Monday, February 6, 2012

Divorce Step One: A Trip To The Noter

The title is kind of bullshit. The trip to the noter isn't really Step 1 of the divorce. It's more like Step 45,000.

45,000 very, very tiny steps. A whole lot of them steps backwards but a few of them steps forward. There was that step I made in my mind a very long time ago, and even that was another series of spiralling backwards and forward steps on a narrow staircase where the lights don't always go on when they should. Then there was that huge step I took, an into-the-abyss gambling step not unlike all the other big steps I've taken in life, like quitting my job to go work on a farm, like applying for a MA program, like moving to Turkey, like getting married, like getting pregnant, like going ahead and pushing that big old hurty baby head out of me against all reason.

Sometimes when you look at your life as the sum of all the decisions you've made, it occurs to you that you've gotten off pretty fucking lucky for most of them because it's not like they were all that well thought-out. They were more like, "Hey, that's a cool idea! I wonder what it would be like if I just..." and then you jumped and there was only bellyflop air under your feet but in the end it was all right. Mostly.

Then I decided to bundle up my kid way past bedtime and scuttle off to BE's parents' house to get away from what was to be the last big all-night screaming shit of a fight I no longer cared enough to participate in. And I told BE's parents I was done, and didn't spare them any details about why. Also I didn't cry, not even once.

I hadn't thought that fucker out at all, about going to his parents. It could have backfired in so many ways.

But it turned out to be a good one. The only thing that made me stop telling them everything that was going wrong was that they went from being worried about me and LE, to being angry at BE for completely sucking so much, to being so upset about the self-destructive road their boy was on, and I thought about my boy and how that must feel and I decided to call it a night.

It's all versions of this fucking movie.
After that, it was just heels dug in waiting. BE's endgame for the better part of a year has been to threaten me back to him. It occurs to me that even my dumbass decision-making skills are better than other people's. He's threatened to take the boy and threatened to not divorce me. He's threatened to pay off judges and to tell the most incredible lies. To my discredit, this shit was working on me the last few years we've been together, all the same threats. We've all heard the stories of the yabancı women who've lost their kids, or had to abscond with them, and the terror of that alone was enough to make me stay. I figured there was no way I could unravel Byzantine bureaucracy to work in my favor. I'd pretty much resigned myself to 14 more years of it, just to keep my boy.

But then I realized that the boy was no longer a baby, and that he was totally a person. A sweet, sensitive, loving, wonderful little person who didn't deserve to be dragged through my bullshit, or my crappy decisions, or my being cowed by the scary threats of an asshole. He deserved way better. And if it didn't work out, at least I tried. Not that I could wash my hands of it if it hadn't worked, but he deserved at least one heroic act. And I definitely felt like a hero in the nighttime taxi ride to BE's parents, with him wrapped in a blanket and me still wearing slippers because I'd forgotten my shoes, pretending to LE that it was a big super fun thing we were doing, suddenly taking off to Babaanne's right at bedtime because she wanted to see him so much, stroking his head to sleep and not even getting upset with the taxi driver when we got lost because I always get lost in taxis in that neighborhood. The driver knew something was up but was cool enough not to ask.

So all of that, plus finding the lawyer, plus a lot of talking and arguing and hanging up and not talking and finally, finally we reach a real step one. Official Step 1, a trip to the notary public to sign the power of attorney to open the goddamned case already.

At last, the part about the noter...

It was nothing like this.
The noter is a little bit scary. At least, it's usually scary. It's usually the height of incomprehensible in-triplicate carbon copy bureaucracy and people who don't give a shit about how hard life is for you. But maybe I've just gotten used to a lot of things, or maybe my Turkish is better, or maybe we just happen to have one of the fuzziest, nicest noters in Istanbul. But I marched myself in there, and waited in line, then decided an appropriate time to cut the line, and gave them my stuff.

If there's one thing I've learned in Turkey, it's to bring your official paper stuff, no matter how dog-eared, carefully bundled in a plastic sheath or notebook as a way of showing penitence or supplication or something. And my bundle of stuff was as neat as a pin.

