I was 12, full of angst – even though I didn't know the full meaning of the word — seated on a horribly plaid sofa, in an apartment hotel taken over by Iranians in Madrid. We had been there for months. As I looked outside I recognized the profiles in two thirds of the windows. All of us with our own stories, anxiously waiting to see where each of us would go.
We were all kids on the play ground waiting to be picked by a team – not knowing which team we would end up with – desperate not to remain standing in the field. The field was Spain – a haven for those of us who got there by 1982 – one of the few European countries that didn't require a visa from Iranians. But there was nothing you could do there, and you couldn't leave because you couldn't get back in.
So many memories lose their sharpness with time and then there are those that never lose their shape. For me everything up to the age of 12 is crystal clear and then the years just blend together. My mind made the decision that nothing that ever happens to me could possibly be as important as those years and so what's the point of really remembering anything else.
I didn't have too many things that were mine. There were my Barbies, one or two tapes, my Walkman and a few clothes. I had never felt deprived before in my life and I am not sure why I didn't throw tantrums in stores demanding that things be bought for me. I was so desperate to be considered as an adult that I denied myself the right to not understand. One of the very first regrets that I have is not taking advantage of the right to not understand when others would still tolerate it. I would listen to my tape of Faramarz Aslani over and over again, staring out the window – crying like the teenagers I saw around me.
Most occupants of Galelleo 26 had come in swaggering, discussing their options, disparaging each other's choices of final destinations. Few months later, as wallets began to shrink, there was an air of desperation. At first each trip to an embassy was greeted with joy; they were genuinely happy for each other. But as people began leaving, there was unconscious envy and conscious worry.
Some had less money than others; they couldn't last forever. There was a group of young men in our midst. They had run away from war, persecution, the inability to listen to Bony M in public. They were my opiate. They fed my melancholy. They would sit around strumming on guitars, getting high listening to Pink Floyd, worried that they may have to go back, missing parents or girlfriends, reminiscing so vividly about home that I forgot they were not my memories. I felt the collective pain.
As cliché as it will inevitably sound – we really were like a very big family. We were envious and yet wanted the best for each other. There was a Jewish family that had very good connections in the U.S. and the capital to start a business. There was my family, envied because my parents had secured a Carte de Sejour for us in France and could in theory always go to France if things didn't work out. The young men were uniformly envied because they had no responsibility other than themselves. And yet we all would go each Sunday to the park for a picnic and play soccer.
Some people ended up going back. They had mentally prepared themselves to escape Iran but had nothing left for the long wait in Spain. There was no purpose, no glory, no family for them. I never saw most of them again. They were some of the most important people in my life. But I don't even remember their names
I listen to the same songs today as I look outside, sitting on a couch a little less ugly. But the outside looks uglier day by day. So many of our lives are enshrined in a childhood so perfect that nothing will be that perfect again. It doesn't matter what the reality was at the time; we remember it perfectly as being perfect – and as days go by, life becomes a little less perfect. Experience is the sculptor, chipping away all those layers, insisting that the end product will be a beautiful statue. I want to stop the chipping, because it hurts too much. I like myself as a bulk of stone – no need to refine it. I'm not convinced that the promised end product is worth it. And who is to say that we are all made of marble, able to withstand the constant assault? What if I'm just a piece of clay, what if you are just a piece of hard rock – each of us could be just another chip away from crumbling or shattering.
The songs from back home have more meaning each day. There has been enough pain to make them resonate and there hasn't been enough pain to make me numb. I would have to change if I go back, I'm certain of that. I'm comfortable with the parameters of my existence, so why would I want to do that? Why would I want to go back to the street where the house I grew up in is no longer there? Why go back to an empty apartment, full of things and memories of some one who's dead. Why face the fact that there's no magical world where things are kept the same for me to revisit? Why blur the beautiful sharp edges of my memories – letting new ones interrupt the perfect map in my mind?
Why go back and drive home the point that I don't belong – when I belong so beautifully in my heart? Why become a stranger to myself – to the 12-year-old who still rules my heart? Now I want to use up all the childhood years I gave up. No one will let me and I keep going further and further away from that image on the plaid sofa. I can just close my eyes and I feel myself on that couch and if I keep lying there I can re-live all those moments and years. And I'll think of a different path and live a different life. A life in which I heroically go back and spend all the time I can at that house that is no longer there and with people who are dead. I would keep the house from being torn down and I would keep everyone from dying. I don't know if I'll stay 12 forever or grow up. I haven't had a chance to keep my eyes closed for that long.
I know what you're thinking- I need to stop listening to these songs.