A Life-Altering Cup of Coffee

In a previous post, I wrote about some of my Frequently Asked Questions, all of which focused on my life in Istanbul. One of the questions that I almost always give the abbreviated version to is how I met my husband. Although I had previously touched on this in another post, I’ve decided to tell the full story here.

My first day in Istanbul was a cold and gray January day, there was even the occasional snow flurry in the air. It seemed that my friend and I may have been the only tourists in the area, because as we made our way to the center of the historic district, we found ourselves surrounded by a number of men—each of them simultaneously asking us to join them for tea. Having previously traveled around Italy—a country notorious for their “romantic” ways—I immediately assumed that they were all trying to pick us up. Needless to say, we were completely freaked out. We somehow extricated ourselves from this group of men, grabbed a quick bite to eat, and then hurried back to our hotel to regroup and plan on how we were going to spend our next ten days in Istanbul.

The next morning, I chose not to shower or brush my hair, and without a scrap of makeup on, we headed out. It was a beautiful day—cold but sunny—and the entire atmosphere of the old city had changed. We found a small park in which to sit so that we could look at a map to get our bearings. Within a few minutes, a young man walked up to us, and asked if were from the United States. He spoke English with an American accent, he was young—our age, twenty-two or so—and was incredibly charming. After talking for a few minutes, he invited us into a nearby rug store for a cup of coffee. Having never turned down a cup of coffee before, we decided to go.

For the next hour or so, we talked about traveling, what brought us to Turkey, and where we were headed next. During that time, I noticed another young man repeatedly walking up and down the stairs. After his second trip back down the stairs, he was invited to join us. He struck me as possibly shy and very serious, and although we attempted to have a conversation with him, I wasn’t sure if he was actually interested in talking with us. As it grew later, the two of them asked us if we’d like to have dinner. We agreed to meet at a nearby restaurant an hour later, giving us just enough time to shower and change our clothes.

When we met them at the restaurant, I noticed right away that the serious one couldn’t stop staring at me. It actually made me a little uncomfortable, which led me to talking incessantly—trying to cover up my discomfort. I found out during dinner that he was a University student, studying English Literature and Linguistics. In addition to that, he was also studying to get his Guidance License under the Ministry of Tourism. When he spoke about his desire to travel around the country, showing it’s many wonders to foreign visitors, his face lit up and he became animated in a way I hadn’t seen all evening.

I was suddenly struck by how handsome has was, and my discomfort over his intense gaze turned into one of nervousness.

After finishing dinner, they asked if we wanted to go to a nearby bar to listen to music and dance. We were having such an enjoyable evening, and although this was my first full day in Istanbul—and my mother’s voice in my head was saying something about going out with men in a foreign country—we said yes.

Sitting together in "My Way" bar (a few months later)

When we arrived at a bar called My Way (after the Frank Sinatra song), I once again became very uncomfortable when he asked me to dance. I said no—multiple times. This didn’t stop him from dancing, however, and for the next hour, I watched him with some other friends dancing to traditional Turkish music, laughing, and enjoying himself immensely. I will admit that I couldn’t take my eyes off him as he danced. When a slow song started, he once again asked me to dance—this time I said “yes.” The song was “Careless Whisper” by Wham!, and when it ended, I knew that I would dance with him for the rest of the evening.

When I arrived back at the hotel, my mind was a jumbled mix of emotion, but the strongest one was a pure excitement at the thought of seeing him the next day—he had agreed to take us on a tour. I’m not sure when I actually decided to stay in Istanbul. At first when I mentioned leaving, he simply asked me to just stay a little longer. One week turned into two, and then three, and suddenly I found it impossible to imagine leaving.

Sitting together outside the rug store (in front of the park)

Four months later, walking home from an evening out with him, I had a sudden vision of our lives together—and I knew that my life was meant to be with him. I felt it with a certainty I hadn’t previously experienced. It’s been almost fifteen years since I first saw my husband walking up and down the stairs in that rug store, and I am still thankful for the events that brought me there.

In my life, I have found that many of the small decisions I have made—like sitting on a park bench or agreeing to a cup of coffee—have ultimately lead me toward life-altering changes. My advice to my daughter is to live her life looking at each decision as an opportunity that might bring her to new experiences, all of which may ultimately change her life forever.

Published by Erin Rehill

A few years ago, my then eight-year-old daughter told me that she wished I could write down all the things I told her so that she wouldn’t forget them when she got older. In that moment, my daughter gave me such a sense of validation, something I hadn’t really experienced in that way. As parents, we don’t often receive confirmation from our children that we are doing a good job, or that we even know what we are talking about. Since that time, I’ve started to pay more attention to the things I tell her, often thinking to myself “Will she remember this when she is older?” So, this is for her, my words of advice to be read, thought about, laughed at, and maybe even used, when she is older.

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