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Davis, California

Monday, May 20, 2024

Column: Leaving home

Two nights before I drove back up to Davis at the end of my one-week spring break, my parents sat me down in their last-ditch effort to convince me to study abroad and learn Chinese in Hong Kong instead of going to Turkey.

“Realistically, how do you see learning Turkish benefiting your future?” my dad asked, leaning over the kitchen table with eyes squinted.

I turned my head to the side and decided against coming up with a good enough reason.

“It won’t,” I confessed.

The real reason why I chose Turkey was that my housemate Nathan got me to go with reasons I can no longer remember. I initially chose Hong Kong; he chose Turkey. I tried convincing him to go with me to Hong Kong, but since he’s always been the better debater between the two of us, he managed to convince me.

I drafted a couple of reasons of my own so I could make it sound like an independent decision when I told people. I said things like “I could go to Hong Kong any summer, but Turkey is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.” But still, in the back of my head, I wondered if I’d still go if Nathan changed his mind.

I drove up from Diamond Bar the Sunday after spring break with my parents’ conversation in my mind. At that point, I was still planning to stay in Davis another year. I was going to find an apartment with Nathan for fall and winter quarters, then study abroad in Turkey. During that time, I was also spending several hours a day reading the Bible and thinking about seminary school. Since the options in California are slim and I was pretty much a card-carrying Calvinist like Nathan, the chances that we’d end up at the same seminary was likely.

That was a few weeks before Nathan called me from his home to tell me that his mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 stomach cancer. It was the night before Easter Sunday.

After I found out, I called several members from our Christian fellowship over to the house to pray and about 15 people came over. We went around in a circle to confess our misguided hopes, and when it came to my turn, I prayed for what I thought at the time was empathy.

I suppose I thought I’d known Nathan, his faith – or rather myself, and my faith – and I prayed for what would change about those things. But what happened afterward was against all my expectations of both of us.

That was nearly two months ago. He goes home every weekend to be with his sick mother. I spend the weekends indoors, listening to news podcasts and reading fiction about other countries. Once, I mentioned Turkey to him, and he said, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to go anymore.” He didn’t explicitly say why, but it was assumed I knew the reason.

Since then, Nathan became everything I wanted to be but never could. He’s sure of himself, confident, able to see blessings in his suffering. He’s stronger in his faith than I’d ever been or hoped to be. He’s positive, funny in group settings, profound when he wants to be.

Since then, I became a lot of things I never wanted to be but inevitably grew into. I’m soft-spoken and argumentative. Easily-offended. While Nathan’s staying another year, I decided to graduate early, and I plan to move home after my lease here finishes in the summer. I no longer plan to go to seminary, but plan to apply for an MFA in creative writing instead.

Last week, I had dinner with one of the girls who was there praying with me the night I found out about Nathan’s mother. She asked if I considered myself a Christian and a Godly man. These days, I read the Bible for maybe a few seconds a week, and I only go to church if someone’s getting baptized. I said I couldn’t call myself a Godly man, but I still identified as a Christian. Recently, I’ve been questioning whether you can really have one without the other.

Nathan once said that I put myself and others in boxes with neatly defined labels, and that I should just let people exist as their unexplainable selves. I agree, but I have no idea how to change.

I thought about that when I turned in my study abroad application last Thursday to the EAP center. The guy at the desk reviewed my papers and put them all together in a green folder, and said, “You’re all set.”

The paper still said “Bilkent University, Turkey” on the top, right-hand corner.

GEOFF MAK invites you to read this article (and past and future articles) on his blog at inyourbookbag.wordpress.com. E-mail him at gemak@ucdavis.edu if you are also going to Turkey next spring.


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