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Short story

June 18, 2001
The Iranian

Today is my birthday. I am 39. Here at a friend's party, another fellow Libran, I seem happy and well adjusted to my single life. Which understandably takes less to adjust to than would a double life. A little joke there to amuse myself. It has come to this. A man I don't know is staring at me from across the room. Undoubtedly due to the fact that not only am I speaking to myself but I'm laughing in response to this self-entertainment as well. Another freak, he must be thinking. No, honey, just one woman who doesn't need the likes of you. No, I'm not bitter, just tired. Tired of it all. Perhaps even too tired to ever experience love again.

I remember the first time I stayed awake all night thinking of a boy. I was twelve; he was seventeen. Our meeting was like a scene from a music video. I was walking home from school through the field where the neighborhood kids played soccer. I always did that to see who was around and if a good game had started already in which case I would rush back to the field as soon as I had dropped off my books at home and changed clothes. I was given two precious hours in the afternoons to play. Those were the hours to live for. When I along with the neighborhood boys separated into opposing teams and through sand and sweat, and much untrained kicking about and aimless shooting of some dainty plastic excuse of a ball, proved our superiority in soccer.

It was on one of those days -- a day like many others before it but unlike any that came after it -- that I was walking home from school hoping for a good game of soccer, expecting at most a narrow victory and instead I found myself drawn to two inquisitive eyes. He was tall and thin wearing Lee jeans and white Adidas sneakers, the ones with three stripes. He had taste! His wavy brown hair covered his eyes when he turned to take a second look at me. He turned his body as his hand reached for his face to pull back the hair blocking his view. I believe I stopped breathing. I believe we stared at each other for three whole months but for some reason I continued walking only turning my head once to catch another glimpse of him. Still standing there. Still looking my way. I felt his gaze branding my back as I walked away.

No one was home when I arrived. I sat on my bed frozen. We had turned what must have been a greenroom into a bedroom for me. I was surrounded with glass walls and a glass ceiling two-stories up. I had turned into glass too. I could feel the sun burning my body, from the inside and out. Something unrecognizable was growing inside me. I heard my sister come in. Normally I would jump up and tell her all about my day in one breath and run out without giving her a chance to say anything. Not the case that day. I sat frozen staring through the glass door of my room and all I could see were two inquisitive eyes covered with wild strands of brown hair. Who was he, what was his name? I didn't go to the soccer field that evening and I didn't sleep that night. As I stayed awake all night I thought to myself this must be how it feels to fall in love. When after a few conversations and one treasured movie date my beloved found out that I was only twelve he stopped speaking to me and after a while he stopped coming to the soccer field all together. I swept the broken pieces of my heart under the carpet and built an iron wall around where it used to sit in my chest.

The next summer I ran into that same boy at a club. It was the first day of martial law in Tehran. Ambivalent to the gravity of the situation, my cousin and I were looking forward to another routine fun-filled Friday hanging out by the pool watching tanned bodies glisten in the sun. Unbeknownst to us, that was to be our last Friday at the club. Three months later my sister and I left Iran never to return. When I first saw my ex-beloved that Friday over a year after he so nonchalantly threw my heart to the wolves, he had his back to me. A nice back my cousin and I agreed laughing, and then he turned and caught us evaluating his ass. "Oh, it's you," he said visibly impressed with my development. I threw him a casual "Oh, yes, hi..." with a cold smile and walked away hand in hand with my cousin never looking back. I had grown up. And like many others I had packed away my heart in the process.

Now this man is staring at me from across the room with a smile the content of which I'm only too familiar with. Those walls in my chest have not entirely disappeared. In fact they may have actually grown thicker in recent years. Hollow. It describes many aspects of me and my life. Tired of the letting in and driving out games. Tired of the cycle of finally trusting some one only to be betrayed later. Today is my birthday and I feel incapable of even making an attempt. Today is my birthday and I refuse to show my heart, to share my thoughts. Anything remotely beyond casual repartee will cause tremors in my being. Today is my birthday and I have not loved in what seems like years. I am sick of love and the crimes committed in its name. Iron walls are all I have to offer. Interested? Yes. Well then, perhaps I will have that drink.

Nader is his name. A dot.com transplant from the East Coast. Chattering away. Using his hands nicely to draw pictures of his thoughts in the air. His voice is warm, dare I say even sincere. His looks are acceptable. His coloring: mixes of brown, black and green. Or maybe it's the color of his jacket that brings out the green in his mostly brown eyes. My body is unconsciously moving to the beat of the House music I hear in the background. Just keeping rhythm, nothing too conspicuous. Nader is describing his idea for a virtual city-planning site, so people can have a say in what kind of environment they live in. Urban, is the word that comes to my mind. But who would actually sit there and design a whole city? Nader thinks many would. Sensing that he may be losing my attention he asks me to dance. No, I say without a doubt yet unaware of exactly why.

