A Fool in Istanbul, Adventures of a self denying workaholic. By Carol Vorvain. Excerpt



My dearest Zoey,

Won’t you tell me the meaning of this distance? The meaning of this silence?

How could you tell me? I’m the deserter. The coward, the sheep, the phony.

And still, my heart sings like a wind chime in the ocean breeze when I think of the day when we’ll see each other again. It should be a Sunday, so you can be mine the whole day with no one to bother us.

What will I ask you? Millions of questions invade my mind. Some beg for an answer, others are there just to steal more time with you.

What will you ask me? I hope not much. I’m not good with words, not with the ones I suspect you’d rightfully expect. I’d rather sit in silence and let my eyes and hands give you all the answers you need.

And still, I know you’d like to hear an explanation. I wish I could give you one. But I don’t have it. I only have a confession, a story, the near-truth of everything that’s wrong with me.

Here it goes.

Who am I?

I’m the one who turns hours into billable hours, billable hours into money, money into lots of green tea, and tea into more billable hours. I fool myself year after year that the finish line is near knowing that, for the ones like me, there is no finish line. There is only the next thing, the next task, the next goal.

My ego beams when others see me as important and when they ask for my help, anytime, any day, of course, for a hefty fee.

I forget birthdays and I miss funerals. And I laugh when my mom tells me: “A funeral is not like a birthday. You can’t miss it and promise to go next year.” What does she know? I’m busy.

Sometimes I get brilliant ideas. I once thought of turning one of the rooms in my office into my bedroom. The one facing the city lights. This way I’ll never have to leave the office. I could go home only on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. It would be like a trip to a holiday house. How exciting!

In my world, things like returning to an apartment at midnight with an empty fridge, a messy carpet and an undone bed, as bleak as that is, are my normal and serve a purpose, a noble goal, albeit hidden from the minds of many.

I worry a lot. I worry all the time. There’s always something to worry about if we look around us close enough, long enough.

I keep only one friend, Albert. He’s the only one happy with the one hour slot per month that I feel comfortable giving up. The rest of my friends had unreasonable demands on my time. They wanted to be missed, fill a void, not a slot. Good gracious! Such crazy ideas!

I don’t date much anymore. What would be the point? All my relationships have died in infancy from scheduling problems. I apportion my time in blocks of seconds, and all women want days, each week, just for the two of us. To do what? Are you serious? All day? No way, my dear.

When I’m not feeling well or I’m too tired and jaded, I feel guilty; I go ballistic because hey, I don’t have time for such nonsense.

I’m so bedeviled by my own ambitions that it never occurred to me that a clouded mind is a recipe for disaster or, that outside my office, there is an entire world full of colors and possibilities. To me, there is only one thing that matters: I have to reach a point where I can finally boast to myself and the whole world that I made it.

And, because of that, I’m always in a hurry. If you look for me, you’ll find me between two things that both need to be done today, now, in this moment. Don’t worry about bothering me, most likely I won’t even notice you. Why should I? You’re not on my to-do list today, dear.

So, after telling you all this, who am I again?

I suspect I am what you might affectionately call a workaholic. But don’t tell me that. I can’t stand the word, I just accept the reality behind it. Because, really, what’s so bad about working all day long? Work is the only thing we can control, manage, and keep. It’s the only constant in our life that, unlike people, doesn’t hurt us. Plus, don’t they say if you do what you love, then it’s not considered work?

You might think I’ve been born this way. But I beg to differ.

We live in a world where working weekends and late evenings slowly became the norm and the ones who don’t conform to the new reality are seen as outsiders, slackers, and lazy bums. Economists are even trying to convince us that four weeks holiday is not something that’s natural. And, like Turkish people say, the one who enters a Turkish bath sweats, and living in these wonderfully progressive societies doesn’t come with perks only. The ones in charge figured out long ago that slowing down is potentially dangerous. Idle hands force you to think.

And what good comes out of too much thinking anyway? Why ask yourself so many questions? Who’s going to give you the answers? Look around you. The guy next door is busy doing things, surviving, like you. He has no time to look for answers. Books? You make me laugh. What does the title self-help suggest to you?

So, my dear I’m afraid that my addiction to work was not something I’ve been born with. It started as a distraction from my very own personal anguish and slowly became a learned obsessive habit easily entertained by the values of a new world.

And still, there are times when I do take a step back and ponder all the things I neglected, all the things that I refused myself as part of the necessary sacrifices. There are things as weird as playing mini golf stark naked on a nude cruise in Panama or as simple as having a cup of tea while watching the sun set behind the Taj Mahal. Yes, I too have a wish list of things I want to do. Yes, I too would like to travel the world.

I imagine how it would be to wake up one day, drive straight to the airport, look at those departure panels, pick a place, buy a ticket and go. Just like that. Run away from this striving, citified world. Live cheaply and simply. Wouldn’t that be marvelous?

But then my phone beeps, emails are coming at me like machine gun bullets and my calendar is jammed to the brim with obligations. One always more important than the next. I lower my head and muddle through, because well, that is sort of how life works.

