It is your 55th birthday in two days. If you hadn’t collapsed on that late autumn day, the 17th November 2013, on the basketball court near your house, right by the sea in Istanbul, if your heart hadn’t stopped, your beautiful face would still exist outside of my memory. It would smile that heart-wrecking smile of yours, that smile that no one could resist, that smile that made everyone around you want to smile, too. Your eyes would look at me with the warmth that only your look had, when it met mine; it was the look of unconditional love, pride, and joy. I know that even when I slipped here and there, caused chaos, and you had to fix something last minute for me, you were happy to have me as your child. You couldn’t have been prouder. You couldn’t have loved me more. You told me so many times how similar we were to each other, how much I lived the life right now that you did when you were my age and that you would go back any time to relive it again. You loved being young, and you were fantastic at it. So am I. Whenever you wanted to tell me to drink, eat, or smoke less, you had to shake your head, laugh and say: “Well, what can I say? I was just like you when I was your age!” You knew I worked very hard, very long hours, when a job needed to be done; you never ever had to push me to strive and reach high goals – I always set them myself and did whatever was needed to achieve them – with you standing behind me firmly and with a cheeky smile on your face, knowing that if I wanted something, there was no way of getting me to change my mind anyway, and knowing that, at the end of the day, you trusted me deeply. You said it many times: “I trust you. You are the best. You can achieve everything; you can become everything you want to.” Dad, this love, this trust, this pride; it was in your eyes every time you looked at me. My whole body aches, my head spins and my chest feels like a house of steel is sitting on it. The thought of never seeing this look again is torture. You, the man of the future, the man who was forever young, died at the age of 54, leaving me to a world, in which to navigate without you still, after half a year without you, feels fundamentally wrong. Feels impossible. And yes. It still feels like a nightmare, a shocking, brutal, cruel nightmare, from which I’m not allowed to wake up.
What happened, daddy? How is this real? How aren’t we celebrating your 55th birthday in two days, on June 13th? You would have been a bit annoyed about being 55 already, you would have said: “It goes so fast. How did I become 55?” And now I am sitting here and I am aching, shaking my head in fresh horror, asking myself: How did you not?
Daddy, last year was the first year after many years that I actually remembered to call you on your birthday. So many years before I would somehow forget and call you the next day, or remember last minute and simply neglect to call you and send you a text. We were so good together, even if we were countries apart, I had my life and you had yours, and going without talking to each other for months wasn’t a reason to be mad at each other. We always knew we loved each other, we always knew the other was just on the other side of that telephone connection, and we would see each other in a few months anyway. We always knew: three little movements with our fingers and we would be talking to each other. To have that feeling again, I swear, I would give everything that I have. To go back and call you more often, to not take your presence for granted, I would give the world. You complained about me not calling you on your birthdays. You said: “You always forget, you little idiot.” It was a smiling, half-serious, half-mocking complaint. Last year I remembered. I wanted to make it right. I wanted to joke on the phone about how this time, because I had grown up now, I had remembered to call you. And I did. I called you, you pretended to be extremely surprised (well, probably you genuinely were a little bit) and said: “Günniiii – you called me on my birthday for the first time!” That was not true, I could have sworn, I must have called you before – but I wasn’t sure. Anyway, daddy, I pretended to be super casual about having remembered to call you, we both made fun of each other, we chatted a little bit, I wished you a wonderful day, said that I loved you very, very much, and we hung up. Dad, this can’t have been last year… It feels like the world has crumbled since then, completely fallen apart, and I am now standing in what feels like a strange, borrowed life that I am trying to make my own, because it is the only one that I have left. How can that phone call, your last birthday, have been only one year ago? How can you have been alive then, how can my heart have been filled with the optimism of you sharing my life with me, guiding me, protecting me, laughing with me, while now it is held together by strings of memories?
Daddy, I want to tell you that I love you, and I want to wish you a happy birthday, and I want to thank you for having been the best father anyone could have had. I want to tell you that I have been having fun lately, sometimes I have even caught myself laughing from the heart, and wondered: “Wow, I can really do that again?” Daddy, I want to tell you that I have been struggling, lately, too. There are so many decisions I am making that determine my present and future – and I am angry, scared, and so, so, sad that you are not here to tell me whether I am making stupid choices or in order to rescue me if I do. Dad, I’m not sure I’m doing this well. I’m so confused, and still feel so displaced, like a piece of luggage that was forgotten to be picked up. Daddy, I miss you so much. Daddy, I want to tell you that I am really trying to be good, to heal, to plan my career wisely, and to channel your voice, your thoughts and your love every single day. While the thought of you before always caused my heart to warm up and feel joy, now I can’t think of you without the shadow of sadness and despair that surrounds your beautiful face. Babacim, I miss you so much, your loss is the sky to my life; wherever I go, it is there, whether I am inside or out – your loss stays the roof of my horizon. I am forever grateful to have experienced so much joy with you – and I am forever devastated by the fact that you have been taken from me forever. But I want to believe that if there is a life after death, you are there right now, looking as sharp as ever in one of your many suits, with a Whiskey in your hand and a cigar in the other, smiling your beautiful smile, raising your glass and telling me, cheekily: “Gigi, don’t cry, don’t worry, I’m so sorry I left, but I am fine. And also: It is the second time that you remembered my birthday! Well done!” Cheers, dad. I’m so sorry that I forgot to call you on your birthday all these years. If I could, I would go back to each year and change it. The only thing I can do now is smile a heavy-hearted smile about the fact that last year, on the last birthday of your life, I remembered to call you.