THE ROPES

Today, the ropes swing violently. Strung from the roof, they hang down the side of my building. They beat against my bedroom windows. I can see seven from my living room. The ropes seem to be suspended in the air, independent from the building.

They surround me. I’m not sure how long they will stay.

***

My mother and I woke up at the same time. I jumped out of my bed and went to the guest room. She was standing by the window trying to figure out where the screaming was coming from. It was around 5:30 a.m.

It was faint at first, but then powerful. A woman. From the 27th floor it sounded like she was down in the streets. But I couldn’t see anything.

My mother pulled me to the window and said, No, listen, she’s closer than that.

The woman kept screaming, Help me, and it was accompanied by a metallic banging sound. Her voice was getting raspy and I opened the window and squeezed my shoulders out from the small opening.

She was upstairs. My mother told me to call out to her. I screamed, Where are you, and she screamed back, 30B. Three floors above me, in the same line.

I went downstairs and told the doormen. They’d been trying to figure out where the screams were coming from. Some other building residents had called them to complain about the noise.

No one in the floors between us had opened their windows.

With the doormen, we broke into the apartment. She was thin, out on the balcony in a silk robe and a cigarette in her hand.

The banging came from the door handle that broke off when she’d gone out for a smoke. I noticed the walls of her living room were painted a deep maroon.

We brought her inside and she held onto my arms.

***

I wake up sometimes in the middle of the night when the ropes are mid-sway, tossed by the wind. When the sun begins to set, colors erupting, I feel alone because I watch this happen by myself.

Sometimes, my calico cat will wander by to change beds.

The ropes vary in thickness and texture; some seem more like rubber, brown or black. Others are white, with navy stripes, like the ones we’d use to tie up all the volleyballs together after practice in high school. I don’t know what these differences signify. What their use is. When there’s wind, they drum steadily against my apartment. I live on the twenty-seventh floor. There’s always wind.

There is an uneven line of pink, orange and red now on the horizon. Like a gash made in skin, when my calico’s curved claws puncture my thigh as she sits on me in the living room. A similarly shaped cloud rests above the tear, so I cannot see any beginning or ending of the day.

When I wake up in the middle of the night and see the ropes sway, I want to tell someone. I want to turn them over on the other side of the bed, because they’ve drifted in sleep and you cannot always remain intertwined. Look outside, I want to say. These are the things that I see, and I want to share them.

See the sunsets.

Neon orange clouds now float outside the window just to the right of my balcony. There is a nearly visible shift to turquoise, then green, and finally a warm peach. I wish I could touch these colors. They remind me of the icebergs floating in that lagoon in Iceland. Their colors had been just as ephemeral.

The ropes sway. How terrifying they seem. Month after month, they’ll remain dangling, surrounding my home. Making noise.

Write a scary story my best friend says. I can think of a few.

***

Five girls walked into the 66th street theater on the 9th of September. They picked up water, juice, candy—gummy bears, and two small popcorns.

I wanted to lose myself in something for a few hours. My mind was beginning to clear from the haze of cigarettes, the bitter aftertaste of stale bar limes and dirty glasses.

We five girls sat close to the screen, in the middle of the theater. Our necks strained to watch. My denim skirt felt rough against my clammy skin. And then it began.

I sank back into the chair, no longer craving our concession snacks.

***

Back home, before I close the blinds in my bedroom, I lie on my bed and watch the ropes swing. Dark shadows on my bedroom ceiling. They cross over the bright moon and seem to glow. They had floated there, at first, now they swing so violently they cross each other. They collide with my windows. The sound is a tap, tap, tap, every night as I try to fall asleep. I don’t think I’ve slept through the night in a month.

The sun is setting earlier, the colors at this hour are so clear, as if I’m seeing them for the first time. Concentrated yellow, peach and pink, clustered together as if in a little pouch and someone is pulling the strings to close.

I used to be able to tell the force of the wind by the way my walls would groan. Now I watch the ropes.

