I was 16 and he was 30 but nothing could stop our love – Part 1

Names: Emel & Alpay

Status: Married

Been together since: 1968

How we met…

I was in my last year of school in Istanbul Nisantasi High School for Girls. I must have been 15 or 16 and the year was 1965 or ’66. Back then, you were either in the maths or literature department. I was doing maths. I was an enthusiastic, happy student. I had many friends whom I loved and I felt equally loved in return.

During my second term I had to have my tonsils surgically removed. Unfortunately, there were complications and I couldn’t attend school for two months. I was a good student who always studied hard and got good grades. I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to school and not doing well. I became incredibly depressed.

My parents were quite insistent. “You’re an excellent student, you’ll manage,” they said. They tried to come up with different solutions; “Let’s transfer you to another school.”

But I was in a very dark place emotionally and nothing worked. My life as a student came to an end.

My father was a jet pilot. My mother had insisted that he retire and he had listened to her. He was  now working for Turkish Airlines as a manager.

Coming from a military background he was quite traditional and strict. We were not free to come and go as we pleased. Our friends were always welcome in our house but we were not allowed to go visit them. We always had a curfew and it was strictly imposed.

Life at home was very disciplined and organized. We all had our allocated seats at the table. We were not allowed to have breakfast in our pajamas.

In Turkish, we have two forms of address: formal and informal. Due my father’s military background and habits that he had acquired and carried with him, we always used the formal code of address at home while speaking to our parents. This used to surprise our friends who would visit and hear our interaction. But when they got to know us a little bit better and saw how strong and loving our bond was they would be even more surprised.

Apparently, when my father was still in the military he was the victim of some sort of unfair treatment. This resulted in my father hitting his superior commander on the head with a jug. My mother never let us forget this and always said, “If that’s what he did to his commander imagine what he will do to you.”

We were six siblings; three boys and three girls. We were pretty well behaved and obedient and ended up in pretty good places in our lives.

On the other side of this discipline, our father was a very loving man and always looked out for us. He wanted us to learn about all aspects of life and occasionally took us out to nightclubs with him. There were some very exclusive, elegant establishments in Sisli, Osmanbey and Taksim. He would sometimes take me and sometimes my sister. The rest of my siblings were too young at the time. That night he took me with him to try to cheer me up a little.

That was the night my love story, actually my life, began.

At the club, we bumped into a friend of my father’s who used to serve under him in the military. He had also left the military and was now the head of a labor union.

When he asked my father what he was doing there my father explained the situation.

“My daughter had an operation and fell back in her studies. She decided to quit school and is not in the best of moods. So we’re here to cheer her up.”

His friend said, “Sir, if she’s your daughter she must have been in the maths division. We are about to go on strike and we really need some help. Would you be kind enough to allow her to join us at the union?”

My father said, “I can’t just leave my daughter unattended like that. How would she even go back and forth?”

On hearing this his friend turned around and called out to another table. “Alpay, come over here.” A gentleman around the age of 30 with deep blue eyes stood up and made his way over to us.

That’s when I first laid eyes on him.

“Sir, this is my Assistant Manager, Alpay. I will entrust your daughter to him. He will personally pick her up and drop her off everyday.”

My father turned to Alpay. He looked him up and down. “Fine,” he said, “I deliver her to your care.”

That delivery lasted forever.

I never got any ideas about him when I first saw him. I was only 16 and he was 14 years older than me. Both myself and my father trusted him. He was an older gentleman, mature and settled.

That night Alpay dropped us home to learn where we lived.

He picked me up the next morning and I started my new job.

Bit by bit I started learning about his past. Little did I know that life had left him with many wounds.

 

“I was only 16 and he was 14 years older than me. He was mature and settled.”

Alpay’s life story…

He was born in Bodrum but had moved to Ortakoy, Istanbul. He also had not furthered his studies after high school. His family line had always produced one male and one female offspring in each generation. It was thus up to the male to carry on the family name to future generations. Although his father was strict with him, his mother was very permissive.