Usually I spend the entire time at a party dancing. With myself, mostly. Nader is still talking, blah, blah, blah. It's like that dog-and-master caricature where the dog only hears "blah, blah, Spot, blah, blah.." I'm not even hearing my name. Except now, I do. Behind me stands a man whose life I wished I could end two years ago. I recognize his scent even before I feel his gaze. His dark green eyes framed in lavish black lashes. The only man I ever found absolutely breathtaking. He is wishing me a happy birthday. Why thank you. Oh, this is Naseem, my wife. Pleased to meet you, excuse me. I walk away leaving Nader there to get to know Mr. M. It's only natural that you should be more interested in Mr. M at this point than in Nader. I would be too. And I was, briefly, before my body went on strike and beat some sense into my head. There was a Naseem back then too and I knew it. Even when I had sex with Mr. M I knew there was a Naseem. Not something I do often. Never before or after that unhappy occasion.

We met at one of those weekend retreats. Where people go to be alone with themselves but for some odd reason they go with a large group of people who also want to be alone with themselves. I think it's because we only find ourselves truly alone in the company of others. I don't know but somehow it makes sense. So we were alone with a whole bunch of other people for two whole days and the occasion called for much sharing and "being here now" as the Zen-experienced would call it. M was among the more joyful characters in the bunch. I was jealous of his energy. For a long time I had lost that lightness of being. My load was heavy and my resistance high. And M made me laugh on occasion. It is the greatest gift I think, to be able to make people laugh. We spoke very briefly through the weekend. I actually did spend my no-scheduled-activity time alone either in my room or mostly walking around the Asylomar campgrounds. The beach in Monterey is uniquely raw. It draws you near and scares you away all at once. The autumn wind breaks through your skin and grabs your insides. I needed to throw my insides into the ocean. There was so much anger and pain locked up in my veins that my blood could hardly move through them. But for some reason I couldn't let go of any of it.

It had been smart of me to extend the cabin reservation an extra evening to leave Monday morning and miss the Sunday night traffic. But the large food hall was filled only with the echo of the now departed voices and after two days of group support I was feeling abandoned and unable to go on without peer approval. Then he showed up at my table. A bright angel with his eyes glowing and his words getting lost in the song of his sweet laughter. Without understanding what he said I nodded for him to please join me. He was delighted that I am Iranian, so is his wife. Yes, I remembered him showing her picture at one of the group sharing sessions. He had said how much he loves her and their lovely son. I shared nothing of my misadventures. Why start now? What I really wanted to do was get drunk. Get drunk and dance all night and never sleep again.

M loved the idea and before you can say jump we were on his motorcycle on our way to some salsa joint in Salinas. The place was deserted but for a few devoted salsa fans. And within five minutes after the first double shots of tequila, one of them requested to dance with me. It didn't take long for my enthusiasm to become evident on the dance floor. Between M and five other guys my feet got pretty good training in the numerous variations of salsa, meringue, and some sort of Spanish waltz. I was flying. Just give me a dance floor and all my troubles will just stay oh, so far away. Every time I came back from the dance floor, I would find a note from M next to my Tequila glass. Some comment on my dancing technique or a rehashing of some concept from the session. Gradually the notes became more personal. Gradually I found my lips getting closer to his ear. Gradually his touch became tighter around my waist. I saw myself flirting with a married man. I observed my shrill laughter in response to his lascivious comments. I watched myself walk down the path. I knew where it was leading. I wanted it to lead there.

What I remember most clearly about M's naked body is his perfect erection. He looked like a Greek God painted on a vase. I had my back to him fiddling with the CD player. He kissed the back of my shoulder. I turned on the music. He pulled off my shirt. I lowered the volume. He turned me to face him and as he pressed my bulging nipples against his sweaty body I felt like his penis would pierce through my belly. He pushed me back on the table to get my pants off. The boom box fell off and for the rest of the night the only music in the cabin was made by our two hungry bodies. What can I say? It was good. What made it even better was the next morning. When contrary to my expectation M continued to be caring and intimate. He made a big joke out of not finding his socks and made me laugh so hard when in pretend desperation he put on my stockings. I napped while he took a shower and pretended to be asleep when he whispered goodbye in my ear and softly kissed my nape. I melted in the pillow when he turned back to leave a note on the bed. Hardly capable of waiting to read it. The note simply said 'Thank you for being here, now!"

