July 23, 2001
I'm staring into his eyes as he describes his ideal vacation spot. The
images of ocean waves and sand dunes dance in front of my eyes but my mind
is elsewhere. I think back to the past year, an entire year of reflection,
solitude, and evaluation. Where I sat myself down and conducted lengthy
interviews asking some very pointed questions. Last year this time I felt
completely lost. My goals, values, my way of living, my way of loving all
were under question. I was certain of nothing, absolutely nothing. So many
of my relationships seemed unreal. The people around me, unimportant. None
of them really knew me or cared for me. What was I doing with them? What
was I doing at all? An entire year of searching inside every pair of eyes
to answer one simple question: do I care if I never see this person again?
Often times the answer would be no. Gone. Dropped. In one swift move the
name came off the list. Now I am more alone than I've ever been in my life.
It used to be that I would jump into the next relationship as soon as
one had ended. I felt compelled to maintain an air of desirability, even
marketability. Now I couldn't care less. I would be happy if I never have
another relationship. It's been a year of removing masks. Here I am, look!
This is the real me, get out if you don't like it. I had to say this to
myself first. It's amazing how dependent we are on other people's evaluation
of us. It's not just external validation it's creating and maintaining a
foreign persona. For what? From the time you're born your marketability
is constantly scrutinized. Is she pretty enough, kind enough, friendly enough?
Does she serve tea well enough? You're placed on a pedestal, praised and
criticized to increase your market value. Years of education, an exciting
job, house, stuff, success, all is considered of no value if you don't have
a man beside you to prove your desirability.
And once there is a man, you must prove your fertility, show off what
a wonderful mother you can be in addition to a fabulous wife and homemaker
and career woman and artist and socially conscious citizen actively involved
in improving her environment. All a man has to do is to have a good job
and a decent income. He can be ugly as hell, zero personality, absent from
bed and family table and he would still be revered as a successful man.
But a woman has to be superwoman to even be allowed into the racetrack.
Well, I say the hell with all of it. The hell with the run around games,
the expectations, the fears. I salute life, my life. And I shall live it
as I please. Man, no man, child, no child, as long as I'm doing something
I enjoy, as long as I have myself and respect myself, nothing else matters.
It's amazing how different a relationship can be when you feel grounded,
uninhibited, expressing yourself without reservation, without hesitation.
In fact, Xerxes says it is this very directness that he finds irresistible
in me. He doesn't know what it took for me to gain it. My mind returns to
his words now. He would be embarrassed in briefs, only trunks for him. He
likes the long, flowery ones. I keep chewing on the stick of sugar cane
in my Caperinea. It's cold from sitting on ice, sweet and juicy. They bring
the fried calamari, very lightly battered. It too is chewy.
The first time I slept with Xerxes his navy blue and white striped trunks
made me laugh. He coyly danced out of them looking more like a geisha than
the self-made millionaire that he is. I had a lot of reservations about
dating a businessman. I just couldn't see myself with some one who wears
a suit sixty hours a week, although I had no trouble seeing myself in his
Porsche. But he was so enthusiastic about my theatre work so full of encouragement
that I figured at a minimum I should give our business relationship a chance;
who knows, maybe I can help him unload a few thousand as a tax deduction.
In fact Xerxes turned out to be much more than I ever imagined. Behind his
cut and dry surface and his fiscally-sound management style lies a dreamer
with a taste for adventure and an excellent eye for opportunity. The synergy
was obvious. I'm an idea person and he can make things happen. Our relationship,
We met at a Career Night at Stanford University. We both gave talks about
our respective professions. He was witty and good looking, I was, well,
just myself. Our exchange that night was minimal and formal. A week later
he called me and asked me to the ballet. I had never seen the San Francisco
Ballet so naturally I accepted. I didn't really think of it as a date. Of
course as always I imagined all sorts of ways the evening could turn out,
how we would gaze into each other's eyes and kiss and have sex and all that,
but I didn't really think of it as a date. I thought of it as luck! He had
an extra ticket, we had met a week before, he knew I was into art, he called
me so his ticket won't go to waste. I knew he owns his own software company
so it didn't really surprise me when his Porsche softly pulled in front
of my house. I asked if he'd like to come in for a drink. He declined; he
was afraid we might be late for our dinner reservation.