They’ve multiplied and when there is no wind, they just drift back and forth. I open my window, a few inches and look up. They rise into nothing and they descend the same way.

***

Two years ago, I sat alone on a ski lift in Sweden. It was past midnight. In thirty minutes the lift would reach the top, the Aurora Sky Station. I shook the lift, my breathing ragged. I was too afraid to reach for my phone to listen to some music.

Instead, I repeated mantras my mother would play on winter mornings in our home in Istanbul. I’d wake up and walk downstairs to the kitchen smelling of incense or sage, the slow hum of chants thickening the space around the table where we all used to sit. My parents, sister and I, are never there at the same time anymore.

My two friends sat together in the lift behind me.

On the way back down, I wasn’t alone.

***

Men came down from the ropes a few days ago on a makeshift window washer ledge. They took away the glass from the railings and shoved a piece of plank wood against the balcony door so I can’t open it from the inside. They also covered the windows in blue plastic. The wind blows through a tear, and it’s all I can hear at night.

The men go up and down several times during the day. I catch them if I’m in my living room, or walking to the kitchen. They pretend not to look inside, but everything is out there. I always forget to put my blinds down.

I dream I am alone in my house in Istanbul. A man is trying to get inside. We see each other from the second-floor window. He stands in our garden, caught. The dream ends.

The sun is setting again, muted colors from where I sit. I have to stand up and chronicle this sunset too. Add it to the moments I’ve watched an entire city change in a few seconds. Light to dark. Clear to uncertain.  The ropes keep crashing against my walls and windows. They won’t let me sleep tonight, either.

***

I remember two dreams from the same night. I tell my mother as soon as I wake up.

What were they about? I tell her they both involved water.

1-I’m with a man I think is my father, but I’m not so sure now that I’m awake. The dream is like an old memory. At times, the man feels like my father, there are flashes of his face, but other times he feels like a partner. A different kind of protector. We’re driving in a jeep; my cat is in her carrier on my lap. We can see tidal waves sweeping over a heavily-populated part of Istanbul. The cars disappear as the bright blue water overlaps them like folded dough. We manage to drive through the water and end up at my second cousin’s house. Except he lives in Hoboken, New Jersey with his wife and nowhere near Istanbul.

2-A large snake lives in the vent of my apartment in New York but does not bother me or my cat. We all coexist. The men in the building decide the snake needs to be taken out. People come and go from my apartment, removing parts of my walls, carrying tranquilizer guns. I can’t remember how many took the snake out. After everyone has left, I sit in the living room with my sister. I go back into my room, open my closet door and discover a homeless man standing right in the middle. He walks out without saying a word.  

***

The violent swinging sometimes makes my cat run to the corner of the living room and smash her paws against the windows. It’s like the wind is screaming.

I’m used to the daily images of my life containing the ropes now. It hurts to wonder, what will I do when they’re gone?

On New Year’s Eve, 2017, at 3:57 p.m., the sun finally appeared out of the clouds and there was a shadow across the west side of the city. I saw the smoke from the stacks wafting out. I counted fifteen, like ghosts escaping from small spaces. Little colonies forming and moving with the wind.

The sun was so bright the ropes cut through the light when they swung by. I stared at the sun a little too long and lost sight of my words. Then two of the ropes intertwined, holding on in the wind. I had a little over an hour to get ready for the party I would be throwing that night. A friend named Paul had convinced me to use his speakers and programmable LED bulbs. So people will actually dance, he’d said.

Who would I dance with?

For another hour, I sat alone at my table. Why hadn’t I paid attention to the shape of shadows in my living room until then? Or what it was like to walk around my apartment in silence?

My cat treads often from my bedroom to the living room and makes a little sound when she spots me. Why wasn’t all of that enough?

***

I remember the aftershock earthquakes in Turkey when I was around eight years old. I wasn’t in Istanbul for the big one on August 17th, 1999. My mother, sister and I were at our family’s summer home in the south.

My father was in Istanbul at our house alone.

