She let loose
Within a week of their meeting,
she had forced him to surrender the ring he had bought for his German
June 28, 2005
My mother’s wedding dress was made out of curtains. One day as she sat
sipping tea at a cousin’s house, she looked out toward the garden and the
sheen of a handsome cream-colored brocade caught her eye. The curtains were disassembled
at once and the next day my grandmother cut the cloth against her body. Then
my grandmother pinned the fabric while my mother frowned and pulled it tighter
and tighter across her busom, her hips, her legs.
No, it must be like this, she directed, like this you see.
On the morning of her wedding she bent herself over a table and
spread her hair against a white tablecloth. My grandmother ran
a hot iron back and forth across the thick panels of black hair
until they gleamed. My mother sat before a mirror and watched as
my grandmother wound her hair around metal curlers and set each
section with slender clips. When my grandmother finished assembling
her hair, she raised her arms to place a crown of tiny diamonds
on her head.
In the picture my mother keeps in her bedroom, she stands alone
beside a colony of white gladiolas on her wedding day, one hand
holding the trail of her wedding dress and another at her waist.
Her face is turned away from the camera and she is smiling graciously,
as if to crowd of admirers.
Look, she tells me, lifting the frame. I have no make-up on here.
None at all. Just minutes before this picture was taken your aunt
Forough came running towards me with a stick of black kohl, and
before I knew it she had swiped one line across each of my eyelids.
She pretends to line her eyes with two flicks of the wrist.
No other make-up at all.
Indeed, her skin is flawless in the picture, and she looks, as
everyone in our family always says, like a young Elizabeth Taylor.
The dress made of curtains is pulled taught across her torso and
it does not seem a thing apart from the silk of her fair chest.
Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren. Their likenesses
could be found everywhere in the streets of Tehran in that year
of 1962. From a panel of curtains my grandmother had sewn her daughter
a gown fit for the Hollywood starlets they knew from the films
that played each week in theatre in Tehran..
The wedding guests brought the flowers, my mother continues.
Aziz prepared the food, Forough and Maman assembled the sofreh,
and my cousin Reza, who was just a scrawny boy then (and already
flirting with me), played the dombak.
So you see, the wedding cost us nothing at all, my mother concludes
with a smile.
*** *** ***
A few months before, when she was a student in a German school
for midwives, a telegram was slipped under her dormitory room:
her father had died in the streets of Tehran, run over by the automobile
of an Western diplomat. Reading the telegram, she let loose such
a wail that the housemistress rounded the staircase in just a robe
and bedroom slippers to see what could be the matter with the Iranian
All night images of her father crowded in her head: the cut of
his grey pin-striped suit, the elegance of his hands when he smoked,
the squares of American chocolate he kept in his pockets for her.
May God kill me, my grandmother cried when my mother arrived
in Tehran two days later. There had been no time to acquire even
a simple black sheath from any of the shops along the Hamburg quay.
My mother had left Germany to bury her father in a lavender suit,
a lavender pill box hat, and a pair of white gloves with a pearl
set at each wrist. She traveled by train over thousands of miles
in her lavender ensemble, grieving the father who had sent her
this far from her family.
To cheer her when she returned to Germany, one of my mother’s
classmates took her to a harvest dance in a village outside Hamburg.
She spent the night demanding of a succession of young men, “Persian,
I am Persian. Do you know Hafiz? Rumi?” Wealthy Iranian families
had been sending their sons abroad for several decades, but in
those years Iranian women very rarely left the country except as
wives. She would have been an object of curiosity to everyone there
that night, and she would have met all the looks with an impudent
That night my father had come alone to the dance but he was already
engaged to a German girl from his town. A young railway engineer
in a tweed jacket and crooked bowtie, he was the boy his mother
had hidden in a basement through the last months of World War II,
the only man left in the house he had built with his own father.
Each night when he stumbled home, his pores rich with the stench
of alcohol, his sisters peeled the clothes from his body and scrubbed
his face and chest with a washcloth.
All his life he would be a man
who was shy even of children, but because he had read Hafiz and
had lived for three months on
a Greek island, in my mother he would have seen the almond-eyed
beauties of the Persian miniatures, and he would have held her
stare longer than most of the German men.
Within a week of their meeting, she had forced him to surrender
the ring he had bought for his German fiancee. Then she made him
drive them both out to the countryside outside Hamburg in his orange
Audi. When she spotted a small pond beside the road, she told him
to stop. She pointed her finger in the direction of the pond. He
slipped out from his seat and tossed the thin gold band into the
Over the next thirty years, for as long as they lived, my German
grandmother and aunts never forgave the dark-eyed savage who spirited
away their Bube to her own people and married him in a dress made