August 27, 2003
"It'll be a good trip," she said. "We'll take
either my car or Louis' car."
"All right," Iraj said.
"I'm looking forward to it. I haven't been to San
Francisco in a long time."
"Yes," he said. "Me neither."
Maybe San Francisco
is the thing, he thought. Maybe it will take another
city in another state. It will be a new place and
maybe that will be the thing to make them come
together in the way that he had hoped they would from
the time he had first met her. It was a sad hope
because they had been through it enough times by now
for him to know that she was not going in that
direction with him, and one of the things that he
liked very much about her was that she meant what she
said. And there had been enough times that he had
said that he was willing to be friends, which he had
meant at the time of saying it too, up until the next
time he saw her or spoke to her over the phone.
After he had finished speaking
with her, Iraj went to the kitchen and he told his mother and grandmother
that he would be going to San Francisco with Mariel
and her friend.
"Do you want to get married?" his grandmother said.
His mother laughed and Iraj laughed too even though
he felt very happy to think of marrying her.
"Mother," his mother said, "here in America young
men and women go on trips together all the time. It
is not the Islamic Republic. Think of the time of the
Shah when everybody would go up to the North
"Yes," his grandmother said. "Now the beaches
there are separate for men and women. That is what
they tell me. I have not been there myself."
Iraj picked up his basketball. "I'm going
outside," he said.
Iraj went to the backyard and shot baskets from
close in. He guessed that in a few days he would be
driving to San Francisco in a car with the girl he
liked more than anything and with her friend who was
gay. He guessed that the whole thing could be either
wonderful or lousy, although it seemed weighed towards
lousy, judging by how he felt. He felt old and tired
when he thought of her and when he thought of what
more he could do to make her feel the way he did.
It was not so bad to feel old and tired about a
girl. The lousiness was in feeling that way without
having had the experience itself. He did not mind
broken-heartedness: It made things clear and he liked
what it did to songs. But he would have preferred the
kind of broken-heartedness that came after the
experience of a girl. That seemed like the real
broken-heartedness, and he felt like he could do it
pretty well if he were ever in it.
He had already had a kind of preparation for it:
He had felt disappointed about many things since
beginning college. It wasn't so much trouble to add a
girl to that list, but at least with those other
things, with the people and places, he had known
something about what they were. He did not know all
that much about her outside of his own longing, which
was still a lot, because it took in every part of her,
everything she said and every time she smiled at him.
He did not even know if what he had qualified as a
broken heart. Perhaps it was better that he not know
the real thing, if it felt this bad without anything
He practiced dribbling and he shot a few layups
lazily. It might still be a good trip, he thought. It was summer, and down
in San Francisco he imagined it being warm but with the coolness
of the ocean right
there. All of that had to count for something. If
they drove all the way through the heat and finally
came to her friend's house in San Francisco by the
beach, that had to count for something, and it would
be so much better if it could count for something for
them together instead of apart. It would make the
whole trip effortless, every inch of it on the road
and every second that they were there.
It seemed like the trick was to be detached about
it, to act as though it was nothing to be her friend.
The problem with that was that she might believe him,
and then he would be back at where he had started.
Iraj was still shooting when
his father came outside. His father watered the flowers. He watered
the herb garden, and then walked over to Iraj.
"Your mother says that you are going to San
Francisco with Mariel."
"Yes," Iraj said.
"This is the same girl that you like?"
"Is she she your girlfriend?"
"No," Iraj said. "We are going as friends."
His father looked at him. "When I was young and I
was at the university in Beirut," his father said. "I
would have interactions with the girls who were also
students there. There were even some American girls
there, and we would do things such as go to parties
together and things like that. I remember that it was
a bad feeling physically to think that the night would
have a certain result with a woman and then to see
that it would not have that result. It is a bad
feeling physically for a man."
"Yes," Iraj said. He did not like to hear his
father talking that way. It was a kind of talk that
seemed very far away from how he felt about her. It
seemed very far away from summer and San Francisco and
how she looked when she smiled at him.
"You might think about that, as it relates to going
on this trip with her," his father said.