I can’t draw the monster out.

Life doesn’t happen to me because I don’t let it happen. I’m afraid it won’t happen the only way I want it to happen: my way.

And, can you believe that everyone I know wishes to be in my shoes, convinced they are the most comfy of all? Isn’t it pathetic to be the only member of your sorrow club?

Forgive me, I think I put the question wrong. It’s not who am I, it’s who I was before the change, before Istanbul.

And in Istanbul, just when I almost gave up on ever being happy, I met you. An amazing thirty year old woman with no high-flying career, no fancy car, no sumptuous house. Only a job you love, a vibrant home, many, many books, and even more friends! And you knew happiness. You were like a burst of laughter piercing through the darkness of my solitude. You were a beautiful escape from the humdrum of my everyday existence. A true gift.

I secretly loved your wacky aphrodisiac food ideas, my Turkish bath, our walks around the busy crowded neighborhoods, and our evenings cuddled together with a shared glass of wine. I listened to your never ending stories, secretly looking at you amazed by the passion, enthusiasm, and energy you were putting into every single word. From an unimportant, minor detail that most people wouldn’t even notice, you’d make up an entire story full of fun and insights.

In those nights, you got me thinking and wishing to live, with you, by my side.

You showed me that while I gained money, security, and confidence, I lost spontaneity, wanderlust, and love – all that makes our heart look forward to the years ahead.

And perhaps it’s not too much to say that you made me see that despite planning it all, I systematically fucked it all up.

How very, very much I owe you.

But I’m not a wise man. I didn’t recognize the beauty of those moments. Back then I could only see that none of it was directly connected to my goals, to the plan I set for myself. It was all aimless exploring, fun but still aimless exploring.

It’s not easy to admit that forty-four, for me, is not an age to reminisce about all the amazing things I’ve done, but a time to take a break, sit, mull, and think really hard about what I truly want and start building again, from scratch, start doing what feels right.

It’s not easy to accept that something which was part of my life for so long and which I thought would always remain as such has come to an end.

You see, people get attached to their vices as much as their virtues, if not more.

So, naturally, I panicked. I wanted to go back. I didn’t know what to do with my newly found freedom. I was scared and my fear made your loving hands seem like vines wrapping around me, suffocating me.

And so, I ran. To safety, back to my old life, my dull old life, but the only one I had full control over.

What an idiot I’ve been! How can a world without love be safe? It can’t be.

I miss you and I’m not quite sure how to describe the feeling. Sometimes, it’s a cup of tea that simply doesn’t taste the same without sharing it with you. Other times, it’s one of my patients telling me about a floral exhibition and all I can think of is how much you would have enjoyed it. It’s sad and amusing at the same time.

And when my mind is not busy playing snippets of our life together, my imagination is molding a thousand conjectures: you love me too, I’ll return and we’ll sit again next to one another, your hand in my hand, your legs wrapped around mine, your skin on my skin.

They say distance makes old friendships fade away. They say with time and distance lovers forget one another. I find it quite the opposite. Distance, time, they all enhance the aroma of every moment two close souls once spent together, they magnify every little shared pleasure.

It’s incredibly annoying how fast I’ve become accustomed to your presence.

I feel a desperate need to revisit each street we walked on, each bookstore we entered, and each restaurant that witnessed our long, happy, nonsensical conversations. I feel a desperate need to tell you good night.

Although I try hard not to compare everything and everyone with you, I do it all the time. I compare the things I do by myself with the things we would do if together. And I feel sad, every time. So sad…

You see, I found out how it feels to be happy. I can’t be fooled anymore. You taught me. And ever since Istanbul, anything less feels like a badly-rehearsed parody. Without you next to me, I can only hear the call of joy, but I can never feel its presence.

I’ve become a slave to the clear contour of your under lip, to the strong touch of your otherwise incredibly delicate fingers, and to the call of your voice moaning a song with lyrics only lovers know. I want to throw you on the bed, rip your blouse apart, take your breasts into my hands and play with them until they start blushing red. I want to send you reeling and then, when our hearts almost snap with tension, while you’re pressed hard against me, silently begging to be taken, I’ll pounce on you like a half-starving, half-mad man. Until I’m exhausted, until you can’t bear it anymore.

I want to know every inch of you so well, so intimately, that if I ever find myself without you, I can still draw you in my mind.

My unruly passion for you clouds my judgment, but it brightens up my days.

If I was scared before that you would get bored with me, now I’m even more scared of waking up one day realizing that I lost the diamond while counting the pebbles.

I’m tired of being a tourist in my own life. I’d rather be a prisoner of my love for you.

And I would like to start now, today, immediately. Because who knows if tomorrow comes with us in it?

Didn’t I ignore you enough when I shouldn’t have? Never ignore a person who loves you or misses you.

My desire to struggle for what tomorrow might bring has wilted. And if it’s true that happiness is not made of things but of people, then you, my dear, are my happiness.

Forgive me.

Give me a chance to finally take the plunge, look into your eyes and say what I wanted to say for a while now: I love you, I want you and I never want to let you go.


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