One reason the noter was less scary was that they were all women there, and normal women. Not at all implacable battle axes. Plus all the papers in the office were tidily done up in binders lined up on shelves. And the office was clean.

Looks like shit.
First off, the woman behind the counter wanted a translation of my passport. A regular translation or a notarized one, I wondered? I've done this kind of thing before. Where shall I get it translated, I wondered? She didn't know. I gave her my residence permit, which she didn't seem inclined to accept as proper ID. I didn't blame her. I could knock off a Turkish residence permit in my living room in about 2 hours, and do a better job laminating it. She asked the woman next to her if they could accept my residence permit. The other woman asked what it was for. Then the first woman read over the thing I wanted notarized, which was a power of attorney form. "It's for a divorce," she said softly to the woman next to her. That woman turned out to be the actual notary. "A divorce?" she replied softly. They both looked at each other, and at me, and then they looked sad and smiled a little. The notary stopped whatever she was doing and said, "I'm going to have to research this." And she got up from the counter and went into the office and got out a big notebook and started reading. I sat in a chair and folded my hands and tried to look sad and nice and a little bit helpless.

And that's a thing that has been surprising all along the way about getting divorced. From MIL's breast-ripping dramatics and sobbing, you would think divorce is the most shameful, embarrassing, gawd-awful thing that could happen to someone here. You would think they were firing up the brand for the capital-letter B they were going to scar on my forehead as some sort of fallen woman. And then do the whole family afterwards, plus the tar and the feathers.

But instead, there's a lot of quiet and sad and exuberant support from the people around me. "Please, don't be alone, let us know if you need anything," said my landlord's sister-in-law, the one who deals with our flat, when I finally broke the news. "You're our little sister, let us know if we can help you with anything," said the yönetici and his wife when they had LE and I over for dinner. "Good riddance, good for you, no one needs that crap, Allah belanı versin," gold-toothed Azeri Teyze shouted out the window. Even my cleaner showed me the right way to leave the key in the inside lock so it can't be opened from the outside, once she found out my husband still has a key. Apparently, even the most errant of husbands will force their way back into the house before the 6 month legal abandonment period is up, just to avoid paying a few hundred lira a month for a wife's upkeep.

Makes me think I'm not the first one who's dealt with this shit.

So the notary dug around in her book awhile, stopping only to bang stamps on other people's stuff. She flipped through every page of my residence permit, and then flipped through again, and then finally agreed to let me do the flipping because there are an awful lot of cancellations and renewals in there. We managed to get everything filled out and data-entered and printed and checked over for mistakes. "It's a good thing you speak Turkish," she said. "Because we don't speak your language." Which was sweet but it also made me a little bit sad because why on earth should she be expected to know my language? English sometimes brings out those evil forces at work in the world, some of which decide regular people's lives for them and we don't even know about it.

After about an hour, it was all printed out in duplicate, photos affixed, and signed and signed and signed. The noter's assistant banged at least 8 stamps onto each one and passed them off the notary for a final round of signatures. "Is it fun?" I asked the assistant. She looked at me quizzically. "With the stamps, "I said. "Tak tak tak tak tak!"

She peeked to either side and passed me my papers with my receipt. "Yes," she said, smiling. "It's fun."

I tapped my papers neatly into their folder while she watched, and then thanked everyone a whole bunch of times, wishing them good day and kolay gelsin. They all waved goodbye, even some of the people waiting in line, and I was off on my merry way to get the ball rolling.

May the rest of it come as easy for us, too.


oamletra said...

i've been reading your blog for awhile (it makes for better reading than you probably realize) and this is the first time i feel compelled to comment.

i'm the son of an american mother and turkish father whose story seems to resemble yours. they divorced when i was 4 years old. well, it's a long story but the point is that it all worked out in the end. my sister and i turned out to be quite alright, certainly no worse than any other kids from any other family, and perhaps even a bit better. honestly, from what i have read you seem more competent than most who face this situation. i'm glad that you have been offered kindness from others around you when you did not expect it. and yes, divorce is neither unusual nor looked down upon as much as you might have thought (given the general crap that women routinely face in turkey).

i wish you and your son all the best through a difficult time.

