Downtrodden by despair and shock, I marched into my apartment, letting the door slam behind me.
I was nowhere near prepared to make the phone call I never wanted to make, but I knew that I had no choice.
My tears hit my cell phone screen as I clicked on my mother’s contact.
“Sabrina?” Thank the lord she picked up. All I needed at that moment was someone to talk to. “What’s wrong?”
The mere sound of his name sent in yet another opening of the floodgates. It was hopeless. Even the very thought of him was destroying me.
“Sabrina!” The alarm in my mother’s voice was evident. “Please tell me, what’s wrong?”
More incoherent sobs on my end.
“Sabrina, I’m worried. At least try to tell me why you’re like this.”
So I explained to her the entire situation in blubbering.
I told her about how I had finally earned enough to buy Gabriel a ring, and about the lunch where I was initially supposed to pop the question, until he told me that he was tired of using all of his energy on someone who constantly made him furious, even though I was nothing but nice to him all the time.
“Sabrina, that’s horrible.”
“Yeah, that’s a nice way to put it.” I sobbed once again.
After 15 minutes of more incomprehensible crying and attempts to make me feel better, my mom asked the one question I had been dreading.
“What are you doing about the ring?”
I knew I was going to hate saying this part. It symbolized the tragedy of the whole situation. “I’m bringing it to a…” A lump formed in my throat. “A…a pawn shop!”
This time, my cries were so loud and anguished that I got a bang on the roof from my upstairs neighbor.
“I’m giving what I thought would be the key to a better life, what I worked so tirelessly for, to a lowly pawn shop!” The thought was too much to bear.
“I’m sorry about that, sweetie. Honestly. That Gabriel is not worth your tears, believe me.”
Difficult as it was, it was time for me to accept that this was going to be my reality.
“ Love you, Mom.”
“Love you too, Sabrina. You’re an amazing girl. Never forget that.”
With that last note of depthless encouragement, she hung up.
I went to the junk cabinet by my bedroom where I kept all my envelopes and bubble wrap. Even though it was no longer useful, I still felt obligated to nurture and protect the ring.
As I rifled through all the empty boxes to find the perfect sized envelope, my hands landed on a harder material. Upon pulling it out a little further, I saw that it was indeed a box–but a different kind of box.
It was made of wood and looked like it had seen better days. Out of curiosity, I opened it up, a creaking noise echoing throughout my apartment.
There was nothing inside, except for an extremely dusty rectangular item that I simply could not make out.
After clearing away the dust, I finally uncovered what the mystery object was: a leather-bound journal.
Inside, the pages were yellowing and covered in black scrawl. It looked like a diary of some sort.
The top of the first page read 4/8/1932.
My eyes darted to the entry that filled the page. There was no way I was not going to read on…
I am going through a very difficult time in my life. My mother and sister have just left Izmir for Argentina. I will miss them dreadfully, but I am still glad that I am not travelling with them. Before Streya left, she gave me this journal that she bought in the very center of the city. She told me to write down the things that I would not be able to say to them now that they are gone. Already I have to use it, because I miss both of them so terribly. I will turn to it for guidance whenever it is necessary.
I stared at the journal in shock. This must have belonged to my great grandmother Sabriye, back when she lived in Turkey. I hardly knew anything about her, except that my name was inspired by hers.
My curiosity piquing, I flipped to the next entry.
I have terrible news. I received a letter from my mother telling me that Solomon’s mother passed away last week. She was a wonderful woman, and I can’t fathom the thought of her being gone. But there is much more to this story. On her deathbed, she told Solomon to marry me! Then, my mother told me that she wanted me to marry him, too! Can you even imagine? I have nothing against Solomon, he was once a great friend, but we have not seen each other since he moved to America ten years ago. How much of him has changed? Also, I am in a very happy relationship with Ilyas. I know my family resents him because he is not Jewish like the men they want for me, and they have told me before they do not like his anger, but he is the love of my life. I am writing a new letter to my mother telling her why I should not marry Solomon. Hopefully she will be convinced to let me love the person I choose.