During one of the aftershocks, I felt my bed shake. I thought the ground was ripping apart beneath me. I ran out from my room, down the hallway to my parents’ bedroom, screaming. The hallway seemed endless so I ran as fast as I could to make sure my feet were not on the ground for long.

My parents woke up to my screams and leapt out of their bed. We stood for a few seconds under the door frame. I don’t remember if my sister came out from her room.

I walked back to my bed, sweating.  

***

It was the first snow of the winter and the flakes floated up along the ropes.

The second snow brought about an amber glow to the sky that I first noticed walking past the windows in my bedroom. The ropes were visible, but the rest of the city was gone.

A few minutes later I saw a few cars go by. I loved the snow. It tried to cut through the ropes but they were still the darkest parts of my view.

***

When I was little, my mom had bought me a series of children’s stories written by Robert Munsch.

There was one called A Promise Is A Promise, based on an Inuit legend.

A little girl named Allashua is warned to stay away from cracks in the ice because sea creatures named Quallupilluit live under the sea and pull children down.

Several of the creatures spot Allashua walking above the ice by herself and snatch her. She promises that if they let her go, she’ll bring her brothers and sisters back with her.

I remember the illustrations. The long, thin, black hair, green skin and long fingernails. Thin hands that beckon from the ice. Their watery fur jackets with skulls embedded in the hoods. The glistening teeth.

Allashua was just walking above the ice and she was pulled under.

***

You wouldn’t believe what the ropes are doing.

I walk outside my building and take a right to the West Side Highway. I like the part of the docks where they curve further out into the water and I feel closer to the river.

I walk around for two hours. I see the greys with the color. I see people laugh, and a few mad, talking to themselves. I wander through a flea market with an adoption van parked in the middle.

I go back home and I lie on the opposite side of the couch, the part that isn’t mine.  

I look out the window at a part of the building that juts out, looking deceptively like brick. I see a shadow coming down. The window men again. This time, I see their faces and they see mine.

***

A few years ago, in the neighborhood where I grew up in Istanbul, a couple with shopping bags went door-to-door promoting merchandise from the store they worked for.  If you opened your door they smothered you with chloroform and stole your belongings.

Another few years back an old man claiming to be a diabetic visited houses late in the afternoon.  His arm was in a sling and his fingers amputated. He’d tell you he needed money for an operation; he used to work with distant relatives of your family.

***

Today, they took off the blue plastic from the windows that face the balcony. It has rained all weekend. Downtown Manhattan seems to have disappeared. There are still no railings attached to the balcony.

The ropes seem closer to the windows than they’ve ever been before. They’re reflected on puddles on the newly paved balcony floor.

The rain finally stops and the sky clears. It is so crisp. But I cannot see people unless I step to the edge.

I don’t want these ropes to be taken away from me.

***

Six years ago, on a December afternoon, my grandfather didn’t feel well, so my sister and I decided take him to the hospital. We sat on either side of him in the car, but I don’t know if he realized I was beside him. He mostly spoke to my sister.

I waited beside his bed as my sister filled out paperwork in the hall. I don’t remember what happened after. His nurse ran out of the room screaming He isn’t breathing, as other nurses and doctors rushed in. When they wheeled him out we walked back into the room. Wrappers and plastic from opened syringes and bloodstains were on the floor where the bed used to be.

I didn’t go to the morgue to see him the morning he died and yet I felt it the second he did. I’d been asleep for forty-five minutes that December as the 27th became the 28th. Someone frantically rang the doorbell and I ran from my bedroom downstairs to warn my father to be careful as he opened the gates. I saw my aunt leaning against the door. My mother crossed her arms, having stopped at the staircase just behind me. I walked back up and into my sister’s room. We got dressed quickly and my father drove to the morgue.

It was still dark outside as we walked past stray dogs, the neighborhood ice cream parlor, and the beautiful house down the street with the broken roof that people tried to renovate after the big earthquake.