His mother spoiled him endlessly. She nurtured and nourished him emotionally as well as financially. Alpay’s younger years did not demand much responsibility from him and he was raised in a very leisurely fashion.

Alpay completed his military service. He then plunged headlong into the thrills of night life that Istanbul had to offer. Seeing this his mother decided that it would be a good idea to get him married off. She thought this would make him grow up as well as settle down.

Back in those days we would always listen to our parents. They always had the last say. When his family told him he was to be married, he just said, “Okay”. That’s how he ended up getting married.

My husband was a very sensitive soul. He was a family man by nature and loved domestic life. Unfortunately, his wife did not share the same sensitivities. Although I have heard many stories about her from various people, I did not know her personally and I don’t partake in such conversations, so I will not talk about her much. Suffice to say they just did not get along. Problems started to arise. Alpay was left with a thirst and yearning for love and respect.

He realized pretty early on that this marriage was not going to work. He wanted to get divorced but his family did not grant him permission. Meanwhile, they got pregnant and had their first child in 1960. They named her Aysen. This was very early on in their marriage. When he saw that the situation was unbearable he decided to escape his predicament under the guise of finding a job in Germany. He moved there to work and his wife moved in with her mother.

This is how they lived for two years.

On the insistence of his family he finally returned to Turkey for good. They tried to have a fresh start by moving into their own place. In 1964 they had their second daughter, Nursen. Meanwhile the marriage was crumbling even further. The emotional burden took its toll on Alpay and left him thoroughly exhausted and wrecked. Nobody could deny this glaring truth anymore. Their families had to accept the fact that this marriage was a big mistake. They finally got divorced.

My husband’s vocation is actually in spare parts. At one point he dabbled in luxury foods selling escargot. But when their family friend, who was heading the labor union at the time, heard that he had returned to Turkey, he was persistent in his request that he work for him. And that’s how he started working at the union as his right hand man.

Slowly we are immersed in love…

I might have been quite young age-wise, but people had always commented on how mature I was for my age. Slowly and gently he started opening up to me every day as he would drive me back and forth from work. I would also share details about my school life and the troubles I had had. He was very thoughtful, polite, caring. In every aspect, he was an incredibly special person, a captivating, delightful fellow.

The more I got to know him, the more sublime he seemed to me. The seeds of love had been planted with those conversations we had shared. Soon my heart was overflowing with an abundance of love.

Well, it turned out he was also nurturing the same feelings. But he was understandably worried. There were so many obstacles: The age difference, his two children, my father and the promise he had made to his boss… So he could not utter a single word to anyone about it, including myself. We were both writhing in pain, unable to unleash even a drop of the storm that lay within our hearts.

This agony went on for months and became too heavy a burden to bear. I needed to talk to someone. I finally opened up to my sister.

She didn’t allow me a wink of sleep all night. She told me to smarten up. She said that my father would cut us into small pieces and toss us into the  into the waters of Halic, right into the part where the sewer poured in. She kept repeating how young I was, how much older he was and that he had two children.

My parents would invite Alpay over for dinner once in a while. They really liked him. But we decided to keep quiet for a little bit longer because of the scary picture my sister had painted.

First love, first tingles, first devotion: We tried to control it but it simply wasn’t possible. The more we got to know each other, the deeper we fell in love.

It was around 1967 or ’68. I was doing so well in the union that they had hired me full-time. I was young but I was already the Assistant Accounting Manager. I’m sure doing my job with such pleasure played a role in my success.

Alpay and I were not on the same floor. We could only see each other during our daily commutes and at lunch break. Every night as I went to sleep I couldn’t wait for the day to dawn and then at work I couldn’t wait for the day to end. I can’t describe the sweet anticipation of looking forward to seeing him everyday. They were truly very special moments.

” There were so many obstacles: The age difference, his two children, my father and the promise he had made to his boss… We were both writhing in pain, unable to unleash even a drop of the storm that lay within our hearts.”

Meanwhile, we still had not verbalized our love to one another. Only our hearts and eyes that did the talking.

I couldn’t help myself and I opened up to my sister again. Even the slightest bit of support from her would have been encouragement enough for me to talk to Alpay.