I thought that my news last week was going to be the worst news I have ever heard. But after what I found out today, it no longer holds that title. My mother is still forcing me to marry Solomon…and move to America! I can never imagine leaving Izmir. It is my hometown, my most favorite place. Nothing can get me to leave. Well, except for my mother, because I still want her to be proud me, and I would like to make my father’s spirit proud as well.. I am scheduled to get on the boat in November. I have not told Ilyas yet, because I want to savor the rest of our time together. Months ago, my life was going well, and now this! I feel like I am in a nightmare.
The day has arrived. I am leaving Izmir for America. Well, first I am taking the train to Marseille, and then the boat to Cuba, where Solomon will meet me, and we will get married six weeks after my arrival. Then, we will go to Chicago, where our new lives will begin. I have never been more nervous or depressed. I am leaving behind a great love here in Turkey for an unfamiliar life in America with a man I do not want to marry. Ilyas and I seperated, and he got very angry at me, as he always used to do. I have no one to support me on this journey that I am scared to make. I may be twenty-six, but I feel more like a child.
It is midnight, and I am on the train to Marseille. Sleep has yet to find me. It has found the other passengers, so I am the only one awake. I have never felt more lonely in my life, especially coming from such a closely knit city. I want Streya. I want my mother. I want Ilyas. I want to be back home.
It has been a little bit since I have written in this journal, but a lot has happened since.
The train journey to Marseille was long and full of regrets and sadness. I wanted nothing more than to be back with my mother and Streya. Then, I got on the boat to Cuba. I despised that portion of my voyage because the ocean was always rough, and therefore I was always sick. After a week on the ship, I finally arrived on dry land. There to greet me was Solomon. The first thing I noticed was how much he had changed physically. All of his hair was gone! I was so surprised that the first thing I said to him was “what happened to your hair?” Not even a hello. He seemed very happy to see me, as was I. I just did not want to be his wife. But he very badly wants to be my husband. In our hotel room, he wanted me to sleep in his bed with him, but I could not get myself to do so. I felt like I was betraying Ilyas, and, even worse, betraying myself. For a week and a half, I slept on the floor instead of in the comfortable bed, because I could not bear to be next to another man. Everything felt so wrong. During the day, Solomon and I go into the villages and sit on the beach. Talking to him has been a pleasure, but I still do not see myself loving him. Cuba is beautiful, but home is even more so. I know I have said this very many times, but I want to be living my old life.
My fingers scanned the words on the page that were written all those years ago. I had no idea that my great grandmother’s marriage had been arranged. I had no idea that she lived in Turkey for that long.
I felt sympathy towards the woman whom I was named after. At the time of writing this, she was my age, twenty-six, but she had gone through such a struggle. Leaving behind the man she loved for one who she simply did not have romantic attraction towards seemed unimaginable. And making such a long journey alone seemed terrifying.
Anxious to see if she had a happy ending, I kept reading.
I have experienced a change within in me that I never thought I would experience. I feel as if I am developing the romantic feelings for Solomon my mother always wanted me to have. I know nobody will ever read this diary, but in case someone is, do not be so surprised. Allow me to explain. Whenever I was with Ilyas, he always seemed to be angry, angry, angry. I never thought of this as being a negative, just a part of his personality that he could not change. But the more time I spend with sweet and loving Solomon, the more I realize that my relationship with Ilyas was actually not as perfect as I once thought it was. Two nights ago, I stopped sleeping on the floor and finally worked up the courage to sleep in his bed with him. That was when I had my catharsis. Next to him, I felt a sort of gratification that I never felt with Ilyas. The feelings from that night are unable to be written down. The most attractive thing about Solomon is his personality. Physically, he is alright, not as visually pleasing as Ilyas. But his sweetness is so welcoming and just so beautiful. I do not know why I was ever so upset about marrying him. This is going to be great for us!
My life has been surrounded by change, good and bad. First of all, it is the new year. I am hoping that 1933 will be better than 1932. Second, I have heard that my mother passed away. I did not like to discuss this with anyone, not even my diary, but I knew that she was sick for a very long time. That was why she went to Argentina: to get the care that she needed. But of course, her plan did not work. Her death was sad, but inevitable. In other news, Solomon and I are marrying tomorrow. I am excited because I have found that I love him very much, more than I ever did Ilyas. It took me a little while to realize, but I will enjoy being his wife.
