“Both our children have scarlet fever,” I told my husband. As the sentence escaped, I too felt light-headed, as if a wind blew in beneath my feet and I were hovering a few inches above the Bukhara carpet in the family room. My voice held steady as I recounted the afternoon’s events, precipitated by an email from the preschool and ending with the diagnosis.
My worries multiplied, swimming erratically through my brain in a violent current. Scarlet Fever sounded ominous, as if it hailed from another time and place, from the pages of Little House on the Prairie, or a village in the Mongolian steppe. And it hit me, we live in a different world, a parallel universe to the life I once knew, a million miles from the Pacific Coast Highway, from where Sunset Boulevard meets the sea, from the image I conjure for the word ‘home.’ My birthplace is an eleven-hour plane ride over the North Pole from here.
Truth be told, the vertigo and floating sensation had arrived a week earlier on the Southwest coast of Turkey in Antalya. After all our delays in planning a winter escape from Moscow, we finally booked a tour to deliver us back to Turkey, our former home. After a few short hours (if you don’t count the hour-long drive through a snowstorm to the airport then the four-hour delay on the runway in Moscow waiting for the plane to be de-iced) we were back in Turkey.
Delightfully familiar, at once I could understand the foreign words spoken around me, ask for what I needed, and bask in the realm of recognizable. How could Turkey be so familiar, so like home? Antalya was so much like Adana. The drive from the airport could have been like the drive up treeless Turgut Ozal Boulevard (in Adana). Soviet style cement apartment blocks reach toward the sky wearing, like a top hat, a smattering of water tanks and satellite dishes. On the ground floor, merchants sell dried fruits and nuts, simit, kebab, porcelain, or bedding. Between the buildings, empty lots are littered with old toilets, a pile of trash, or young boys kicking a soccer ball beside a gathering pack of feral dogs.
When the car turned, the coast, dramatic and brilliant blue, stretched before us. There too was the other familiar side of Turkey, the fancy, Euro designer hotel with warm smiling staff plying us with delicious Mediterranean foods and smiling all the time, kissing the children, adoring them. Masallah. Within minutes I heard my first “cok tatli” (So cute!) and I fell in love all over again with a culture and people that so adores my brood. Oh, but we were home again.
A few days of warm sun, runs along the rocky shore, and a visit from Hatice and Hande Nas, our dear friends from Adana, and I was convinced that I am part Turkish. Lying by the aqua-colored pool, I finally unearthed the paperback copy of Chekov’s short stories I’ve been toting around for weeks. One after another, I read the pages that bring alive another world, now blanketed in snow, where all my earthly belongings reside, where my children are being educated, where my writing desk sits looking up at the wedding cake-like Seven Sister monument with a gold pointy top. Chekov tells me about a place I know so well and again my chest puffs with pride for this extraordinarily different locale that also, to me, is home.
But in admitting, even in my silent reflections, that Moscow is home, I cannot but shutter and stutter, thoughts flying wildly through a hot wind in my mind, for this is not a permanent (nor even a short-term) truth. We move to another country in two months. Iceland. If I dare to utter this aloud, I instantly float, my feet failing me. They are no longer the bodily point that promised to connect me to the earth. Gravity is useless. I’m everywhere and I’m nowhere.
With this nomadic life, I know I will always struggle with trying to define home. What is it? How does it look? How does it make me feel? How well do I know it? How will I know that I’ve found it? Transitions, these months and weeks before we move, are always the hardest for me. I want to stay in Moscow. I really like it here: my friends, our wonderful house, the sweet routine and cozy neighborhood, the bustle and thrilling hum of a metropolis. But, like Turkey and Northern Ireland before, Iceland too will someday be treasured, adored, and dare I say, called home.
Back on the Bukhara carpet on a gloriously sunny spring day in Moscow, I informed my husband that antibiotics had been administered. No one actually had a fever, despite the illness being called Scarlet Fever, and the kids were delighted by the idea of watching DVDs while I tried to digest this otherworldly news. Turns out, even my friends in Los Angeles have offspring recently diagnosed with Scarlet Fever, something easily treatable with the aforementioned drugs. So we’ve found a cure for their ills, just not for my vertigo.
Today I’ll give into the weightlessness, tamping down the ever-escaping thoughts as I try to make sense of this impossible equation. Some days I’ll exercise until I’m a sweaty mess. On others, I’ll peruse my many to-do lists, diligently ticking off the things I MUST do before I leave this city in an attempt to understand by organizing my ideas. And on some nights, like now, I’ll sit at my keyboard and reflect while administering my own inoculations. Tonight Glenmorangie is the perfectly warm and bitter tipple, giving weight to my chest, lightness to my head, and a present yet faraway feel to my body, even as it tries to float away from what today I call home.