One day, after hours of discussions, my sister told me to think very long and hard about this. I said, “I can think of nothing else…”

Finally she allowed me to talk to my mother about it. I said, “I’m going to tell them everything;  how I found myself so entrenched in this love. It is my hope that they are able to understand. And if they kill me, so be it.”

That gave me the courage I needed and at last I was able to open up to my mother. She was incredibly upset. I made her cry. But the love that we felt was so overpowering… words just did it no justice. We knew there was no turning away from each other anymore.

Our feelings were like a jigsaw puzzle. Piece by piece we were putting the parts in place. Opening up to my mother was like putting the last pieces that would complete the picture. Perhaps if we had discussed this with each other earlier it might have had an adverse affect.

My mother was a very special, wonderful lady. She wasn’t just our mother, she was our friend. Although she was an incredibly understanding woman, her reaction was even worse than my sister’s. She even tried to get me to quit my job. I had to use every ounce of resistance I had.

Finally, she gave in to her empathy. This empathy was stemming from her own story. She also had fallen in love with my father at the age of 16. My father was also her senior by 11 years. They also had had to struggle to get their families to accept their love. Her family was very opposed to this marriage because my father was a pilot. They did not want him to fly her away somewhere. They had also finally accepted this union.

My mother said, “How similar our destinies are… I am very happy in my marriage. I imagine that you also will find the same kind of bliss in yours.”

“The only thing that is of significant concern is that he has two daughters. If only he’d never been married… The age difference is not too much of a problem but you’re 18 and there are two small children in the picture.”

During the divorce, the court had appointed the elder daughter, Aysen, to the father and the younger one, Nursen, to the mother. I was only 10 years older than his elder daughter. Alpay’s mother was looking after her but, of course, my mother didn’t see it that way.

“What would we tell people? How can we say that you married somebody who already has children?”

I said, “You can tell them about our love and our happiness. That’s all they need to know.”

When I got the green light from my mother Alpay and I finally opened up to each other.

When my mother accepted this, my sister followed suit. Now there was just one more person to talk to: My father.

Alpay and I were trying to figure out how to go around this. He said, “I’m going to have a one-on-one discussion with your father. I don’t want you to be the one to break it to him. I need to make sure you are protected, no matter what.”

He arranged to meet my father out somewhere. He went to meet him saying, “If his answer is ‘yes’ we will come back home together.”

Can you imagine the state we were in at home?

It felt like time had almost stopped. It was my mom, my sister and myself anxiously awaiting the final verdict. Excitement, pain, fear; everything was there. We were laughing, crying, hugging each other in a whirlwind of emotions.

Thank God that frenzy didn’t last for too long.

Alpay knew the anguish we were in so he did his best to articulate everything as clearly and openly as he could to my father. His opening statement was all about love. My father valued love and affection over anything. Alpay knew my parents’ love story, so he told him, “She was following your footsteps.”  Of course my father couldn’t say much after that…

They came home together!

My father was a very loving man. While he never openly showed affection, he always made us feel it. He saved his affection for when we were asleep. He walked in through the door, looked at me and said, “You may kiss my hand,” which is a traditional Turkish way of him giving us his blessing. We had already prepared a feast in anticipation of this so we all had a wonderful meal and celebrated.

A brand-new life…

We decided we would get married immediately and start building our future together at once.

We made many big decisions in the following phase. We both quit our jobs at the union. Alpay decided to go back to his earlier profession. We decided to move away from our families to Kadikoy, the other side of Istanbul. We were going to set up a petrol station there.

My mother was terribly sad that we would move so far away, to the asian side of Istanbul across the Bosphorous. The weather in Istanbul is notoriously capricious and she was worried that we wouldn’t be able to make it across with the ferry frequently through the ever-present storms and fog to see her.

We got engaged on the 2nd of February 1969. We had a small wedding ceremony on the 15th of March at 11:45 am. We didn’t give people much time to gossip.

No matter where we were, every year we would refresh our vows by calling each other on our wedding anniversary, to the minute, and jokingly ask each other if we want to move on to the next year together. We would cement this with, ‘Is that your final answer?’ just like in the game show. So, in a sense, we would get remarried every year.