It is official: Solomon and I are married. We had the ceremony this morning, near the beach. But there were a couple of things missing. First, there was not a rabbi blessing us, because there are not many in Cuba. This discomforted me, because I felt as though I was betraying my religion, even though the man I was marrying was Jewish. The other thing that was absent from the ceremony was a ring. At the altar, Solomon regretfully told me that he was very poor. Business is not good in America right now, and he had hardly any money after he bought his ticket to Cuba. I had no problem with this, because I lived a very simple life back in Izmir. I was accustomed to not having luxuries. But he assured me that I am his elmas, his diamond. He is my elmas as well. Tomorrow, we take a short boat ride to Florida, then a train to his apartment in Chicago. In spite of my excitement, I am still nervous for America. I have heard that there is intolerance over there, as well as something that Solomon calls a depression. I am just glad that he will be by my side the entire time.
In that moment, I wished that I could travel to Sabriye and Solomon’s time and give them my otherwise useless ring.
Their love was so unexpected. It was beautiful to see the strength that Sabriye had to realize that her previous relationship veered towards an abusive one.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my own previous relationship had been the same way.
I always thought that I could be Gabriel’s savior. When I met him, he was like Ilyas: angry, angry, angry. I could change his feelings, I could make him happier.
For a while, that was exactly what I did: I made him more euphoric. During the early phases of our relationship, he stopped getting upset over every little thing. But as we got closer, he relapsed into his old habits.
He was never physically abusive, but his words were scathing. “Ugly,” “stupid,” and “bitch” were said more than “I love you.”
But like my great grandmother was with Ilyas, I never saw this as a reason to leave him, but merely an aspect of his being that could not be changed.
Now, as I stared at the pages before me, I realized that I did not have much of a loss to mourn after all.
All of the sudden, the unmistakable piano riff from Father John Misty’s “I Love You Honeybear” echoed from my phone. Gabriel was calling me.
After a good ten seconds of contemplating whether I should pick up the phone or simply let him go to voicemail, I swiped the answer button.
“Sabrina!” Gabriel’s voice sounded broken and desperate. He had most likely been crying. “I am so sorry for what I said to you earlier! I was just caught in the moment! I was scared, I was stupid. I need you, I love you. Can we please start from square one?”
Before I read the diary, I would have taken him back in a heartbeat. But after finding out about my great grandmother’s struggles, I realized I was much stronger than that.
“Gabriel,” I said, with a firm calmness. “I have realized that too much of our relationship consisted of you degrading me.”
“What do you mean? I love you, babe!”
“If you really did, you would have said it more when we were still together. You would not have spent our dates belittling me.”
“Wait, let me–”
“Do not even think for a second that I am going to let you give an explanation. As of right now, us getting back together is an impossible dream. Besides, I’ve already grown accustomed to the single life. It’s great.”
I hung up the phone to a silent Gabriel on the other end.
After that call, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I was glad that I did not get myself back into something that would inevitably destroy me.
I glanced at the wall clock, noticing that was already 4:00. The pawn shop was closing in an hour.
I gathered the now defunct ring and my bag. Before going out, I checked the diary for more entries. But the next few pages were empty.
A sudden curiosity washed over me. I wanted to know more about my namesake. Did she enjoy her life in America? When did she have my grandpa and great aunt? Did she and Solomon ever stop truly loving each other? Did they share the same level of passion?
All these burning questions were making me believe that I had to protect the journal. Or maybe that it would protect me. Either way, I could not leave it at home.
I walked to the nearest station and hopped on the train. As I sped further into the more historic areas of the city, I started to see Chicago in a new light.
There was a very high possibility that my great grandparents could have walked these exact streets back in the thirties.
I took the journal out of my bag and held it next to my chest. I was as close to my family’s history as I could possibly get.
All of the sudden, I felt something stick out from one of the pages. It was a faded advertisement for a place called “Sabriye Clothing and Shoe Repair.”
