In a place with a name usually associated with cat food, I had my first
man. Kalkan, it was called, a whitewashed seaside resort on the Turkish
coast. It was there where my preference for boyish good looks gave way to
the hardened features of a real man. Actually, he was only 28. But that
seven-year difference -- and that mustache, a trait I would never go for on
an American -- only added to the seductive cultural gulf between us.
It was the summer before my last year of college. For three weeks, a
high-school friend and I did the Greek islands in the manner that only
21-year-olds can. We got up at noon and spent hours on the beach, ridding
ourselves of those unsightly American tan lines. We ate dinner late, and hit
the bars and nightclubs later still. On Ios and Mykonos and Santorini we
drank and danced and flirted with men from a United Nations' worth of
But this flurry of fun had to end, and my friend and I said our goodbyes.
She flew home, and I to Istanbul, to meet my parents. I was a rare
breed at that age, voluntarily traveling with Mom and Dad, and on an organized
tour no less. It was an opportunity to get to a place I
wouldn't otherwise see. My only condition for the Turkey trip was that they
pay the single supplement so that I would have my own room. Having spent too many
nights abroad counting the snores of a fellow traveler sharing my room, I
foot down. This time, however, a completely different situation would keep me awake.
Since my flight from Athens was scheduled to arrive a few hours earlier than the rest of the group, the tour company sent a
representative to meet me. As a 21-year-old blond suddenly alone in
Istanbul, I didn't mind the company. From the moment I felt the heavy
stare of the man who stamped my passport, I felt I was being watched, and this feeling
only intensified as I made my way through the airport. I felt somewhere between a
supermodel and a leper, and I was on edge. But it was a certain kind of edge: As
as I felt by these intrusive stares, I sometimes found myself
staring back. And in doing so I made my first discovery: Instead of the familiar duo of brown skin and brown eyes,
many Turks have the unusual combination of dark skin with piercing eyes of
blue or green.
After a few hours in Istanbul, I returned to the airport, where I joined the rest of the group for a
domestic flight to Ankara. I gave my parents an abridged version of my time in Greece
and got my first glimpse of my fellow travelers. After taking one look at my
companions for the next three weeks and realizing that my parents were the closest in age to me, I had the sinking
thought: "What have I done?"
We met our guide and our bus driver in Ankara. By lunch of
the second day, the bus driver's olive-green eyes had been noticed and
remarked upon by all of the single women on the trip. I was amused by
their comments, but in those early days, I was too busy hating Turkish
men for their leering, and he was included in this group.
In ensuing days my hostility began to wane, and he could sense it.
The flirting began slowly, in broken French -- so subtle I barely noticed it.
I was bored with my companions and ripe
adventure and foreign intrigue; it's amazing what can happen when the hint of illicit possibility is in the air -- especially with someone as beautiful and, dare I say it, exotic as him. (Forgive me, Edward Said, for being guilty of Orientalism and objectifying the "other" -- as I had just read about in anthropology class the semester before.)
By the end of the first week, when we arrived in Cappadocia, my mom's jokes
about the phallic rock formations only agitated what was already
going on in my brain. This was the first time in my journal I made note
of our flirtation, but I dismissed the possibility because, well,
boinking the bus driver under everyone's noses was just too out there, even for me.
My father was one of the few fluent French-speakers on the trip, and
therefore talked to the bus driver more than the rest of us did. Mom and Dad were
surely unaware of what was taking place right in front of them, but one
afternoon, Dad innocently mentioned the fact that my partner in flirting
that he was married and had two children. While he drove the tour groups over
the summer, his family stayed with his wife's parents. "Really," I said. At
that moment, I decided that I had imagined our flirtations; a married man
wouldn't be making eyes at me.
That night after dinner, the bus driver asked me if I wanted to take a
walk. I said
sure, and told my dad that I was going. Dad was still at the dinner table,
engaged in conversation with a professor in our group. Somewhat in jest,
this professor blurted out, "You're letting your young blond daughter go
off with the handsome Turkish bus driver?" My father and I both looked at
him blankly. Good old Dad waved his hand in dismissal. "At this age, she's
an adult. I let her do what she wants," he said. But no doubt, he too was
comforted by the fact that the man was married.
We took off down the beach, making silly small talk as I grew increasingly
frustrated that I hadn't tried harder in those long-ago French classes. I managed to ask him what
he did when he wasn't driving a bus. He mumbled an answer that revealed
nothing, thus revealing everything: I had
been right about our flirting. We came to a bench and sat, and watched as
several stars shot their way across the sky. I hadn't seen many shooting
stars before, and here, sitting inches from this fine species of a man who
could not have been more different from anyone I'd been with before,
everything was too crazy for me to fathom. I'd never considered flirting
married man in real life, and certainly hadn't considered an affair with
one. But this wasn't real life. This is what I thought when he finally kissed
We stayed out on that bench more than an hour, stopping whenever someone
would walk by. The thought that a member of the group -- perhaps my
parents -- might also take a walk and see us just made the situation that much more surreal.
