From Distance

Aybars Alkan
5 min readJan 5, 2021

She is my childhood best friend, confidante and pen pal. She is someone who has closely witnessed perhaps the most important period of my life. Speaking of letters, we met in the summer of 2000 when we were children. Then we became very close. We were getting along so well that we didn’t want to lose touch during winter. But there was a long distance between us. I was living in Izmir and she was living in Istanbul.

Mobile phones were not common at that time. We chose to send letters during winter for communication. We are probably the last romantic children of the 80s. The contents of the letters were obvious: Platonic loves, friend fights, family conflicts, in short, events that we could not tell our family and close friends.

Writing letters is very old-fashioned now, but it has a great feature: We were providing therapy to each other without realizing it. We were letting go of the issues about ourselves, problems and questions we had. Today I understand that writing letters to her was the written form of my free association because I knew that my hands trembling, I could only write with pen once on that piece of paper that I bought for 5 Liras. The questions we asked did not get an answer right away. Waiting for the answers was giving us the opportunity to think about it, and perhaps find the answer ourselves. The people who write letters know that sometimes, if there is too much delay between letters, one would forget what was written, the question asked, even the most important event that was the subject of the letter. This is the best spiritual healing is not remembering the problem again and gaining resistance to it.

We haven’t been talking to each other for about 8 years because of our late teenager crisis; until 9 months ago. Last year we came across several times by coincidence and then we were able to sit at the same table again. We talked about the past years, we opened up as we talked, yet our friendship was never the same as before. The only truth was that we were both different people now. The only thing we knew was that we wanted to get to know each other again.

İstanbul Ataturk Highschool

On Wednesday, April 2, 2020, we decided to go to Beyoğlu, which has a different meaning for both of us. I think I first listened to Beyoğlu from my father’s memories of youth at the family reunions when I was a child. Later, I read it in her letters. Her high school was in Beyoğlu and she always told me about her beautiful memories in İstiklal Street aka Grand Rue de Pera. (I was also jealous.) I threw away her letters, a decision I made 2 years ago and which I regret regret now while facing my past, ; nevertheless, and fortunately, she kept them. Now she is a psychologist, I…

Since my childhood, Beyoğlu has always been a place coded in my brain, like a temple where everything happens. Maybe I always wanted to move to Istanbul for Beyoğlu. As I grew older, I realized how important it is, politically and socioculturally. In its recent history, Beyoğlu has been the scene of many political events such as coups, the 6–7 September Pogrom, Bloody First of May, Ülker Street Events and the Gezi Park protests that we have witnessed most recently. I had the opportunity to listen to the Bloody May 1 again 3 years ago from a close friend of my father who was there at that day. After listening, with the distress I was experiencing, I said to myself, “ It would be okay if I didn’t hear this.”.

We are women, not families. We are in feminist rebellion.

Nevertheless, during the history of Istanbul people also had the most fun here. The most raki was drunk here, most theaters, exhibitions and cinemas were visited here. Even if they say Beyoğlu is over now, because of its changing demography, I believe it’s not the case. It has always existed with the mixed energy of all different people with different experiences, and it will exist.

In the harshest times of COVID-19 we wanted to see the empty Beyoğlu which is important for both of us separately. Empty streets have always been an image that I see in my dreams where I search for myself. We wanted to know how Beyoğlu, where we experienced the turning points our lives in its crowded streets, would make us feel when there is nobody. We were alone in the places that we haven’t faced much when it was full of people for 8 years, listened to each other’s memories from a “distance”, confronted our own recent past and experienced the feeling of void.