I opened the journal back up. There were more pages covered in writing that I had not yet seen.
The advertisement was in full view now. There was a photograph of the storefront, complete with a large wooden sign bearing the store’s name. The tagline boasted, “Fixing your clothing, so you will not need new ones!”
There was also an address in finer print: “847 Clark Street.”
I remembered my grandpa telling me about how his father had owned a shoe store. This must have been it.
“Now arriving at Clark Street Station,” the voice on the intercom droned.
This was my chance to visit a piece of my family history.
Getting off at the station, my heart was racing. What if the store was still there? Did the owners know more about my great grandparents? What if it was not there anymore, a distant memory from days gone by?
I scanned the old brown buildings for the right address. I finally came to 847.
The storefront before me was not a shoe store, but a tiny coffee shop.
I was starving, and I wanted to escape the cold and read more of the diary, so I ducked inside.
The cafe was narrow, with barely enough room for a counter and a few tables.
I took a seat and read more of the pages.
It has been some time since Solomon and I arrived in Chicago. I am unsure of how I feel about my new life. It turns out that my husband, like most of the people in America, is very poor. He does not have a proper house, just a little apartment in his shoe store. Speaking of such, his store is not doing well, because most people cannot afford to buy shoes. He told me that he has had the same inventory for months, and that it has remain untouched. The person who kept his shop while he was gone told him that there had not been much of an improvement while he was in Cuba with me. I am looking for a seamstress job at the moment, but there are not many available. For the time being, all I can do is hope for the best, for both me and Solomon.
It has been a very long time since I have written in this journal, because life has gotten very busy. A little while back, Solomon decided to reinvent his business after he found out that I had a specialty for sewing. So we put my seamstress abilities and his shoe repairing skills to good use and changed our company’s name to Sabriye Clothing and Shoe Repair. We donated all the unworn shoes that did not fit us to a shelter down the street. Our low prices for our services as well as the notion that no one could afford new clothes brought us in many customers. We were able to make a good enough living to move to a larger apartment across the street. Our shop has become very popular, and many people are talking about how good we are. I am glad we have found success, but I sort of knew that we would all along.
Our shop is still very successful, but I am less happy about it than I was before. Honestly, I hate that we are prospering while most of the people in the city are dwindling. I can not stand the feeling of going to bed knowing that most of the people around me do not have such a luxury. I do all I can to help. I volunteer at the shelters and soup kitchens, I do some alterations for free, I donate the clothes I do not want anymore, but nothing can eliminate the pain that I felt inside. But it has dawned on me that in these times, it is the best to look out for yourself before you look out for others. It has been difficult to adapt this mentality, coming from a place that advocated giving to others before you give to yourself, but I have found the truth within this new, American moral..
We are leaving Chicago tonight because something horrible has happened. I cannot write about it now, for I am scared that someone will discover what I am saying. I will update you as soon as possible, that is, if I am still living.
In that moment, I nearly dropped the diary on the floor. I knew exactly what was coming. I had heard the horror stories before.
Scared to see the descriptions of this terrifying event, I hesitantly flipped the page.
I am simply going to recount the story of what happened on the 29th, the reason why Solomon and I fled Chicago. Here we go…
The city that we once lived in was full of groups of very bad people. There was unrest everywhere we went towards different races, classes, and religions. As Turkish Jews, Solomon and I had reasons to worry for our safety, but we never imagined that anything particularly terrible would occur. But we were very wrong. That night, Solomon and I were asleep when a loud boom awoke us. We looked out the window and saw that our store was engulfed in flames. Solomon called the fire department, but I was too shocked to move. At the time, I thought it was an accident. But upon further inspection, we found that it had been a direct attack done by an anti-Jewish group of German immigrants. We knew this because of the hideous note left at the scene that claimed that they did such a thing because they were trying to bring something known as the Holocaust to America. Solomon and I still do not know what they meant, but we do know that the store was set on fire because of our religion. The police officers gave us a warning. They said that similar things had been taking place for weeks now, and that some Jewish people had even been murdered. Even worse, whoever is doing this has yet to be caught. So we decided to leave for Los Angeles, because one of Solomon’s friends lives out there. Now, we’re living with his very generous friend and looking for jobs and places of our own. I hope we will be safer here than in Chicago.