At the restaurant I noticed that we were both wearing black suede pants
and white tops, mine a second hand pearl-beaded tank top, his an Armani
silk shirt. We looked good together, I admitted to myself but the negative
stereotypes still cluttered my mind. I expected him to be conservative and
boring, narrow-minded and self-righteous. He turned out to be anything but.
He obviously believed in and appreciated the opportunity to make his dreams
come true but he believed in giving back to the community as well -- this
I dually noted with regard to a potential contribution to one deserving
theatre company. We commiserated about the results of the presidential election
and wondered where we would run to after the long-overdue revolution has
totally destabilized the U.S. I felt very comfortable with him. He was smart
and charming but had none of the airs commonly taken on by smart and charming
That night at dinner something incredible happened. I was telling Xerxes
about one of my all time favorite plays in the world, "Life Is A Dream"
by Calderon, and how this Spanish play that explores universal themes such
as memory and identity and their interplay with destiny and individual responsibility
is particularly timely for an Iranian audience. He was in fact familiar
with the play. I inhaled with satisfaction. He began to share his reasons
for loving this play, as the first few words escaped his mouth, the moments
turned into molasses, the space around us grew like a sponge and I found
myself in a scene from "Waiting To Exhale". In slow motion my
eyes looked past the man speaking across the table from me, there was nothing
behind him, nothing behind me, only us, in complete emptiness, frozen in
space and time yet moving, his lips were moving. I knew exactly what he
was going to say as if we were speaking in unison, a man robbed of his own
identity, like a nation without history, no past, no future, only the present
defines your actions, and so you are lost.
I remembered how when I was growing up in Iran we learned nothing of
Mossadegh, his struggles and contributions unlearned by a generation. Similarly,
the Islamic Republic is very selective about the bits and pieces of history
that is taught in schools today. The past censored to justify and support
the present. The struggles and contributions of Black and Native Americans
are treated the same way in our history books, minimally mentioned at best.
Four years of high school in the U.S. and I learned nothing about Buffalo
Soldiers or the Freedom Trail; no mention of the Harlem Renaissance or how
Jazz has shaped the American identity. No past, no future, as if the present
is taking place in a vacuum, as if every single moment must be justified
on its own merits. A tree without any roots cannot reach for the sun. Xerxes
came back into focus as he was concluding his thoughts: "The anger
and frustration you feel is never justified when your past is denied, you
are always in the wrong until you magically raise yourself above it all
and say 'Life Is A Dream'." I felt it then, a mental orgasm. I leaned
back on my chair feeling somewhat exhausted, grabbed my wineglass and said
YES. Only then did I exhale.
At the ballet, Xerxes was respectfully warm. He did not hold my hand
or put his arms around my shoulders but he did periodically whisper his
critique of the performance in my left ear, his lips touching my ear lobe
without hesitation. At the end he asked me the name of my perfume. I told
him not to bother looking for it here, it is sold only in Europe. He just
smiled and complemented me on it. Our first evening together ended very
cordially, a gentle hug, a light kiss on the cheek succeeded by "I
had a very good time, thank you." he said that, I just smiled and waved
goodbye. Our dinner conversation had touched me more deeply than the ballet.
I could fall in love with this man. The realization worried me. My review
of the evening forced me to conclude that he was not interested in me. He
is most likely fishing for a wife, I thought, a woman whose social stature
and connections would complement or improve his. I'm more of a nomad in
perpetual transition marveling at the longevity of change. I would not call
him. I had waited a long time and I needed to be pursued. He did not seem
interested in pursuing me. I decided to send him a thank you email. His
response was concise: "You're welcome."
