We share the same birthday, the 12th of Khordad. And, for nearly two and a half years we were best friends. For two of those years, we were part of a trio, when suddenly our friend Leila, no longer wanted to be our friend. When pressed, she confided in me. “I can be your friend, but not Fariba's. Fariba comes from a 'different' kind of family. “Beh maa nemikhoreh.” Simply put. Simply explained. Simply understood. I guess these are the values that parents pass on to their children, with care, with caution, with warning.
After 21 years, Fariba found me. Unexpectedly. Found me. In a place I had not planned to be. In Park-e Honar. In Tehran. In Iran. Where, I had returned. Re Turned. After an absence of 20 years, decided, unexpectedly, to stay. Stay for a little while. Stay for an undefined length of time. Stay for as long as it felt good, for as long as it was necessary, until life should take me away. Away. Again.
She moved quickly in her inquiries about my life. Too quickly. Asking me about my husband, how long we were together, was I happy with the decision, did I not desire children.
I answered her questions. Divorced. Three years. Yes. No. I lied, in my last answer. But how can you explain complicated and emotional issues so quickly, in passing, and why is it even necessary, I thought.
Fariba's life is simple. That's how she puts it. She is married to a good man. A Good Man. Life for her consists of her family. She lives for her children. Ages thirteen and ten. She has ambitions for her children. Not for herself. She lost her mother at sixteen. Married at nineteen. Had her first child at twenty-one. Lost her father at twenty-five.
She is conservative. Much more so than when she was a young girl. She is religious. Much more so than when she was as a young girl. She admits that. “Your direction changes as you grow older and you choose things that you may not have ever imagined”, she says. She wishes that they would ease the dress code on women. Even then, she would choose the hejab. She likes the hejab. It is a sort of peace for her.
She is not interested in politics. Doesn't trust any politician. All that she wants of politics and politicians is economic relief. She wants her children to have more choices. So her children, everyone's children, but particularly her children, can have a future in this country. She is not satisfied with recent personal freedoms that are the hallmark of Khatami's presidency. In fact, she feels that they have eased restriction on people a little too much, too quickly. She has problems with her neighbor, who hosts drug parties, wayward men and prostitutes.
She is happy, she says. And given the opportunity, she would make the same choices. Again. She has thought about this. I can tell. It shows in her confession, in her resolve. In the way she has come to terms, again and again, with her life and her choices. If I were to meet her now, anew, I would not pick her as my friend. I realize that. Perhaps she realizes the same. She holds my face in both hands and places a desperate kiss on my cheek. As if I were a gift. A treasure. There is too much time lost. Lost time. So, she makes plans, filling my days with her presence. She makes me feel wanted, a comforting and claustrophobic kind of wanting.
And today, I see that perhaps the values that Leila's parents bestowed upon her, so many years ago, in a manner which seemed to me, at the time, and even still, careless and cruel, may have spoken a truth. It is true. Fariba and I come from different backgrounds. We are different people. With little in common, except for being born on the same day, in the same year, in the same city, in the same country, to different circumstances. Different parents. Different families. Different lives. And we share memories of one of the most critical times of our lives. Memories of when we were 11, 12 and 13. Memories of what it felt like to be in Iran. To be Iranian. To be Iranian girls who came of age on the verge of a revolution. In the shadow of a revolution. In the shadow of The Revolution.
After leaving her house, I come home to cry. It's 1:00 AM. Some emotions weigh heavy on the soul, too heavy for public demonstration, for public sharing, for words. That is how being in Iran is for me. Simply put, it is painful.
People ask me if I like Iran more than the States. It's a pointless question. How can you choose between two homes, between two halves of one whole. They can't understand why I'm here. What draws her to Iran? They wonder out loud. A question fueled with a longing for departure from a home, which offers little. Fueled with a longing for options. The option to leave. To Leave. To Come Back. To Return. Again. And, Again. And, I am put in the awkward position of answering their pointless question, of defending my choices, of explaining my options.
You come to Iran to find yourself, to find your home, to make tangible, the intangible connections that you feel in your heart, at the core of your being, in the pit of your stomach. That's what I want to tell them. But, instead, I tell them how my work is fulfilling. How it offers a good opportunity. How Iran is an interesting experience, a change of pace. Just a bored, elite, expatriate, coming back for Iran-gardi. These are not lies. They are half-truths. Layers of truth. Thin layers.
I want to tell them that it's painful for me here. Every minute is filled with immense pain, with immense emotion, the kind that is not meant for public demonstration, for public sharing, for words. I want to tell them that every day you come face to face with loss. Every day, you suffer a million farewells, knowing that eventually you will leave. Leave. Again. It is the kind of pain you want to feel, to savor, to work through. Through to resolution. Through to acceptance. Through to an understanding, which does not relinquish itself easily.
And then, one day, while crossing the street, you notice how the city has risen to meet the skirt of the mountains that surround Tehran. And, how the edges of those magnificent mountains blend with the horizon. And you think to yourself that you love this city, with its urban sprawl, its ever-present cars and the sound of their horns, its crowded streets, filled with ten million or so people. And you realize that it is the only city you have ever loved. Truly loved. And, you realize that you have come full circle. Re Turned. That you are, once and for all, home.