We got to my grandparent’s house and woke up my grandmother. She gathered the robe she’d fallen asleep in across her neck in fists. She took one deep breath.

In the living room, she sat in her spot, next to my grandfather’s red chair.

The next time I saw him he was in his open grave, small, wrapped in white cloth, leaving me to imagine where his hands were and which way his feet faced.

Everyone said the soil had been beautiful that morning. It was clean and cold, ready to receive him.

***

A man in a yellow suit power washed the balcony and the windows this afternoon. A few of them came back up and put a piece of plywood between the balcony door and the side window again so I can’t open the door from the inside.

Another rope is secured to the floor and to the new railings they’ve just put in place. Frayed rope and pieces of fabric are attached to the railings and it feels abandoned.

I watched from behind my kitchen counter as I made tea.

***

I traveled to Cappadocia two summers ago to attend a friend’s concert. It was to begin at dawn, when the famous hot air balloons would rise in the valley just beyond the concert venue and clear the rock formations.

The night before the concert, I slept alone in my hotel room. The hotel was in the restored remains of underground tunnels and caves. My room was cool and damp throughout the day. The ceilings of the cave room were uneven yet smooth.

I couldn’t sleep and I knew the sun had begun to rise from under my thick blanket. I heard the faint, steady beat of a drum. A deep voice. It was the Ramadan drummer, signaling sahur.

I felt trapped in the cave with only the sounds of a beating drum.

***

The sun is starting to set later. The summer colors are back: turquoise, peach, a bit of blush, the lightest blue, as if transparent.

I stand at different spots, points in my living room to see the sunset at every angle. The colors now look like a JMW Turner painting, the opposite of the bright Hockney ones I took pictures of with my friend earlier this morning. These colors make me lonely. My mother would tell me that sunsets made her nervous. Around this time of day. They make me nervous now, too.

***

On a late September afternoon, I saw the smoke rise first. My father and uncle swam in the pool and I sat a few steps away, on the grass with my younger cousins. The pool was in our joint garden; it seemed deeper and darker then. There used to be a big wall right beside the pool, covered in ivy and clovers at its base. My cousins and I dedicated a spot beside it to our dead grandfathers. When we stand here, we are with them, we’d agreed.

The smoke went over the wall and I screamed. It was near the second floor of our house right by my bedroom window. My father and uncle turned, the sky darkened around our home. My mother came out onto the balcony with my aunt. My father and uncle pushed through the chlorine, got dressed and ran next door. My aunt took my cousins inside as my mother called the fire department. I went upstairs to my bedroom, to the window. I saw flames on the house next door. It was a wooden house, one of the original few still standing in our neighborhood along the Marmara Sea. The old Greek lady lived there by herself.

The house was gone now. Eventually, we would tear the wall between us down and the space where the old lady’s house stood would be covered in grass, dying every summer in the hot sun.

On a humid afternoon in June 2015, I sat in my sister’s living room on the 35th floor of our building in Chelsea. I looked out at her view, the Empire State Building across, 6th avenue below, the East River looking particularly gray that day. I saw smoke over a few buildings. I stood up and the smoke darkened. The church on 25th street with the bust of Tesla at its door was on fire. The flames covered the church, the entire block. I saw scaffolding fight between the violent sparks.

***

It was snowing again on the second day of spring, after Noruz. I had the day off work.

The snowflakes were huge like the balls of cotton I dirty with remainders of my day in front of the mirror.

The ropes are floating up and down, moving as if in a swirl, a vortex, circling round and round from the top to the bottom then back up, mixing the way fingers do when interlaced.

They are coming from all directions, coming at me in a glass tower. Some land on the edge of the windows, others go on.

If I stare too long, I might never stop.

***

I was in Iceland last summer. I sat on the couch in the living room of the house we’d all rented together. My hair dried naturally against my back, the sulfur giving it stronger curls.

The sun was still setting; it had been for the past hour now. It was 11:39 p.m., July 30th.