After I didn't hear from him for weeks, I reluctantly accepted the distinct
possibility that the past was to be all I would have with Xerxes. I didn't
even want to contact him as a potential donor. His money no longer interested
me. I wanted more conversations. Like now, sitting across from him again
at Suzanne's, a restaurant we have come to like, our place, where Suzanne
offers us the usual table and suggests wines she is certain we would love.
My favorite dish here is the penne with marinara sauce. Sometimes I go for
the special. Tonight we're having pizza with eggplant, anchovies and extra
garlic. Not very romantic you say? Garlic is not only an aphrodisiac it
also enhances performance. We have good sex, infrequently. We see each other
once every week or sometimes two weeks. Between my rehearsal schedule and
his travels, this is the best we can do. We email, not too many phone calls.
I'm not a phone person.
The night Xerxes called me for the second time I was on my way out the
door to the video store when I heard the phone ring. I paused for a moment,
can it be? I ran back up the stairs and picked up the phone making sure
there was no hint of excitement in my hello. It was Hamid. He wanted to
come over. He volunteered to bring the wine. No, I said disappointed, not
in the mood. He didn't probe, it was a short conversation. Hamid has many
numbers to dial, I was sure one of them would respond affirmatively. I slogged
back down the stairs and actually stepped out the door before I heard the
phone ring again. I was sure it was Hamid trying to sweet talk me into a
rendezvous. I locked the door. Then I heard his voice. It was Xerxes! I
unlocked the door and ran up unable to calm down my breathing and picked
up just as he was about to say "later." I took him by surprise,
he laughed affectionately as I made excuses for my heavy breathing. He had
been traveling, out of town, out of the country. Nothing short of intergalactic
journey would have justified the silence of the past month but I didn't
mention this. He asked to see me again, if I had no plans, maybe next week?
Maybe, I said, let me check, and yes, I happen to have an evening free.
This is a gift, I thought to myself, a gift for patience, for not succumbing
to another pointless evening with Hamid. My heart was pounding. Xerxes asked
me what I was doing that night. It was an easy choice between watching a
video or seeing him. I did both. That was the first time we ate at Suzanne's.
Two bottles of Zin later, Xerxes asked me if we couldn't continue with desert
at his place. I was certain we could. Suzanne gave us the last of her famous
Tiramisu as we bid her adieu. The short drive to Harrison and Speare was
quiet. We were both considering the pros and cons of having sex on the second
date. We hadn't even kissed yet I knew I would be spending the night at
his place. I could take the next day off from work but what were his plans?
I didn't know. I didn't want to ask. In my mind the evening had so far been
perfect and I was being brave by risking an extension. Needless worry, that
was all it was. Xerxes asked to kiss me on the way to the top floor and
the next time I was inside that elevator was three days later and one bottle
of perfume heavier.
He has asked me a question. He is waiting for a response. I wasn't listening.
The tenderness I feel for this man surprises me. Why did we meet? I didn't
even want to go to that Career Night event at Stanford. I believe in destiny.
I believe in soul mates finding each other after years of fruitless searches,
like the song says. Do I trust him because he understands me or because
he is successful? I respect him. I want to learn from him. What do I have
to teach him? Will he grow tired of me? He reaches across the table for
my hand. There is a question in his eyes, a thousand in mine. Fear has taken
over my body. Last week I gave myself a huge scare when I realized my period
was ten days late. I couldn't have another abortion. It would kill me. Here
is a man I love, he has never said that he loves me. He cares for me, deeply.
He would be willing to invest in a theatre space, for me. Bermuda? That's
where he wants to take me for my birthday. This is what he has been talking
about all this time. I see Yes, Bermuda would be wonderful.
I want to ask him what he would do if I were pregnant. Would he still
take me to Bermuda? If I were pregnant now the child would be due in November,
a Scorpio or Sagitarian. But I'm already scheduled to give birth in November.
I have a show opening, which means I'll be in rehearsals all October, which
means I can't take off to Bermuda. This doesn't make Xerxes very happy.
