Every year since I could count, I counted down the days until I could visit you.
The last time I packed my bags, a bomb exploded in your heart. Istanbul Ataturk airport, the place I had spent so many hours of my life, was flooded with the blood of your children. If I had been there only 30 hours before, it would have been me on the floor, a jihadist’s bullet lodged in my brain or an explosion having ripped me apart. But I came to you, because my loyalty knew no bounds. I swallowed my fear and hopped on the next plane, eager to feel your love again. So, on July 2, 2016, I stood in the terminal waiting to see you, staring at the bloodstains that couldn’t be scrubbed from the floor. The only mark of the atrocity that had occurred just one day prior.
You thanked me for coming, ensuring the mosques serenaded me five times a day, blessing me with breezy summer nights and a bounty of pistachios to eat. I fell back in love with you and forgot that any hardship rested behind the blue of your eyes.
When you were attacked, you made sure I was safe, stowed away in a nearby city. I cried as I watched death spill onto your bridges, as your blood attacked itself. Red spilled all over you. Your rivers no longer mirrored the sky. When the battle had ended, I hopped on a plane and returned to you. Your air embraced me with its soft scent of cigarettes and shish kebab, and the mosques sang for me again. As the pain of your children grew worse and worse, I could tell you weren’t the same. The mosques still sang to me five times a day but their songs were angry. The red continued to obscure your blue water and screams filled the bridges like the honking of cars. It was time for me to leave.
You watched as they searched my bag three times in the airport. Your humid breath kissed the back of my head as I boarded the plane. I looked at the hordes of police officers and back over to you, and I knew I was right. In these few weeks you’d become worn and sick, track marks lined your body from where the tanks had trampled you. You could no longer lie to me.
On the plane ride back, I was stuck between two worlds.
Home was as boring as I remembered it being, but it was a much needed break from you, Istanbul. Here gunshots don’t tear you from your dreams and bombs don’t shake the house. But the mosques don’t sing here, Istanbul. The hills aren’t lush and cigarettes don’t mesh with kebab to soften the air and the water isn’t clear like your eyes.
Maybe we’ll meet again, Istanbul, when I can speak your language without mistakes and the jihadists and Kurds stop inflicting terror.
Until that day,