Iraj nodded. His father went back to working in
the yard. He pulled up some weeds growing among the
flowers and then rolled up the hose and went
Iraj knew what his father meant, but it was an
awfully hard way to look at things. It seemed like it
didn't allow much room for the kinds of feelings that
could get him anywhere near that result in the first
place. And he did not like to think that the time
with her would be worthless if it didn't end that way
with her at night. In college he had heard the
fellows who spoke that way, and speaking that way was
fine for them, but not for him, not for him regarding
The whole thing was so much easier for Americans,
Iraj thought. They did not have to do things like
speak of the bad feeling physically for a man when the
night did not have a certain result. They did not
have anybody in their family asking them if they were
getting married before anything had even happened.
They had figured out how to make the whole thing loose
and casual and easy, and they had figured it out a
long time ago, back when it was all kids calling each
other boyfriend and girlfriend. Even then he would
just listen to them and dream. And as for the
physicality itself, they had already figured that out
a long time ago too, so that by the time they were his
age or even younger, they had figured out how to bring
all the different parts of it together, truthfully and
sincerely but also lightly, which seemed like the most
difficult thing of all.
He did not know how they did
it. It seemed like the different parts of it were
miles and miles apart for Iranians, that there was
either dreaming or there was a night having the
correct result. But there was a whole wonderful world
where everything got mixed together, and both things
like summer as well as a good feeling at night could
be taken into account. He knew it was there. He knew
it from listening to Americans talking.
But he knew it from more than just listening to
Americans talking. He knew it from himself too. He
did not have any evidence to refer to, but he had felt
it, how the whole thing did not have to be as hard and
serious as he felt it all the time. It was supposed
to be fun, after all. He knew that it was supposed to
be fun, but somehow he could not bring himself around
to it when he was with her. Even when he imagined the
real thing with her, he imagined it as something more
sorrowful rather than happy.
And it had to do with more than just Americans and
Iranians. Even though sometimes it could look like the
whole thing could be effortless for him too if he were
American, that he would by now be among those who
also spoke of relationships and past girlfriends and such,
he knew it wasn't true. There was something else.
There was something else and he did not understand it
yet, but it seemed to make sense that until he did, he should not put himself
in a situation where he was trying to do half of one thing and
another. It was hard enough to try to do just the one
thing with her. There might be some Americans who
could do even something like a car trip to San
Francisco with the right kind of looseness and
casualness and ease, but he was not among them. They
were farther along than he was.
Iraj went inside and called her on the phone.
"Hello Iraj," she said.
He said that he would not be going with them to San
"I can try to be friends," he said. "But I think a
trip like that is too much."
"All right," she said.
"Have a good time," he said.
That evening, after he had told his family that he
would not be going, Iraj went back outside to the
yard. It was still warm as he began shooting again.
He would have some time to play in the evenings now
that he wasn't going anywhere. That didn't seem like
much compared to the adventure of San Francisco, but
he guessed that that was all right.
He still wondered
if there would have been a chance for it, but he knew
that whatever it was that was in the way, it
would take more than a new city to get through. It
was something that would be with him wherever he went.
He heard the back door open and his father come
outside. He walked over to Iraj, looking over
"It is for the best to not go," his father said. "It
is good to avoid that kind of pain."
Iraj nodded and did not say anything.
"It is not anything bad," his father said. "It is
"Yes," Iraj said. He thought for a moment that the
way he felt about her was also nature, but standing
there with his father, with the setting sun and the
smell of the pine needles, it didn't seem like nature
as much. If he had really called her up and told her
that he wouldn't be coming, then it seemed like it
wasn't nature as much.
His father studied the herbs and picked up a few
leaves scattered among them.
"The cilantro is doing very well," his father said. "I
will ask your mother if she would like some for her cooking."
Iraj liked the seriousness his mother and
father felt about the herb garden. It all made sense when
they ate dinner and tasted it.
He stayed outside shooting balls, as his father walked
away. He thought of Mariel and of how the trip would
be for her, and he still felt old and tired when he
did. But now he felt as though he deserved to, as
though something he had done had caught up to his
heart. It didn't look like much,
since he was by himself the same as before. It
certainly didn't look like boyfriends and
girlfriends holding hands like what he had seen at college. But it was good
to deserve it if he was going to feel that way about a girl. It
was good enough that he
told himself that he had to make five shots in a row
from the outside before he could go in, which he did.
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