Stranger said...

Thanks for your kind words, oamletra. It's good to hear.

Sometimes you have to choose the least crappy of two crappy choices, but I think, despite MIL's pleas to stay together for the child, it's way better to to have to happy-ish parents living apart than two unhappy ones living together in a house of misery and poison...

Bulent Murtezaoglu said...

I lack the life experience to say anything useful to you on this but superstition dictates that I ought not sit idly by when a typo makes you the target of a curse. I am almost sure they said "Allah belanı versin."

Allah kolaylık versin, hayırlısı neyse o olsun.

Stranger said...

Hee! Thanks Bülent!

You know, that's what I thought she said, and that's what I originally wrote, but then I lost confidence about my noun endings and changed it.

Vicky, Bursa said...

wow, Stranger. You've done and are doing so well - you're doing all the yabancıs proud, and most importantly are looking after yourself and your son. As someone who was mighty proud of herself or getting her son's kimlik card replaced without the aid of her husband (he was the wally brain who lost it), I really do salute you. I had no idea what you were going through - well done you for holding it together so very well and getting everything straightened out. may the force be with you in your continued leaping through hoops.

Anonymous said...

Hang on in there. I am still waiting for the divorce to come through and we are back to 'I won't let you see him' again.


Anonymous said...

Hang on in there.


Stranger said...

@ Vicki, thanks! And hats off to you on getting the ID replaced. You're amazing!

@ Mark, I'm so sorry to hear that. And my own superstition is making me hope I haven't jinxed it, that things are going this well. However much Turkish assumptions about women and mothers and their children all rub me the wrong way, divorcing and custody is one case where being a woman works in my favor.

I would never take my son from his dad, though. What a shame to use a child that way.

Anonymous said...

S you commended us for being brave enough to take the step to move south to have a better life for our kids, but that's nothing compared to your bravery.
You're awesome and I'm proud to call you my friend.

Stranger said...

Thanks, Iman!

I still think you're braver though. I totally brag on you guys and what you've done... :)


Anonymous said...

Best wishes, Stranger. From the heart.

Jack Scott said...

Well done, you. Those women in the notary office and others around you know what you're going through. Even if they're in happy relationships, they will know women trapped in bad ones, including their own mothers in some cases. They all know the level of domestic violence in Turkey is horrendous. They feel for you - female solidarity at its best. Get strength from them.

Hang on in there. It's the best thing you will ever do.

Stranger said...

Thanks. I hope it keeps being this good...

Muhammed A. said...

Congrats Stranger. Really really congrats. You should be brave and strong. No one can take your boy from you. And please do not think that all Turkish men are creeps. You ought to be much stronger for your boy.

"Don't make sad your wife. She is entrusted to you by Allah. Behave her nice, make her happy."

"Only people who has dignity and honor, value a woman."

"Neither your fast nor namaz would be accepted, unless you protect your wife's rights."

They all above are hadiths of Mohammed (sav). Don't feel even sad about someone who does not follow even his Prophet's rule.

I hope you and your son will get over it soon. Allah helps you. x

Stranger said...


And I don't think all Turkish men are creeps. I'm pretty well soured on marriage, though...

matborda said...

thanks for sharing your experience! ve bol şans!

Anonymous said...

hey stranger,

i have been reading your blog last several months with great interest.
i found your blog through my wife (she is an american, i am turkish and we are in states) and i am so glad that my wife showed it to me.
any way, those ladies in "noter' know very well what you have been through, because probably there are in the same situation or something like that.

you are very brave person and what you have been through is painful.
but pain is meant to wake us up.
because of that what you are doing is the best thing for yourself.

iyi sanslar...

jolly joker

Stranger said...

Thanks, guys. Your kind thoughts are very much appreciated, even if I'm a little slow to respond.