Saturday, November 9, 2013

For what it's worth, it was worth all the while.

Josh found the key to our apartment in Baku last week.  He was about to throw it away but paused to ask me if I wanted it. My answer was a big, resounding YES. I didn't know he had it, and now that I have it I don't really know what I'm going to do with it either.  What's the point of hanging on to the key to a one bedroom apartment on the 14th floor of a building on the street Calil Memmedguluzade in Baku, Azerbaijan? I don't know, but I'm keeping it.  It's something I can hold in my hand to remind me that it still exists.  That that place still exists and those people still exist and those memories still exist.  

I cried when we left that apartment.

I remember our final moments within its walls so clearly.  Sima was holding Piper in the foyer. With lingering eyes she took one last look around the small home that was a haven for her as well as for us, and she slowly nodded as she walked out the door, patting Piper on the back and gently bouncing her as she quietly said to herself, "Vəssalam… Vəssalam..." (In english: "That's all…it's done.")  The apartment complex manager was walking through to make sure we had gotten everything and that all of the appliances were turned off and still there.  I stood in the entrance way, avoiding eye contact with everyone and fanning at my eyes in a futile attempt to keep the tears in their place.  That apartment was the place that I learned how to be a mother.  It was the place where I sought refuge when the world outside was too much for me.  The hard wood of its floors were the surface where my baby learned to crawl and the kitchen counters the platform where I really learned how to cook. The couch cushion is permanently uneven because of the hours I spent laying awkwardly on my side, feeling my little unborn daughter's kicks the strongest from that position.  Leaving there was a loss. But Sima was right, 'vəssalam…'.  It was done. That was all. It was time to go.

{But I still have the key.}

I used to lay in bed at night in Baku and imagine the main traffic light in our hometown.  I don't know why I did, but I would think about how there were cars there.  Right at that very moment. Waiting. Going about life in our little town in West Michigan.  For some reason that thought grounded me and comforted me. It is always so difficult to imagine that life is anything other than what I am experiencing in each moment; that there is any reality other than my current circumstance. So I often find myself closing my eyes and allowing my imagination to take me elsewhere. This simple practice helps me to grasp the bigness of the world and the fact that time zones are only numbers and that as life goes on here, it also goes on everywhere else, too.  

I suppose that's why I close my eyes and I remember their faces now. To remember that they are there. That life is happening, even if I'm not there.  In exactly the same way I would think of the traffic light in my hometown, I often lay in bed at night and I picture faces.  I mentally walk to the fruit stand, to the grocery store, to the bus stop where the 2 would take me down to the mall.  I see the face of the guy who sold canvases and paints. I hear him lean to his friend and proudly say, like he always did, "Yes, there are a lot of Americans who live around here," and I smile because I know he's talking about my friends.  I see the taxi driver who gave me countless rides to doctors appointments; who called Piper his little "dovşan" (bunny). I see Vugar who worked at KFC and always said, "Chicken strips?" as I approached the counter because my order was so consistent and we were there so regularly.  I see the other guy that worked there, I never learned his name... the one with the big friendly eyes, though.  He was always dazzled by my Azeri. (Ordering food is about as basic as second language usage can get, but still, it made me feel great.)  I see Lala who took our trash out and cared for our dirty stairwell with such care and pride.  I see her huge smile and I hear myself responding to her concerned questions about Piper's temperature with, "No, she isn't cold right now, but thank you." I see Fəridə in the grocery store as she notices Piper and I making our way down aisles.  She leans her head back with a smile of acknowledgement and as she says, "Ahhh, Leslie… Nəcəsən? (How are you?) Piper nəcədir? (How is Piper?)". I ask her what rice I should buy… more specifically, which brand of rice she uses in her own kitchen. I try to make jokes in a second language and I let her play with Piper as long as she wants.

 I close my eyes and return to the places and people who came in and out of my life so quickly overseas. I see their faces and it reminds me that they are still there, and that the entire experience - as grueling and challenging as it was at times - was worth all the while.  

That it mattered; that they mattered.

and they still do, even now. 


  1. This post is absolutely beautiful. Praying for you!

  2. Loved this post friend. Makes me happy and sad all at the same time. And here's a post about what to do with old keys. I've been wanting to do this. And the map idea would be fun for you too :)

  3. I've been pushing it from my mind, but your thoughts here forced me to consider our own departure from Baku soon. I love the idea of imagining life going on everywhere; it dulls the sting of missing just a little bit, just as remembering good times with a loved one is similarly bittersweet.

    Keep writing, Les!

  4. I still have the keys from our apartment in Baku, too. That was 14 years ago! What a lovely reflection. Thanks for sharing.

  5. What a lovely post! We still have our key from our Belding home. I have been saving it along with the other keys from our other homes we have lived in.

    I want to tie them to a sting along with a tag that has the address and the time we lived there on it. Planning on hanging them on our Christmas tree! I also envision this being a tradition for our kids. Every time we hang them on the tree we will tell them stories of our life in these homes.