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Life

Old friends
I silently observe her diamond ring and the lovely shade of pink on her fingernails and push my gardener hands deep into my pockets

April 5, 2005
iranian.com

I look forward to meeting an old friend whom I have not seen in years. None of my new friends know my hometown or my family and there aren’t too many people left who can recall my childhood. I need someone to validate my youth and it seems as if, without that, I’ve been middle aged forever.

“You haven’t changed at all,” she says. “Not a day older than the last time I saw you!”

Considering that she’s referring to decades ago, I decide that either she is too kind, or suffers from poor eye sight.

“You haven’t aged either,” I lie back to her.

Perhaps it’s best to go along with her game. After all, I can’t possibly comment on her new nose or mention how, with her eyelids pulled down, she has gained a permanently surprised expression.

I silently observe her diamond ring and the lovely shade of pink on her fingernails and push my gardener hands deep into my pockets.

I wonder if she uses Palmolive to do the dishes.

The hostess shows us to a table outside and she demands that the heater be turned on. She then asks for a glass of wine and as I order bottled water, I’m reminded of how right my grandmother had been in her prediction nearly a half century ago. “Someday, these foreigners will sell us their water for a higher price than our precious oil,” she had said and everyone had laughed at her bizarre notion.

My friend puts her brown and yellow handbag on the empty seat next to her. “Can’t live without my Louis Vuitton,” she comments. “Hard to match shoes, but with a cell phone, an I-pod and what not, it’s impossible to carry a Channel or that stupid Hermes.”

Owning only a cell phone from the above list, I push my T. J. Max bargain handbag under the table and force a smile.

“So, what do you do?” she asks when our drinks have arrived.

“I’m a writer.”

She makes a face and dismisses my whole career with a wave of her hand. Then, she smiles. “Do you remember when the composition teacher kicked me out?”

I don’t remember, but no response seems to be expected.

Okay, so much for my career.

“What do you do?” I ask.

“I travel a lot and have an unbelievable social life.” She takes a sip of her wine and her lipstick leaves a red mark on the glass. “We live in Beverly Hills,” she says to her diamond ring, “but our friends are mostly from Brentwood and Pacific Palisade. Each time I have more than five people around the pool, my maid threatens to leave.”

Okay. So she doesn’t need Palmolive.

“Do you hear from any of our classmates?” I ask.

She shakes her lovely, highlighted, curls. “I’ve forgotten most of them.” She then studies me with intent. “I remember you, though. Vividly. You used to be so cute; I always thought you’d look beautiful with a bit of makeup.”

I smile at the approach of a compliment, but she stops and seems disappointed at her failed prediction. “I remember your house behind Bagh-e Melli...” she adds and her eyes glaze over. This is my favorite moment, when people bring out the details of old memories, it’s as if a blurred vision is brought into focus. But, she takes another sip of wine and moves on to her own story. “We left everything behind. The mansion, the jewelry, the antiques... ”

Her father used to work for an insurance company and they lived in a modest part of town. I don’t know what glamour she’s talking about.

“Luckily, business has picked up,” she goes on. “We’ve managed to recover some of what we lost to the revolution.”

I am reminded of those who lost their lives to the revolution and find it hard to sympathize.

Such stories aren’t uncommon among the post revolutionary immigrants. No one seems willing to admit how lucky they are to have survived the hardship or that now they are better off than ever before. Everyone recalls the old mansions and luxuries. Who knew the late Shah had so many relatives?! Everybody seems to be related to royalty and finds it hard to adjust to the common man’s lifestyle.

Like a dark cloud blocking the sun, melancholy envelopes my heart as I realize I share nothing with this woman, not even a childhood. She seems to have built a new world around her and with her distorted truth, she now belongs to another generation.

I guess in a way, I may have done the same. In pursuit of a modest lifestyle, I have learned to discard the brand names and the shallow standards with which I was raised and I do my best not to look back. Why wallow over a youth or a home that no longer exists? There’s a whole new level of peace in knowing who I am rather than whose daughter I used to be.

As we part, she promises yet another luncheon in the near future, but I know that won’t come about. While I pride myself in keeping my old friends, there are a few who have turned into complete strangers and shall remain so.

She gets behind the wheel of her red convertible. I watch her drive away and a chunk of my childhood disappears into L.A. traffic.

About
Zohreh Khazai Ghahremani is a retired dentist and a freelance writer. She lives in San Diego, California. Her latest book is "Sharik-e Gham" (see excerpt). Visit her site ZoesWordGarden.com

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