Saturday, September 15, 2012

Cengiz Amca

Yesterday on my way to work, BE phoned me to tell me Cengiz Amca was gone.

He uses that euphemism in English, "gone." I'm not sure if they have the same one in Turkish. But I knew from his voice he meant "dead."

Cengiz Amca is BE's best friend's dad. BE grew up across the street from them. We call him Amca because that's what BE called him when they were kids. BE and this friend went to school together, played in the street together, skipped school together, and even caught the clap from the same Bakırköy whore when they lost their virginity together.

BE hasn't really spoken to me properly in a couple of months. I'm not sure why. He just got mad again, for some reason. But he called me up for this because he was sad.

He needs to get over me already, I know. And he makes it too easy to be good to him even when he doesn't deserve it. When I told him my cousin died back in November, he just grunted. The high road is always wide open for me. I've won the divorce over and over again, without hardly trying.

I'm glad I'm not BE. It must suck being pissed off and hung up on me all the time.

Cengiz Amca was cool. So is his wife, Sema Teyze. They both had thrilling adventures as subversive students and you could talk about anything with them. They smoke like it's going out of style and make it look cool. Sema Teyze was the first Turkish mother I'd ever heard say, to one of her children who was complaining about being hungry, "You have feet and you know where the fridge is." Granted, the child was like 20, but still. If you live here, you know what I mean.

Cengiz Amca was an engineer. BE and his friend jokingly called him a çopçu (garbage collector), which I guess is technically correct, but what Cengiz Amca did was run one of the yards where the gypsy trash collectors bring all the stuff, to separate it and clean it for recycling. It was his own business, something where he could make a living but still have a social consciousness.

I asked BE what happened, assuming some horrible health crisis involving smoking and working too hard. But it was a car accident. And that was that. It just makes me think that at any moment you can get one of those phone calls that changes fucking everything for-fucking-ever.

"We're wasted," BE said. "We've been up all night and now we're at the morgue filling out papers. Then we're going to wash the body."


It's hard not to get stuck on that. But then I thought of when my grandfather died and they turned him into Wax Grandpa for an open-casket funeral. Or how when my other grandfather, and my grandmothers, and a few other people died and they were just gone and I never saw them again.

And then I thought of that extraordinary kindness allowed to people, to wash their dead themselves before sending them off. Some last act of tenderness and affection. I don't know if I could deal with it, but I hope I could. Could I wash my mom or my dad or my brothers or LE if they were dead in front of me? I hope BE and his friend dealt with it okay, because it seems like some kind of privilege when I really think about it. Maybe totally horrible but also a privilege.

Cengiz Amca and Sema Teyze have long been some of my favorite people in Turkey. I used to secretly wish I'd landed them as in-laws instead.

And now one of the world's good people is gone, in some stupid and senseless way, but then again, when does it make any sense at all when someone dies?

That's all there is to say.


Anonymous said...

Oh... I'm sorry, Stranger. That is too bad. It really is.

There's been a lot of loss in different circles of your life, lately. I'm sorry about that. if the universe follows its usual path, as I hope it will, then this pattern should come to an end pretty soon, and you'll have time and space for a good few uneventful years. I hope that will come to you.

You mentioned the tradition of family members washing the body, and it made me think of the writer Thomas Lynch, an American poet and undertaker by profession. In one of his books of essays, he talks about preparing his father's body for burial with his brothers (all of them undertakers; it is a family business). It was a moving and thoughtful piece, as are all of his essays. I get the impression you're a reader; maybe you'd enjoy his stuff... and it's not all about mortality!

Anyway, keep well....

Stranger said...

Thanks. Uneventful sounds pretty good...

I'll check out Thomas Lynch.

A Seasonal Cook in Turkey said...

Hey hi Stranger. I am really sorry to hear about this. You sound very sad. You are right: I have never really taken on board the washing of the body bit but it must be heartwrenching. I do know that my friend's sister died under appalling conditions (she was shot dead by her husband's cousin) and friends sent beautiful linen handerchiefs and towels with scented soaps just for this ritual.

Stranger said...

That is so sad I can't think about it too much, except this gorgeous part that the friends knew a useful and kind thing to do. I can't think of what small kindness I can do for their family. My ex has already told me sending flowers would be wrong, and I wouldn't know what to write on the card anyway.

Today, BE and his friend (a different friend) drove us home from Bahçelievler. They were talking about washing bodies, and the state of Cengiz Amca when they washed him, and how it must have been when he died. BE won't be sleeping for several days. As tough as he tries to be, he's the guy who got really sad for a long time because he broke a river crab on accident.

The whole time I've been here, I've never known about this washing thing. I suppose I should count myself lucky, and knock on wood. A lot.

Y said...

Hi Stranger, a bit late, but am very sorry for your losses.

Generally we take the bereaved food, lots of it. Borek, corek, lasagna (we're yurt disinda now), anything they can warm up quickly and eat now or freeze and microwave in a flash later for a meal.

Food food food, it's always food.

Turks who are grieving don't cook. Two weeks later, you could probably still take them some food and say kusura bakma, gec kaldim, but I think they'd still be happy to receive it.

Stranger said...

Thanks, Y. If they lived nearer, I would have taken some food. But they're in Balıkesir... I'll certainly take something if I ever go down there again, but these friends of BE's are probably ones I kind of lost in the divorce.