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Part 25
New York, Monday April 5

6:16 p.m.
Manny came to visit yesterday. She had been calling everyday and asking me when she could come in person. I don't know why I kept stalling her. Actually I have been stalling pretty much everyone of my friends and my parent's friends who have been calling and offering to come home bearing an assortment of khoresh dishes and apple pies depending on their nationality. I guess I have been concentrating all my strength in keeping things as normal and tense-free as possible at home and I was afraid a swarm of well-wishers might disturb my father's tranquility and his sense of privacy. So finally Manny had to take it upon herself to just show up at the door. When I opened the door and saw her face, I knew right away how much I missed her and needed her.

Manny was the only other Iranian kid who went to my school. One day I showed up in class and saw a circle of kids had formed in one corner of the room, with sounds of much laughter and delight coming from its nucleus. I elbowed my way inside as best as I could, eager to see what all the commotion was about and this was the first time I saw Manny. Her first day at school and she was already entertaining the whole class. She had them wrapped around her little finger. No wonder she went into PR!

From that day on, Manny was almost a permanent fixture at our house. She had come here with her mother who had to return to Iran frequently because her husband had chosen to remain behind. I could not be more delighted when Manny came over with her little packed suitcase and became the sister I never had. We put up a tent in my room and stayed up endlessly into the night, with our flashlights and teeny bopper magazines. We oohed and aahed over pictures of that era's dream queens and kings. I guess you realize how old you are when you look back at your idols of the time: Morten Harket, the lead singer of A-Ha (Remember the video to "Take on Me"? It STILL rocks); Alyssa Milano circa "Who's the Boss" (eeerrrr... cringe-city); Michael J. Fox circa Back to the Future and other idols of the 80s. I still have tucked away somewhere a picture of my eleven-year old self standing with Manny besides a wax figure of the old Boy George (dreadlocks and charma-charma-charma-chameleon outfit) in Madame Tussaud.

Manny and I would drive my parents crazy because we stayed up all night, repeating the same old stories that always ended in a fit of giggles. But my mom was always very understanding when it came to her. Manny and my mom developed a particularly close bond that I didn't quite get at the time and I was even a bit jealous at. I mean, why did my mom, who was always being so strict and loud with me, shower so much quiet tenderness and tolerance upon Manny. But now I know better. For, as much fun as it could be for a little girl to imagine herself on a big great adventure under a tent in a strange house, it didn't make up for the absence of a mother. MAmAn just tried to be the best surrogate she could be.

Yesterday when Manny came home, it felt so familiar, so right. There had been one person missing in the family to give us strength and support and that was her. She stepped in with her brilliant smile, carrying, on one hand, a pile of fashion magazines that she knew my mom adored, and on the other, a backgammon set that she carried upstairs for bAbA. This was perfect. For the rare times my father kept awake, he was too weak to leave his bed or even concentrate on television or books. But with Manny, he played for up to an hour. I had never learned to play takhteh but Manny, having grown up with a string of male cousins and uncles in Iran, was a sharp and competitive player.

In the evening, while mAmAn was getting bAbA ready for bed, Manny and I took a walk in the park adjacent to my house. She pulled out a pack of cigarettes from her purse.

-- "Oh Manny, you life saver, I have been dying for one of these."

I had of course quit cold turkey while staying at my parents,house. Though I am sure they knew perfectly well I led a life very far from angel-like in the City, my parents and I had a tacit understanding of "see no evil, hear no evil". Manny and I walked and smoked for a long time before she broke the silence.

-- "Have you spoken to him?"

"Him" was of course Peerooz. His name had been a constant if silent presence between us ever since Manny had knocked on my door.

-- "No I haven't. He left me a few messages at home and at my parent's for the first two days after he returned to the States. Then, fortunately, he gave up."

-- "Well, that's good, Naz Joon, I am glad he is not bothering you."

I smiled.

-- "Yes I know, it's surprising to see he has at least one ounce of decency left."

-- "Are you still hurting?"

I replied without looking at her.

-- "Oh Manny... Hurting? Over him? Nah, azizam, that is the farthest thing from my mind. Actually, the funny thing is I'm not even mad, or upset... I don't have any emotions, hot or cold... It's just... weird how to explain it... a complete... blank!"

-- "What do you mean?"

-- "Well, it's kind of like I've had an enlightenment over the past few weeks. Eyes opened and higher realization and all that zen-babble, you know... Looking at the scheme of things, and what and who is important in my life... I just realized a simple yet essential truth. I never loved him. The whole thing was a joke, an adolescent game. He only pursued me until he got bored and... well... I haven't given it a second thought since I have come here, until this very moment when you spoke to me about him.

-- "Oh I am sorry, Naz Joon, I didn't mean to remind you..."

-- "No that's okay Manny! It doesn't bother me to talk about him... for the simple fact that I bear no ill-will towards him... no good-will , but no ill-will either. Just a complete blank..."

-- "I guess it's true what they say: The opposite of love is not hate. It's indifference."

I took another drag of the cigarette and kept silent. I wish it was as simple as that. Like muggers waiting in back alleys, thoughts of Peerooz had been creeping up on me suddenly, painfully, at the moments I least expected, the moments when I felt most vulnerable: In the shower... in bed, with my eyes closed, trying to get some sleep... in the middle of a rare carefree laugh with bAbA. I tried to fight back against these thoughts but once they get their claws into my heart, I weaken and their morbid grip forces me to confront the painful reality: Images of Peerooz laughing in London on all those "business" trips with another woman. Kissing and embracing a young, blonde, and beautiful woman, more beautiful than I could ever be. Proposing to her in bed, after a particularly divine tryst, with a perfect ring hidden in the heart of a beautiful hand-picked white rose that he uses to tickle her cheeks as she lies there, sleeping like an angel. She's wife material.

So what am I? That is the most difficult thing to deal with in a break-up. More painful than losing the man of my dreams, the man I thought I was gonna spend the rest of my life with. It is the feeling that I had this chance and something I did, or something I am, blew my chances at happiness, woke Peerooz up to the realization that I could never be good enough for him. That's the hardest thing to live with: He tried both of us and he preferred her to me. So I have decided to numb my pain, to coldly, methodically delete all memories of his existence from my mind, body and soul. He never existed. Neither did my love.

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