He seems a bit ticked off actually. In response to my inquiry he complains
that I have been distant, that I have little time for him. This sounds so
familiar it isn't even funny. What would you do if I were pregnant? The
question just drops out of my mouth. I'm just as surprised to hear it as
Xerxes is. He sits back and examines me through narrowed eyes. I sip on
my wine. From the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of Suzanne watching
us. I turn to look at her, she waves with a smile. I raise my wineglass
to her. Is it mine? Xerxes asks with as much dignity as he can muster at
this moment. I guess it doesn't really surprise me. How is a man ever to
know, for sure, short of DNA analysis? I consider saying "I don't know"
or "hard to tell," I mean who knows, with all the men I sleep
with in between your trips and my rehearsals But I don't. It's painful territory,
I don't want to go there. It was a hypothetical question, I explain. Hypothetical?
He repeats. I nod yes. A hypothetical question, he weighs it in the air
as he repeats it, again and again. Is there a man out there who handles
such a situation any better? If so, I haven't met him. No matter how they
feel about you, they always get defensive. As if you stole their sperm without
their knowledge. This may come as a shock to some people but when a man
and a woman have intercourse they run the risk of conception!
I really need to calm down. Let him freak out, if he so chooses, I refuse
to get all bent out of shape. Suzanne appears at our table wondering if
everything is all right. Before I can respond affirmatively Xerxes engages
Suzanne in a discussion I fear I will find distasteful. Yes, she has two
children, twelve and fourteen. No, divorced, oh, it's been almost five
years now. She is certain our child would look beautiful, if we choose to
have one. She smiles and begins to walk away. Xerxes grabs her hand, she
turns toward him startled, he apologizes, she smiles and removes her hand
from his. I watch him ask her something else, she seems uncomfortable. I
hate Xerxes. At this moment he is acting like a stupid ass. Did I not say
it was a hypothetical question? Why is he taking it so far? A simple "I
don't know" or "I'm not sure" would have been sufficient.
Let's go, I declare with unprecedented command. Suzanne returns my credit
card with a sympathetic smile after I sign for the bill. All sounds blend
into each other like the fibers in soft cotton balls stuffed into my ears.
I can't make out anything anyone says, especially Xerxes.
We walk towards his car, he is talking, I know because his lips are moving.
I look at this man. I want to hug him and say it's okay. But I don't. He
wasn't there to hug me when I was waiting for the pregnancy test to turn
color. He travels a lot and then complains that I don't have time for him.
He has never said he loves me. Yet, I love him. The way his mind works turns
me on. The way he talks to me, the way he touches me, the look in his eyes
when I come. He is attentive, caring, well usually, when he has time. And
now he is absent. I look around me. He is not here. Did we pass his car?
I don't think so. There he is, I see him now, sitting on a park bench holding
his head in his hands. I watch him from a distance trying to read his mind.
It would have been so much easier if he would simply say what was on his
mind. It would have been so much easier if I could hear. Don't run away
from confrontation, I remind myself.
I want to rewind the evening, erase the latter part, go back to when
the pizza hadn't arrived yet. In fact I want to rewind it all to the night
I first went to Xerxes's flat. The view of the city from his terrace made
me feel like I could fly. I want to fly to him now. I want him to fly to
me. I want him to wake up from this bad dream and realize how much he loves
me, that his life without me would be meaningless. He doesn't move. Head
hanging down, hands pressing against temples. I consider taking a cab home.
We can deal with this later, or not. We can decide never to see each other
again, never speak, never laugh, never. I go to him. He lifts up his head
and looks at me. His eyes are filled with tears. He is crying. What have
I done? I drop next to him on the bench, embracing him, kissing his eyes,
whispering I'm sorry, what for? I don't know but it's the only thing that
comes to my mind. He snuggles in my arms folding to make himself smaller.
I hold on to him, tight, caressing his hair like a mother to a baby. I don't
want to be his mother. Where did my friend go, my lover, he is leaving me,
I can feel it, he has left me.