I hadn’t slept in days. A sinus infection made it impossible to breathe. But I’d seen the blues of the glacier lagoon I’d fallen in love with a few days earlier and the air I couldn’t breathe, was clean.

The last of the sunset faded from my view. I had run out of time. There is so much here.

***

How they float. How they surround me. They remind me of moments, now mere memories I’ve moved on from.

***

The women in my family and I have a group conversation that never stops. My grandmother reads the messages but never writes anything. Istanbul keeps the conversation going throughout their days, and my sister and I, in New York, sustain it during our nights.

One morning, a message stated that my mother and her sister were at the hospital. Nono, the nickname the family uses for my grandmother, fell from her terrace into the garden below as she was picking flowers.

My mother says the stray kitten that hangs out on the terrace was walking around Nono’s legs, she got dizzy and stepped just a step too far. I know every part of that terrace. The granite edge, the two columns on either end, covered in ivy, keeping the house up. The sun sets at a point blocked by the left column but sometimes jasmine will grow on it too, so the scent will make up for the view. A large magnolia tree rises up near the center of the terrace from the garden below it. Right at the edge of the house, the ground slants down and a few marble steps lead to an indoor pool. The tree has been there since I can remember, larger than the magnolia tree that my own room’s walls press against.

Sometimes if a flower is close enough, I’ll reach out my window to snap a bloom off the tree and bring it down to my mother. I’ve slipped a few times and heaved myself back inside, left with already yellowing white petals in my hands.

My grandmother couldn’t have held on to anything. She probably saw the little black and white kitten watching her as she fell.

***

On April 18th, I see a light shining onto the ropes at 9pm. I’m already in bed, but if it’s still early I like leaving the blinds open. The ropes are illuminated, not by the crescent fully formed in the sky; perhaps a neighbor above.

***

Last summer I went to buy beer for my sister and her friends at Whole Foods because I told them that’s the only stop I would make in that heat. The lady at the register held up my Turkish government ID, the one I’ve used in bars since I moved to New York eight years ago, and asked, What is this, some kind of Muslim ID?

I stared at her, silent. I think I mumbled, I’ve used it many times before, as she called her manager to come take a look. After a few minutes of flipping the ID over and over, she handed it back to me. I paid, grabbed the bag, and walked outside.

***

I woke up the morning of May 31st and something was different. Fewer ropes.

I called out to my friend in the other room, stirring from sleep.

I went to work and she told me she wanted to wait so it was a surprise, but they took all the ropes.

They’re gone.

***

I went to Long Lake Camp for the Arts the summer after 6th grade. It was an arts camp up in the Adirondacks, surrounding the murky Long Lake.

My cabin was stone with thatched roofs and dark oak walls and floors. I remember standing outside the door as my father drove away.

The other girls would look through my suitcase, pulling out my CDs from their iridescent case, surprised to find both Western artist and some from back home.

During the day, I’d sneak off to hang out with the older counselors, writing an episode of Seinfeld for fun or helping them clean up the art studios. I acted in a play called Who’s Crazy Now? by Gerald Bell, playing an insane gym teacher. I saw the older camp kids put on a rendition of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

I would place collect calls to Houston where my mother and sister were staying while I was at camp. We were allowed to speak to family once a week for 15 minutes.

I’d be called to the main office to retrieve letters that my little cousins had sent all the way from Istanbul.

I’d sit in the rec hall and read them, one by one, drinking pink lemonade and sobbing.

***

Things become routine. You think back on how easily you slipped into certain moments, certain people, acts, and words.

And then it’s all gone. They dragged the ropes back up to the roof, and now they’re gone.

Mina Hamedi is a writer and literary assistant to Lynn Nesbit at Janklow & Nesbit Associates. She has had essays featured in Arcturus, EuropeNow, Apogee Journal, BOMB Magazine, Off Assignment, Entropy Magazine and Columbia Journal. She is currently working on an essay collection about her family and her family’s business, spanning four generations. Mina grew up in Istanbul, Turkey and lives in New York City. Find her on Twitter: @mina_hamedi