In an empty house overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee, I gazed outside the window and watched the still water. Just recently renovated, each of the three floors of the New Hampshire house was as big as an average New York City apartment. In the midst of the fresh paint smell, there was a whiff of freshly baked cookies, desperately trying to prove that on a fairly chilly May morning in 2015, this house, too, could feel like a home. It was four years after I had left Turkey to come to the United States for college. I was attempting to create a new life in a new country.
“What do you think?” the father of my boyfriend at the time asked.
I kept on staring out the window, until a little nudge from my boyfriend indicated that the question was directed at me. What did I think? I mumbled something about the view and how peaceful it was here. His dad always asked me if my Turkish parents would like the lake, and I always said it was different but peaceful. My parents would appreciate the peacefulness.
As my boyfriend stayed silent, I decided to say what was actually on my mind: “The house is pretty big,” I said, “maybe even too big.” It seemed to me that he did not want to be the first person complaining about the house that his mom was so looking forward to seeing. Once I took the first step, he passionately jumped in: “Yes, it is too big.”
We all briefly looked out the window. Then, his father patted both of us on the back and said that it would not be too big for when we became a larger family.
At the time my boyfriend's father said that, I was an unemployed college graduate. I had moved to New York City and started spending my days at Bryant Park, writing cover letters, drafting networking emails, pitching articles and aimlessly surfing the web. When the clock hit 5:30 pm, I started waiting for a text from my boyfriend, which became a small ritual I made up. He commuted to his internship in Connecticut every morning, so for an entire summer, I was at Grand Central almost every afternoon, anticipating him at Track 26 — or sometimes Track 24. I watched people as they squeezed out of the skinny tunnels of the tracks, into this chaos called Grand Central. Many wore suits, but none of them topped their look with a green rain jacket and a bulky messenger bag like he did.
At Bryant Park - Summer 2015
While all of my American friends were “figuring things out,” I was either applying to jobs that I was not necessarily passionate about or I was passionately crying about how I would have to leave the country if my visa expired. In the meantime, I found solace in my relationship and little trips to New Hampshire.
In close to two years of being single, I achieved a lot more on my own than I thought I could have.
I missed my family a lot, but the trips showed me that maybe I could have a family in a foreign country and somehow make a part of this land my own. Indulging in that mindset too much, the relationship became the only reason why I momentarily thought I thrived.
By the end of the summer, it started falling apart under the stress of becoming adults, and eventually, we decided to go our separate ways. I moved to an apartment in Brooklyn and turned to books, writing, and cheesy Turkish soap operas that my dad never allowed me to watch at home. I had to rethink essentially what America meant to me and what I meant to America.
What I found out was bigger than I could have imagined.
In close to two years of being single, I achieved a lot more on my own than I thought I could have. My cousin — the only family member I used to have in the United State — and I rented a truck in Boston, loaded it with all of our stuff from college that we hadn’t picked up for five months, and drove all the way down to New York, ending our four years in New England. We couldn’t get on any of the expressways because of the size of our truck, so we waited in traffic from the northern tip of Manhattan to its southern tip. Two tiny Turkish women, we carried our life in America up the stairs of a walk up.
Almost two years upon graduation, my story is still significantly dependent on love, but unlike what I had expected, I am dependent on platonic love and self-love.
We found jobs where we, at times, thought we were being exploited as foreigners. Still, we went on. Six months after graduating from college, I quit the writing job I had, walked over to Central Park and ate sushi with my bare hands because I had no chopsticks. My unintentionally-rebellious act attracted a young artist who asked if he could briefly interview me for a video project he had been working on. He was in town from London to shoot Adele's Madison Square Garden concert as one of the videographers. He told me that that was not his ideal job, but to do what he wanted to do in life, he had to say yes to these gigs.
My parents and I at my graduation - May 2015
After he left, I told myself that this journey was going to be hard, but "figuring it out" was just a matter of patience, effort and a little bit of luck. A few days later, I got offered a job at another magazine, where I gladly worked overtime as I loved what I did. I also started to live with periodic news of terror attacks in Istanbul. I learned to deal with a gush of instant panic, dialing numbers and counting seconds until my loved ones picked up the phone and I heard them say: Alo.
At the end of the day, I share my days, my joys, my worries, and my plans with me, and this is the story of how I learn to be on my own.
Almost two years upon graduation, my story is still significantly dependent on love, but unlike what I had expected, I am dependent on platonic love and self-love. There are no dates at a tiny Italian restaurant, late night trips to the closest bodega with Ben & Jerry’s, or sleepless nights filled with future plans and mild anxiety.
There are, however, friends who call me in the middle of the night to make sure I am okay after an attack back home, and roommates who sit down and have Lactaid hot chocolate with me. And, when I go to bed or come back from work or get lost in Penn Station trying to find the right exit without having to go through the entire terminal, there is only me. At the end of the day, I share my days, my joys, my worries, and my plans with me, and this is the story of how I learn to be on my own.
My American Dream is anywhere in the country, and it will be fulfilled the day I succeed in living and thriving on my own.
My American Dream is not necessarily in a beautiful lake house in the Northeast — although I wouldn’t say no to one. My American Dream is anywhere in the country, and it will be fulfilled the day I succeed in living and thriving on my own. It will be fulfilled when I, against all odds (and there are a lot of them right now in America for an immigrant), can stand tall.