressive crowd in the Ataturk airport to surprise her from behind. Her smile and her tight hug bringing back old feelings of guilt.

Or coming out of the shower, wrapped up in that white towel, water still dripping from my hair down my bare shoulders, and seeing that silver mist fill up that shabby candle lit hotel room in Istanbul where I stayed for a whole week a month later. “My happy time”, as my Syrian friend called it. “You’re happy, Dana”, he explained, “that’s why you see this fog in the room. It’s called happiness.”

Or crossing that bridge lined with flower pots somewhere in Cluj in the summer of 2015, construction noise filling up the area and dust sticking to the skin on my feet, my sandals getting sweaty on the hot asphalt.

Or a particular evening in August two years ago while carrying stuff on my bike from my former home when I moved in Harmony street and I heard this little girl say: “Look, mom, the lady is going on holiday!” and I felt she was making such an accurate description of my situation in spite of the distance between us.

Or that morning back in my former home, probably in the spring of 2015, folding laundry and sprinkling it with warm, fresh tears on the stretched out couch in the living room where I’d just spent my first night alone, out of the bedroom. “This is so damn hard”, I told him, “Help me”. “Do you want me to help you stay or help you leave?” he asked picking up a T-shirt, tears rolling from his eyes down his cheeks and crossing paths on his chin, making it shiver uncontrollably.

Or that narrow road in Crete about ten years ago, after dinner in that beach tavern where those Greeks suddenly spoke no English at all when they brought us our overcharged bill. The day was losing strength as night was closing in, and so was I losing respect for the man driving next to me.

Or that creepy studio I lived in for a few months when I finished university, with its dirty armchair by the balcony door, where he sat, legs spread, arms resting in his lap, lowered chin and faint voice. That “I don’t love you anymore” that threw me out of my own life like a dog kicked out of a yard when its people are tired of it.

Or that “I love you!” spoken to me as if it were a huge and painful problem, sitting at the desk in my room back in my home town, while I was still in high school. I didn’t know how to answer that, so I closed my eyes and hugged him and just copied a detached attitude I’d seen was successful and repeated what someone else had said to me not long before: “What am I going to do with you?”

And so many others, like a big box with a wide selection of pralines – different sizes, shapes and flavors. I wonder if Forrest Gump had a similar perception when he remembered “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

PS Yeah, that’s me in the photo.

I am a teacher. I am always a passing episode in my students’ lives.

Never there to stay. Always temporary. A traveler. A couch surfer in their lives. Or a soul surfer. Whether for some months or some years, I know I am not a friend, not family, not a peer. “I am a passenger, and I ride and I ride…” Sometimes when my part is over I feel a bit sad, but I never forget that I should not get too attached and that I need to keep a healthy balance between a warm heart and a clear head. That gives me ease in allowing my students their space and respecting their choice of taking their own path, no matter their age. And I always give myself the same gift, too. Freedom.

And I know I will not be forgotten, no matter how fleeting the encounter. I have not forgotten any of my teachers. Not even the most boring ones. And I may be many things, but boring I am not. Sometimes knowing you won’t be forgotten can feel flattering, but more often it is quite demanding. Everything I do, everything I say, my body language, my look, my choices, my reactions, my feelings, my preferences, everything is perceived more or less subtly, more or less consciously, depending on how old and awake my students are. And it all makes a more or less lasting impact.

So when I break this little girl’s heart, I know it’s not something she’ll easily forget. I am teaching my weekly creative writing workshop in the after school program and I’ve just finished a brainstorming activity, passed the second step and I am getting ready to give out paper and start the first stage of writing when I notice her. She’s a tall, slim, long haired nine year old, quiet and shy. She’s in my class. I see her every day. And I have just noticed her now in my workshop today. Now. When I’ve already finished the warm-up, the lead-in and the preparatory activities and we are all ready to get down to writing.

Her right arm is raised, propped up by her left hand, she’s trembling and tears are running down her red face. She’s raised her arm as high as she possibly can in an effort to make herself noticed so she could contribute. And I didn’t see her. I drop the piece of chalk in my hand and rush across the classroom to her, calling her name. I sit down next to her and I take her in my arms, all the time kissing her hair between sentences.

The moment I see her, I remember looking up to my father trying to get him to notice me, looking at my mother going about her chores, always so busy, hoping she’d come and take me in her arms, I remember that time in my childhood when I thought people could not see your eyes if you look at them unless you also point your head to them, I remember how much I wanted my father to love me, I remember how invisible I was feeling in my former relationship. It all comes back to me in a flood of images, at the same time.

“Please forgive me”, I tell her. “It is my fault. I am sorry I didn’t see you. I think I cannot see well anymore. I should wear glasses. It is my fault. Can you forgive me. I am so sorry, my dear. So sorry. It’s all my fault. I know how you feel. I know I have hurt you. And I am so sorry. So, so sorry.”

Her warm tears have melted on her sweatshirt and are now popping against the skin on my neck and my arm. I can feel her heart pounding, like a wounded bird’s against my chest. I feel her entire body trembling and I can feel her pain. I want to take her in my lap and never let her go again. I know exactly how she feels. I feel her pain. I have felt her pain so many times. My childhood was about the same kind of pain. Not being seen, not being found, not being valued, being forgotten, passed by, skipped, ignored. My life is still about that same pain, only to a much smaller degree and much more consciously.

And so now I am feeling so grateful to her for the lesson. And to whoever is orchestrating this whole shebang. It is me who has done this. Me. I love her so much. My intentions have never been even remotely close to this. And I have opened her most painful wound. Unintentionally. I was just going about my work. To the best of my abilities in that moment. And I realize this is what everyone does all the time. The best they can, the best we can. Right then and there. And that, truly, we cannot do otherwise. If we could, we definitely would. And that the reality is that we are all most precious helpers for one another.

When her mother comes to pick her up, I approach her, pull her in the  classroom next door and I confess everything. “I think this was for you, actually. It is you who needed to have this experience.”, she says smiling and hugs me before we say goodbye.