I thought I would never see him again. I thought M would be my one and only one-night-stand. But it wasn't meant to be. I wasn't meant to have a one-night-stand, or so I feared. All was well until one morning about a couple of months after the session I got an email from M saying he's going to be in town and would I have dinner with him. That's when the pain started. The worst cramps of my life. You must understand, I'm blessed with very short, light periods. Three days max, maybe one day of cramps. But these, oh were these ever... it was as if someone was pulling my tubes out of me. My sister, God bless her, had given me a book to read around that time titled "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom" (everyone, men and women, should read this book). Anyway, in it there is a chapter about pain, and it said something about how we react to "feeling screwed" and that the feelings of guilt we might be having about the sexual act may result in pain.

Was I feeling guilty? Did I feel screwed? It's always been difficult for me to decipher exactly how I feel. For this reason my body has learned to protect itself against unwanted activities by basically making it impossible for me to engage in them. In this case, my body did not want another fabulous night with Mr. M. And the thought of his return visit initiated four days of deadly pain in the abdomen. Pain that was only partially relieved by writing an apology letter to Naseem for "screwing her" by sleeping with her husband. No, I didn't mail the letter. Where would I send it? It was just a cathartic act. I thought about making some excuse and not meet M for dinner but that would be pretty lame. So I promised my body that even if he begged me and seduced me beyond my wildest imagination I would refuse to sleep with him again. Yes, I would be strong. This is not right. I'm not in the habit of stealing people's mate away. I wouldn't want anyone to do it to me.

And so on I went to meet M even though the pain made it difficult for me to stand up straight. We had a very nice dinner, casual conversation, no mention of the last occasion we spent time together. I was reminded of how much I enjoy his company. After dinner I asked him if he would want to go anywhere else, maybe to the city for a drink or to hear some music. He smiled and said no. That he's tired and has to prepare for an early meeting the next morning. He thanked me for my kindness. And then out of no where asked me if I know Dariush. Of course, I said. We've been friends for a long time. Oh, it just so happens that Naseem and Dariush went to the same school! Oh, what an interesting coincidence. I gave him two very light kisses on both cheeks and walked rather rapidly to my car. I almost felt rejected. Why didn't he want to be with me? Was I just a one-night-stand to him? It was only then that I noticed the absence of any pain. Absolutely gone. He didn't give me the chance to refuse him which pissed me off royally but my body seemed happy with how things had turned out. This is good news. As I drove away I wondered if I might ever run into him again, and his wife.

Nader seems to be enjoying M's company. I watch Naseem from a distance. She has no breasts. I don't like boobless women. Her body is pretty nice otherwise. In general I prefer women with some meat on their bones. But then again perhaps I'm biased given my own so-called excess weight. I think I use it quite well, how is it in 'excess?' Naseem is chatting with Dariush. Oh, so happy to see you again after such a long time. I'm afraid of approaching her. Guilt does that to me. What am I doing here anyway? Most of these people couldn't care less if I stuck around or not. Maybe I should just gather my stuff and hit the road. Almost 40, proven ability in walking out. This one thing I can do. The question is where the hell is my coat? From the corner of my eye I see that smile again. Nader is standing there holding a blue box in his hands.

- "You're not leaving, are you?"

- "Why yes, in fact I am."

- "That's too bad. I was rather hoping to maybe... dance with you or something."

- "Or something?"

- "Maybe chat a little more. You didn't say much."

- "I'm more of an action person. Talk is cheap."

- "This is true. Well, maybe we'll run into each other some other time."

- "Yeah, maybe."

- "Or maybe you could, or I could give you my number."

- "I'm sure you can."

- "Do you specialize in dead-end answers or is this a unique occasion?"

For the first time he's said something interesting. I look at him, the little blue box in his hands. I have my coat on, my scarf loosely around my neck, car keys in my hand. He is handsome. His crooked smile gives him a devilish charm I hadn't detected before.

- "What's with the box?"

- "Oh, I almost forgot. Massimo asked me to give it to you. He said it is your birthday too. Is it?"

- "I see. Well, would you please tell Massimo that if he doesn't have the guts to give me the gift himself then he should just shove it up his ass? Thank you and good-bye."

I walk determined to exit before the ache in my belly would make me crash on the floor.

I mean there was a time when men prided themselves in having courage. Nowadays they have all turned into fearful little mice. Oh, what a waste to even spend an hour with them. I think I hear Nader's voice yelling something back there. "His wife wasn't feeling well; he had to leave." What a damn shame!

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