We decided to set up our home and business later and went on our honeymoon. That’s how we came to Izmir.

” ‘He said, “I’m going to have a one-on-one discussion with your father. I don’t want you to be the one to break it to him. I need to make sure you are protected, no matter what.’ “

Alpay’s long-time friend and ex-colleague, Melih, was living in there. We explored it for about a month and a half and fell in love with it. After the hustle and bustle of Istanbul, the peace and quiet of Izmir was like a breath of fresh air. It was also beautiful; very green, just stunning.

Well, this is how the wheels of destiny spin: Out of the blue Melih told us that he was setting up a petrol station and was looking for a partner. “Come join me, let’s become partners!” he offered.

Alpay said, “They won’t even let me take Emel to Kadikoy, it’s impossible.”

Melih was adamant. “You and I work really well together. Give it another try, let’s figure it out.”

I, on the other hand, had already fallen in love with Izmir and wanted to say ‘yes’ immediately. Alpay kept saying we first needed my family’s approval.

I said, “Let’s just say ‘yes’. See how we got them to agree to our marriage? We will persuade them again. Our lives are just beginning. Love will open every door.”

And that’s exactly what happened. We persuaded our families and moved to Izmir. And that’s how our new life began in 1970 in this lovely city.

We sent all our furniture across. Back then they had cruise ships between Istanbul and Izmir and that’s how we made our way. It still makes me smile when I remember my mother waving at us as we were leaving on the ship saying, “Okay, you can move to Kadikoy if you want…”

Our family grows, our love deepens…

Our love only got deeper.

I got pregnant very soon after that. Our son Cenk joined us in 1970.

But I still had Aysen on my mind. I kept thinking, ‘Our son has a sister. She should also be living with us.’

My husband was truly a very special person. The respect he had for his elders never faltered. We always said, ‘Respect, affection, love – they should always go hand-in-hand.’ With his mother’s permission, Aysen finally joined us.

Aysen was in elementary school in the third grade. I talked to my mother-in-law about something that had been on my mind that I couldn’t silence. I said, “A child should not be separated from its mother. This child has a mother, she has a sister. She should see them, get to know them. The three siblings should spend time together, even if only during their holidays.”

We finally made the decision to try to reach out to Alpay’s ex-wife and daughter, Nursen. It was then that a truth surfaced which changed everything: Their mother was nowhere to be found.

She had apparently abandoned both of her children and had gone abroad. No one had the slightest idea about where she was or whether she was she dead or alive. She had never called to inquire about her children, not even once. Her brother and mother had been looking after the child. This was quite a burden on them too but they were receiving the alimony and so had kept quiet.

My poor child had had such a difficult upbringing. She had been bounced around between her uncle and her grandmother. We hadn’t even given it a second thought believing that she was safe with her mother. It was deeply saddening when we found out. We were swimming in regret, wishing that we had asked after her earlier.

She was also an in elementary school in third grade. We spoke to her grandmother and came to an agreement. We went to bring her home for good so we could raise her ourselves. Her grandmother was actually quite happy. It had been tough for her to try to raise a child. The reason I explain this part of the story is that I had a clear conscience taking her away from them to live with us.

She was in a pretty bad state when we took her in. She probably needed professional psychological care but we did not opt to go down that route. We trained her sister who in turn trained her. I even got a big thumbs up from my psychologist friends regarding the way we went about it.

We told her sister to tell her that we are family, that she could discuss with us anything that she wishes, ask for anything that she wants and that we would solve all our problems together as family. Through guiding her sister, we managed to guide her.

Until Nursen turned 18, it would make my heart race to see a policeman. I would worry that they might come to take her away. Thank God nothing like that happened. It’s quite unbelievable but the fact remains that to this day their mother still has not made an appearance. We have no idea what became of her.

Back in those days my mother-in-law was on her own. Her husband with the deep blue eyes had passed away. She wanted to raise Aysen herself and she did.