This is how he begins his goodbye speech: "Actually, I'm glad this
happened. It has helped put things in perspective for me. I could never
stand in your way. I respect your work too much. I mean you are an artist.
There is no room in your life for a child. There is barely room in it for
me. And I understand it, don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. But what
if you were pregnant? I mean, my God, what were we thinking? We weren't,
that's what. You couldn't keep the child, right? It would be due when? November,
December? You'd be in rehearsals, how could you do it?"
"I'm not pregnant," I say knowing it would make no difference.
This isn't about me, my life or my choices. This is about Xerxes, his fears
and his insecurities.
-- "I know you're not. But it can happen, right? I mean it's a
natural consequence of sex between a man and a woman, right? No contraceptive
is 100% effective. I don't want to put you in a position to choose. It would
be deeply unfair."
-- "I choose you."
-- "It would never work. I know, you'd be eternally unhappy. I wouldn't
recognize you. You'd be someone else. Who would you be? You deserve someone
who will support you and the path you've chosen. I fully support your work,
I wouldn't want you to compromise, I couldn't. I would never forgive myself.
How could you live with someone who asked you to give up something you held
-- "Why does it have to be either-or?"
-- "I can't. I need some one who can be fully dedicated to me. I
don't want to compete with your work."
-- "What about your work?"
-- "That's different. I have regular hours. It doesn't take up all
my weekends. You understand, right? This is actually good. It would be better
to separate now rather than later, when things have gone further. I mean,
we made no commitments, right? Do you see what I'm saying? Please don't
look at me like that. This is every bit as difficult for me as it is for
you. Please don't make it any harder. Shall I give you a ride home? You
can still stay with me tonight if you want. Or maybe it's not such a good
-- "Aren't you interested in what I have to say, or how I feel about
-- "Of course, yes. Please, I'm sorry. Go ahead please."
-- "I don't want us to separate. Not like this. I mean we are not
-- "I agree. This is not really a fight. We have discovered an area
of incompatibility. It's very simple. As you probably have guessed I am
in fact interested in a long-term relationship, yes, maybe even marriage.
I'm not afraid of the M-word, no. So certainly I would be interested in
building a home, yes, with children. I would. You see, I have answered your
question. The original one, earlier tonight. The question is what do you
-- "I want us to be together."
-- "And how will you manage a home? Don't say the same way as me
because it is not the same. My wife wouldn't have to work. I have made millions
of dollars so that my wife can sit home and look after my kids. Are you
this person? Well, are you? No, I didn't think so. Let's just end this fucking
relationship right here and now. I'm sorry but it's just very disconcerting.
Shall I call you a cab?"
Disconcerting. In the final analysis that's all I was to him. He will
never call, or stop by, or even donate money. I have robbed the theatre
company of a major benefactor. It's too soon to know how my heart will respond
to this blow. It will not be pretty. I will want to talk, he won't return
my calls, or email. An abrupt end to something that could be beautiful.
We would have been only slightly out of the ordinary. But even this was
more than Xerxes could handle. To his credit, he called it as he saw it.
No beating around the bush. At the first sign of potential incompatibility
he decided to cut his losses and get out. An excellent business decision.
Me? I could have explained further, pushed my view, demanded a later audience
when his mind has settled down. But you see I still need to be pursued.
My insecurities surface in another form. Silence, acceptance. Walking away
comes so much more naturally. In this way Xerxes and I are very similar.
The cab driver has offered me his box of Kleenex. Xerxes did not wait
for the cab to arrive. He had already wasted too much of his valuable time.
I turned out to be a bad investment. His impeccable reputation is now tarnished.
As the cab crosses the Bay Bridge I begin to understand the bridge I have
already crossed. Xerxes and I share the same fears. I asked myself the same
questions he did. I had similar doubts. But he decided to stop. I will go
on, not despite my fears but because of them. I recall my history, grab
on to my identity and remind myself that from birth to death is only a moment.
I choose to live my moment fully. I choose to be me to the best of my ability.
Supple as the wind I float through life my heart open to its endless possibilities.
I think somebody said this in a movie.