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Fiction

Weeds
My father had plans for grass and cypress trees

May 14, 2003
The Iranian

We came to a house in Southern California whose backyard was full of weeds. It was our first house in America. My father couldn't understand how the previous occupants - not my aunt's family, who had lived there for a short while and then gone back to Iran, but the people before them - could have been so neglectful. I almost couldn't understand it either.

I liked the way it looked wild and natural, but what I liked more was going out to the backyard in the evenings with my father and pulling out weeds until it was too dark to see. We would work out there in the evenings, pulling up weeds by hand or digging them up with spades, and it was a kind of work that felt good because we could see that it was getting somewhere. It was getting clean and brown and flat.

I didn't know what was going to happen after that. My father had plans for grass and cypress trees and a vegetable garden. I was just glad to work outside as it was getting dark. It was nice to live somewhere where it was warm enough that we could do that. While we worked my father watched to make sure that I pulled the weeds out by their roots. There was no point in pulling out only the part that you could see because it would just grow back.

It was a good feeling to pull a weed out with its roots. It was a feeling of getting at something that was not easily seen but was just as much there as anything else. I began to be able to tell which weeds came out easily and which ones needed some digging.

We had come to a new place, and we didn't know what was going to happen here, but when we worked outside in that backyard that was full of weeds, we found things that were ours. The smell of the dirt was ours, and the pleasant air in the evening. It didn't
have to do with how much we had been there. Those things were ours each night that we worked outside, and sometimes my mother would join us and they would be hers too.

When we went inside, we would wash ourselves up and then my father would turn on his short-wave radio and listen to the news from Iran. I could hear it from my room as I was going to bed. My father would listen each night and I knew it was because something
important was happening in our country. That was also something that was ours. Out in our backyard were the things that we could see and touch and smell, and inside at night with the short-wave radio turned on was the thing we felt.

I did not know exactly what they were saying. I knew it had to do with our country and what was going to happen there and why my aunts and uncles and cousins had gone back while we had stayed. It sounded very far away, not because it was in our language but
because there was a great heaviness and seriousness in the words. It was something that was going to affect us somehow, I knew that.

I knew that it was going to affect a part of us that went back to the past and to Iran, just as the evenings that we worked in the yard affected the present and America. I was glad to have both. I was glad to have a system in which the world felt very young and full of something that we could do something about, and also very old and full of something that we could do nothing about but listen.

We could only listen but that still felt like something big because the thing happening was the thing that we had dreamed about. My mother and father had dreamed about it for a long time and I had dreamed about it through them. I had dreamed about it without knowing it because I knew that I loved fairness, and that was what seemed to be happening.

It seemed like it was not going to be a place any more where there was a king, and we felt glad about that. We felt so glad that we thought that we would leave the house whose backyard was full of weeds and join the rest of our family who had already gone back. It was as clean a feeling as pulling a weed out with all its roots. I knew that it was the presence of the king that had made us leave in the first place.

I liked America. I liked our street and basketball and my mother's relatives who had stayed and become American. But what I liked more than anything was the way my father had fought against the king back in our country. I didn't even know what exactly he had done, but I knew that it had been something big enough that people were careful of how they spoke around my father. They were careful not to say anything good about the king because they knew that he had done something strong and brave back then.

I knew it too when we worked together out in the yard. I knew that my father was on the side of the people. We didn't have anything against anybody out there. We didn't even have anything against the weeds themselves. They were living things, and we appreciated that they gave us a chance to be outside as the sun was going down. They just happened to be in the way of what we were trying to do. They weren't any worse than anything we would've put in their place. We knew it when we pulled a weed out and saw its roots. They were trying to help it live, the same as anything else would.

Out in the backyard it felt like it was going to be a good world, whether we stayed in America or not. Even if we left and didn't add a thing to the yard, we would've still taken the weeds out with their roots, and that was something. But as good as we felt working out there, the mood of our house changed when we went inside and my father turned on the radio. The voice was still heavy and serious, only now it was speaking of what was happening after the king.

The king had come to America and in Iran they had taken Americans hostage and demanded his return. At school the kids would ask me about it and I would tell them about the king and about what he had done to our country and how the hostages would return as soon as he was sent back to face his punishment, but the whole thing was going in a direction that did not seem as bright and glad as its beginning.

We heard from my aunt and uncle that we should not come. They told us that we should not think that things had gotten better and there were even some things to make them think it had gotten worse. It was very sad because we had all been in America together and we had thought that we would be together again.

My cousins and I had laughed about a backyard that was full of weeds, and now my father and I had cleared it and they would not have a chance to see it.We would go ahead and put in all those things my father had planned, and even put in a swimming pool too, but none of it was anything that my cousins would see.

My father would not see his brother and sister. They had all been learning about America together for a while, and now my father would keep learning and they would not. My father stopped listening to the short-wave radio. It was too sad to hear about the thing that we had dreamed about turning out the way it had.

We went ahead and stayed in America and made a life for ourselves. We wanted to live in a way that always remembered where we had come from, but we still had to live with our hearts in the same country that we were in. We had to do it however bad we felt about how it had turned out in our country and however nice it had been when we had all been together.

But there had been a while when we felt like there was room enough for our hearts to be in both places at once, in America and in Iran, and it was when my father and I would go outside to the backyard to pull out the weeds, and we would be thinking of the change
that was coming around in our country.

The thought of it went with all those things we loved out there, the sun and the dirt and the work itself, and it seemed like if a father and son could come to some place new and accomplish something like that, putting aside their feelings about how it got that way and just going ahead and working, then maybe something could go right for a country too. We didn't know how exactly, but we knew that the spirit of it would be the spirit that was in our yard when we were weeding.

It was the spirit of work and nature and love, and of the work belonging to those who did the working. It was only two people, and sometimes three, but the important thing was that we felt it. And it was all right that when we looked past the fence at the other houses,
they were the homes of those who didn't know our hearts were in both places at once and why, because for ourselves there was enough in our own yard to confirm it. And only one of them had gone the way we hoped it would.

Our backyard became a pleasant place to spend the hot days and warm evenings. "Remember when this whole yard had been nothing but weeds," my father would say. "You and I had gone out there and pulled up all the weeds together," he would say, and I would feel proud. And I would feel very glad to remember a time when we had felt so much possibility, that we did not feel far from our country at all, and the sun had been the same sun that was there, back before everything had gone in a direction that did not let us be who we were, at least not with the ease that my father and I had felt out among the weeds.

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