Finally, he suggested we move to my room, but I was afraid we'd be spotted.
I told him to come later that night. I left my door unlocked, and tried to
sleep. I lay
in wait, excited by the very thought of touching him, yet horrified that I
to be an eager accomplice to adultery. Of course I had second thoughts, but
wife was even more unreal to me than he was. And by the time he opened my
slid out of his clothes and into my bed, my thoughts of calling it off were
Lovemaking with him was lust pure and simple, bordering
on obsession. At 21, I thought I knew a thing or two about sex, but nothing
in my prior experience had prepared me for him: a man who preferred a wall
to a bed; who twisted me in ways I didn't think my body could go; who liked it
under the shower at full blast, leaving the bathroom floor completely
flooded; who would continuously erupt into a fit of giggles, causing me to
burst out in laughter too; whose body felt so perfect to my touch that I
amazed myself at how I did not tire of touching it; who left me
bruised and sore yet still counting the hours until I would feel his hands
on me once again.
He was always the one who determined what we did and how. He schooled me in
the art of pleasing him and I was all too willing to learn. And then in
return he would tease me until I ached. He made me feel dirty yet
wonderfully alive. I felt awful about his wife yet not the least bit willing to stop.
This was by far the most unhealthy "relationship" I had ever been in and I
did not give a
damn. Or rather, I did, but I knew it would all be over in a few days
anyway. I didn't recognize this behavior in myself and it both terrified and
thrilled me; he was a drug and my greatest concern was when would I get
more. The sheer craziness of it all made me feel like it wasn't happening to
me, like I was having an out-of-body experience. But at the same time, I had
never felt so at home inside my body; he moved me to my core.
Our affair continued for a week and a half, until the end of the trip.
By day I traipsed around like the good tourist, listening to a guide
describe how Achilles killed Hektor on this exact spot in Troy, admiring the
Topkapi Palace, and all the while thinking of the night before or the one to
come. The flirtation between us continued, with everyone who saw it no doubt
thinking it was harmless. While admiring something, or talking to
someone, I would suddenly sense his eyes on me, and I would catch
him looking and return his gaze. By the end of the tour, our guide, who shared his room,
had begun assigning my hotel room next to theirs, with my parents' room
on another floor. That I had no one I could tell about it made me feel like
I was going to explode. I eventually told him I knew he was married. He
it, he just laughed and then kissed me to shut me up.
On the last night of the trip we had a final banquet, an "evening of Turkish
culture," with cheesy folk dances and entertainment put on especially for
groups like us. After the show, my bus driver and I slow-danced together, holding each other a respectful
distance apart, the only public display there had been of anything at all. I
was staring into those amazing eyes, the likes of which I knew I would never
see again. "Ça va?" he asked me, calling me by name. He had asked me that so
many times before, after sex, and this was the final time.
"Oui, ça va," I answered. There was nothing left to say.
It's now been nine years since my trip to Turkey, and
I have yet to experience what I had with him. I have no regrets, but
level of obsession I gladly relinquish, as I've learned that the real thing is so much
Why this total stranger with whom I could barely communicate had such a hold
on me is something I still don't completely understand. All I know is that the chemistry between us was dangerous, and I
have no desire to experience it again. I only have to look at a photo of me,
with my long hair further lightened by the sun, standing in between him and
the guide, our partner in crime, to feel an all-over shudder.
Whenever Turkey comes up in conversation, and people trade stories of
haggling in the Grand Bazaar, or of the imposing ruins of Ephesus, there is one image that comes to my mind. I am asleep in my hotel
room at Kalkan, the morning after our first night together. We are
spooning with him behind me, his arm and leg a lumbering weight on my body;
he clutches me fiercely in his sleep. A mosque is next door to our hotel,
and its minaret is right outside my open window. The blaring of the muezzin
at sunrise jolts me awake. The noise and my sudden movements don't disturb
him at all; he doesn't even stir. The first rays of sunlight creep into the
room, and I am oddly soothed by the Muslim call to prayer. I look down and
stare at his brown arm, encircling my pale one, the hue of his skin making a
stark contrast against the white sheets. I know at that moment that this
craziness I've embarked on will only happen once in my lifetime, and that I
will never do anything quite like it ever again. And with that thought
somehow comforting, slowly, deliriously, I drift back into contented sleep.