My mother-in-law was a very mature woman with a deep comprehension of cultural sensitivities. Because the age difference between myself and Aysen was so little, she had advised that Aysen call me ‘sister’. Aysen still calls me ‘sister’ but always states, “Well, I call you that out of habit but know that within the word ‘sister’ lies the word ‘mother.’”

When Nursen first joined us, she was a timid, adorable nine-year-old girl. The second she saw me, she held my hand and said, “Can I call you ‘mother’?” So although one of them calls me ‘mother’ and the other one ‘sister’ to me they are both my daughters.

The children and I have an incredibly loving, strong bond.

I remember one day, shortly after they graduated from elementary school, those two young ladies said they wanted to talk to me. They said, “We don’t think it’s giving birth that’s important, it’s who raises a child that matters. As far as we are concerned, our other mother does not exist. You are our mother.”

I replied, “No, there is no such thing as a bad mother. Maybe there were some things she could not tell you. You will always have a mother and you will always feel love and respect for her within your heart. Please do not repeat such words again and please don’t have a bad opinion of her. I am also your mother but never forget that you have another mother out there who carried you and gave birth to you.”

” ‘A child should not be separated from its mother. This child has a mother, she has a sister. She should see them, get to know them. The three siblings should spend time together, even if only during their holidays.’ It was then that a truth surfaced which changed everything…”

My mother-in-law contacted an illness. Her dying wish was to see Aysen married. Alpay respected her wish and there was a wedding. Aysen was also quite young when she got married. This turned out to be a blessed match and a very happy union. And thanks to that we have also managed to hold our great-grandchildren in our arms.

It seems to be a trend in our family: Everybody gets married quite young but the unions are blissful and happy.

Aysen moved to Ankara when she got married. My son Cenk was six and Nursen was 10. Our life continued as a family of four. Nursen called me ‘mother’ so my son never knew any different.

One day that changed. I had my friends over at my house. We were all quite young so we were discussing births, miscarriages and abortions. Cenk was studying in his room and had apparently overheard me mentioning that I had given birth once.

After my friends left he approached me. I could feel his hesitation and see that he was very uncomfortable. He said, “I need to ask you something. I unfortunately overheard you mentioning that you had given birth only once. What about my sister?”

I stared at him in stunned silence. Then I said, “Okay, let’s talk about it.”

He just looked at me for a while and said, “No, I don’t want to. But thank you,” and made his way back to his room.

We never discussed it again to this day. Both his sisters are very precious to him.

In our family, we never get upset and stop talking to each other. If we have issues, we share it and try to find solutions. We have a round dinner table. Everyone does what they have to do in their rooms – they study, they read – but when it’s time for dinner, we all congregate around the dinner table and that’s where we discuss absolutely everything.

My husband and I usually had the same approach to issues. If once in a while one of us didn’t agree with the other, we would gently nudge each other on the foot under the table. It was only behind closed doors in our room that we would tell each other openly, “You were a little angry today and what you said was slightly unfair…”

“The more we shared, the more we nurtured the seeds of love that we had planted. Our foundation was thus built on rock solid ground.”

But we usually were of the same opinion. I’d even said to him, “I wonder if we’re doing this all wrong; we never fight!”

Our habit of sharing and consulting each other still continues to this day. We always discuss it whenever there is a decision to be taken.

I am now a personal development counselor in university.

Leaving school at such a young age had always been a big disappointment for me because I loved to study and learn. Finding myself working as a counselor in university, embraced in this academic life that I love so much, I constantly remind myself, as well as others, to never give up hope, to never give up on your dreams.

I always try to share this guidance with my young students.

I also always tell them, “You’re now getting married. Forget about ‘me’ and ‘you’. Become ‘us’. There is no more ‘my mother / your father’. It is now ‘our parents’.”

I always emphasize the importance of respect in a marriage.

Meanwhile, our married life was flowing beautifully. Work was going equally well. We had opened up a few more petrol stations.

Then slowly things took a turn for the worse.

To be continued…

(Interview & write-up by Bianca)

Read Part 2 of this story here.

Read about our previous couple Anita & David.

 

 

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