Hefting the damp fabric over the line taut across the balcony, I secure the freshly washed bedsheet the best I can with the clothespins between my teeth. Our landlord and his wife are down in the garden below. He’s tilling the dirt inside the perimeter of freshly laid pavers, preparing for a summer garden, while his wife watches him work a few paces back. No doubt she’s throwing a nagging comment or two his way.
Before moving to Turkey, I’d never hung clothes on a line. I was strictly a dryer girl back in the States, but dryers are hard to come by here. After years of living here, I still wonder if there’s some sort of unspoken rulebook for hanging laundry among the Turkish housewives. Is there an official way to hang bedsheets so they don’t flip over the line when a big gust of wind comes, twisting everything together? What’s the etiquette when said wind blows your pair of jeans off the line and they land on your neighbor’s balcony (something that may have happened to me more than once)? And what is supposed to be done with underwear? Are they ever clipped to the line? Where else do they go? Lord help me if one of them ever blows off onto my neighbor’s balcony.
“Many refugees got their flights scheduled yesterday,” Afshin says. He’s on the other end of the balcony, holding Esther as she waves to a passing police car. It’s a new skill she’s learned but she only really waves to cars and dogs. We always try to get outside for some fresh air in an attempt to squeak out a few more minutes before her morning nap. We’re under lockdown though, so the balcony will have to do.
I’m crossing my fingers the landlord’s wife doesn’t notice me three stories up as I struggle to clip the wet duvet to the clothesline, possibly breaking one of those unspoken rules. I can imagine her tut-tutting at the foreign girl who knows nothing about keeping a home. The duvet makes a loud snap in the morning wind as the bottom hits against the wall of our building.
It’s mid-May and already the dry, arid Middle Eastern heat has made its presence known. Our landlord’s grapevines are just beginning to produce small leaves and even smaller grapes, creeping along the backyard trellis. The kittens born from the mangy street cats are mewling; the line of fuzzy ducklings follows their mother. As if on a cue unbeknownst to me, all the neighbors lug out their heavy carpets, musty from the months inside, and beat out the dust with a sharp, solid crack of a wooden pole.
I don’t say anything to Afshin’s announcement about the refugees going because what is there to say, really? Desperate people are getting their tickets out of Turkey, in part thanks to Biden’s raising the refugee cap. And thank God for that. After years of living in precarious limbo and weathering four years of an anti-immigration administration, they can finally move on. Relief for them is coming. But, as things would have it, we’re still here.
I continue pinning pillowcases to the clothesline—easier than the duvet and easier than responding.
I read once that the feet of displaced people are shoved into cement shoes when they flee. That may sound like a paradox, but when one runs from the jaws of the shark of war, persecution, and violence, they soon become stuck in the nearest country. And they are forced to stay there until another, third country maybe accepts them. This can take years. Sometimes this never happens. The feet that carried them away from danger now glue them into a place of instability and uncertainty. It’s difficult for roots to grow in instability for the ground is never solid for those who flee.
It’s been seven years since my husband fled his home, running from the hands of the monster of a government, seven years of wearing cement shoes. It’s been seven years of watching the light of his dreams flicker as he finished his 20s and now approaches his mid-30s this summer.
We feel left behind, my husband, daughter, and me—even though two out of three of us are U.S. citizens. But we cannot move back home without breaking up our family. And so, the anxiety mounts as we watch those who came before us leave, watch as our community shifts and moves on, as others put their dreams into action, get to flourish, and grow. But we are here. We’re still here, balancing carefully on a tight rope with an ever-shifting endpoint up ahead.
Mary Oliver has a poem called “Hurricane” that pops into my head while clipping the sheets to the line. The poem is about how a hurricane left devastation in its wake, and yet, towards the end of the summer season, the trees that had been decimated began to grow and blossom. It was the wrong season, yes, / but they couldn’t stop.
“That’s a good thing,” I finally tell Afshin as I gather up the leftover clothespins after Esther had enthusiastically tipped over the container. She loves to dump anything and everything out of baskets these days. “It’s a good sign that refugees are getting their flights scheduled. Things are moving in the right direction.”
Our time hasn’t come yet. I wrestle with that grief now more than ever as we raise our daughter oceans away from family—not like I ever imagined. This hurricane has slammed into our life, cutting down our branches and assailing our plans. But maybe we are not behind, not just yet. Maybe new things are happening and growing but we just can’t see them. Maybe that fragile cable we are balancing on is leading us to hope. In fact, I know that to be true. Maybe we are measly little sticks right now but somewhere deep down, green is growing, waiting to burst forth.
The closing line of Mary Oliver’s poem goes like this: “For some things / there are no wrong seasons. / Which is what I dream of for me.” May this be a prayer for those who feel left behind, for those weathering hurricanes, for those in cement shoes, for us all.