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Death observed
That pounding never goes away

June 22, 1999
The Iranian

Khanum-jun decided to die a week before my birthday. It didn't change much, though. I just had my party a week later. All I remember of Khanum-jun is her silver braided hair and the sight of two white pills on her warm, red tongue even after they had tried to force them down with two glasses of water.

Everyone was sad, especially my grandfather, Khanum-jun's son. I didn't know what to tell him. He was an only child like me. He visited Khanum-jun every single Monday. I knew that I had to be sad too but it wasn't any worse than when I'd leave your house at two in the morning not knowing if I would ever see you again.

It was toward the end of whatever we had made out of what was between us, and when it ended, something bigger than my grand-mother had died. You knew I was an only child. I had shown you photos - black-and-white ones from when I was five. But it ended anyway.

Something kept pounding at me after that. Something that still follows me at two in the morning as I drive down the freeway. It makes me smoke although I've quit. That pounding. It never goes away, even though I'm happy now.

Agha-jun died, too. My grandfather on my father's side of the family. Cancer ate him until there was nothing left. Everyone wore black and mourned. We sat around a big throw and ate halva. He was thin and tall and had never looked at me. He never bought me anything for Eid either.

Once again I knew that I had to be sad but it wasn't worse than when my uncle left for Turkey to finish his studies. I gave him a color photo of him and me standing in snow up to our knees and a letter. In the photo he has my striped scarf around his head like a turban and has a broad smile on his face. I have my bright yellow plastic boots on and my hair is in pigtails.

I knew my mother would be upset if she discovered that I took that photo out of my album. She found out later on and did get upset. But my uncle left anyway. On a big bus. Nothing held him back. And then you left, and everyone else left until I was alone. Everyone left.

At least if they died I would be sure that they're gone. But they're out there somewhere getting by without me. Meanwhile, memories haunt me, and that thing still pounds away. It pounds away even though I'm happy now.

First published in A World Between: Poems Stories and Essays by Iranian-Americans - a collection of writings by 30 authors and poets edited by Persis M. Karim and Mohammad Mehdi Khorrami (1999, George Braziller Inc., New York; 352 pages).

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