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I left Tehran, a city of ten million plus, and came to Hays, a city of 25,000 at most

December 23, 2004

I don't know why I'm thinking about my coming to America so much lately, but it seems to occupy my mind a lot.

I left the warm surrounds of a wonderful, kind, and loving family with all its attachments, uncles, aunts, grandma, cousins, friends, and so much more. That all vanished over night. The trip to the US seemed like a long, painful dream and when I woke up, I was in a Catholic boarding school in the middle of nowhere. 

I left Tehran, a city of ten million plus, and came to Hays, a city of 25,000 at most. Culture shock hit me from all directions. What was the most noticeable was the fact that I was not with my family.

My father used to rub my back or my mother playing with my hair to make me fall asleep. I use to wake up to the sound of my father's teaspoon hitting the glass, to going to sleep in a bunk bed, in the middle of a dormitory, with 200 other kids. I woke up to the traditional morning bugle left over from when the school was a military academy. 

Unknowns ranged from language to food to culture to not knowing if I should wear cologne or not! It was as if I had walked off into another planet.

I did not understand the clerk when she was simply saying, "Ten, forty-five" as in 10 dollars and 45 cents! I did not know what a "snack" was and kids laughed when I thought it meant "snake"!

The frustrations and difficulties were all too much for some kids to handle and they simply went back home. The school was full of students from other cities, states, and countries and some couldn't hang.

I decided to stick it out. I wasn't about to go back as a failure. It was not an option.

When I left high school and entered college in the same town, I started going out with a girl from our high school. Kind of cute, small framed, very hyper. I soon fell in love and she became a good substitute to all the love I was missing. She didn't know that, neither did I, but that sure was the case.

We spent a lot of time together. Took chemistry classes together, hung out after the lab, movies, concerts, events, and so on. 

Her parents were not very happy about us seeing each other. I was dark skinned, she was pale -- and I mean pale! I was Iranian; she was American with a German heritage... blah, blah, blah. I never forget the day I looked up "Aryan" in the encyclopedia and showed it to her mother. It contained proof that her daughter and I weren't so far apart after all. I thought she was going to tear the book in half!

Despite our struggles, we moved on. Seeing each other more and more. I lived in a basement apartment. From the street, where we parked our cars, to the steps leading down to the apartment, there was about 20 feet of distance. From the top of the stairs to the bottom, another 20 steps for one to get to the apartment. In the early days, I used to listen for her footsteps from the time she got out of her car, to when she got to the steps, and then I counted the steps. 

It meant a world to me to see her. The time we spent together, I forgot about my loneliness and pain of being away from family. Sure, it was a different kind of love, but I wasn't about to analyze that then.

I remember I used to get mad at her, just because she didn't show up. I waited and relied on those footsteps so much that when I didn't hear it, I would get disappointed, mad, and then depressed, in that order.

That was about 22 years ago. We dated from 1980 to 1989 and parted ways after multiple break-ups and even an engagement. Life went on. She is married with two daughters and I am with my wife of nearly 12 years. I managed, once again, to get used to the situation and manage.

It is amazing, however, that I remember some of those feelings so clearly. I still taste and smell the moment in that dark, cold basement apartment, when I hear songs from that era. "I'm a woman in love" by Barbara Streisand has really stuck in my mind.

Every once in a while, when I hear footsteps that sound similar, all the memories come rushing back, good or bad.

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Hamid Bakhsheshi


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