Rereading that story had left me in a cold sweat. The worst part of the entire situation was that not much has changed in Chicago since the early thirties.
Just yesterday, I nearly had to evacuate my apartment because of a shooting at a black church down the street. Everywhere I looked, tension between the prosperous and the down-on-their-luck was all too imminent. Unions of all ethnicities, races, and backgrounds had formed in an attempt to combat these injustices, but for the time being, it was hopeless.
Chicago was–and will probably always be–a divided city.
I turned the page for more entries, but they were empty. Had I really reached the end?
But on the very last page, there was a whole new entry. The date read “7/16/89.”
A terrible sensation washed over me. I knew that this was not long before she had passed away.
I was still going to read the entry, even though it was going to emotionally destroy me.
It has been a very long time since I’ve written in this journal. I actually just found it in one of my old boxes that I never unpacked when we moved. Obviously, a lot has changed since 1933. First, Solomon and I were able to find a nice house and steady jobs. I worked as a costume designer for a film studio, and he opened up a new repair shop that became very successful. Later on, we had two kids. They were both lovely when they were young, and even more lovely as adults. Then, they had their own children, who were just as brilliant as ours were. Life was fantastic up until last year, when the doctors found that Solomon had a disease that could not be cured. However, we all tried to stay as optimistic as possible. For a little while, it worked, but as his condition got worse, all it did was make things even more tragic. The worst day of my life occurred last week, when Solomon, my life, my best friend, my elmas, took his final breaths. But I knew deep down in my heart that he had lived a fantastic life, even despite some rough patches. We buried him in Chicago, because we know that was his desire. Now, I am selling our house. I cannot bear to stay here. I will only think of Solomon. Also, I feel as though I am in my final moments as well. I am very old. Walking is difficult, talking is difficult, recognizing the people who I love the most is difficult. My best solution at this point is to go to a nursing home, where I will always be watched over. When I do die, I want to be buried in Chicago with Solomon, because I want to be with him forever and ever. But in the midst of all this bad news, there is still some very positive news. My granddaughter Stephanie, who recently reloctaed to Chicago, is having a daughter of her own. I got a phone call from her today giving me the big announcement. She wants her to be named Sabrina, after me. For a middle name, she was considering Solona, after Solomon. I think that is a very lovely idea and that she is doing our legacy so much justice. Even if I don’t get to meet her, I am sure Sabrina will be a very bright and loving girl. I just know it.
Tears spilled down my face as I shut the journal. I felt closer to my great grandmother than ever. Reading the diary made me feel as though I was alongside her throughout her struggles and her shining moments.
“Hey, we’re closing in five.”
I looked up to see a blue-eyed guy looking over at me.
“Oh, um, sorry.”
Suddenly, I remembered something. “Do you know when this place was opened?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “My parents actually restored it back in the early nineties. It burnt down awhile ago, and they didn’t want to leave the remains to decay like all the other buildings. So they restored it. Took them awhile, but I’d say it was worth it.”
The combination of happiness, sadness, and longing that I felt within gave me the sudden urge to give this strange cafe worker a passionate hug.
“Whoa, there,” he said quietly, gently wrapping his arms around my back as I cried into his chest. “Everything alright?”
“This was once my great grandparents’ shoe shop,” I whispered. “Without your parents, it would have faded away. Thank you so, so much for keeping it alive.”
The guy looked genuinely touched.
I left the store with a refreshingly happy sensation.
The clock on my phone read 6:33. It was no use going to the pawn shop now.
Suddenly, I had a revelation. I did not even need to go to the pawn shop. I had the perfect solution.
I took the train to the cemetery, ring in my pocket.
When the train got off at the right station, I ran into the cemetery, full of purpose.
Eventually, I came to my great grandparents’ graves, next to each other as they always had been. I took the ring out of my pocket and gingerly placed it in between their joint headstones, intertwining them once more.