I've been having nightmares lately. It's probably just the hallucinatory effect of the malaria medicine I've been taking. Regardless, after a particularly nightmare-ridden night, I wake up with an acute pain in my right foot, on the right side. I lie in bed for a while wiggling my toes, hoping it's just a cramp and will go away. Then I put my foot on the ground and realize it's just too painful. I can't get out of bed. I climb back, put a pillow over my head, and try to get back to sleep.
The phone rings.
I jump out of bed, cursing every time my right foot hits the floor, trying to get the phone before the answering machine does. It's my mom; my normally excessively emotional mom being extra-emotionally excessive today.
“What's up?” I say, lifting my foot and putting it on the chair in front of me.
“Well,” she says sheepishly after we go through all our news, most of it related to our various relatives who are ill and old, “you know people have such a high opinion of you.”
I groan. The introduction is painfully familiar. Be positive I order myself.
“Thanks mom, but no.”
“Let me finish.”
“O.K. mom, finish: Who is it this time and who exactly has introduced him to you?” I ask in order to make sure that person never comes to our house again.
“He's a good boy, a doctor, and he lives in another state. I told them you were away but when you get back, you guys can talk to each other and if you like each other, you two could meet.”
I haven't had coffee yet so I'm a bit slow but I still ask, “What state is he in and will he fly me there?” hoping he lives in Hawaii. I'd agree to see this suitor in exchange for a free trip to Hawaii.
“Take this seriously,” my mom pleads.
“I am mom. What does he do?”
“He's a surgeon,” she says gingerly, “a foot surgeon.”
I sit up: A podiatrist! Is this fate or what? My suitor is in the business of fixing feet. I can't hold back anymore. Laughing I say, “That's great mom. My foot really hurts today.”
“May God not choke you,” she responds exasperated.
A foot doctor? A goddamn foot doctor? I mean what kind of a person chooses to look at people's feet the whole day? Hmmm… I start wondering. I imagine him short and bald. My short, bald, nerdy, foot doctor. My suitable boy. I flex my toes and pain shoots through my foot giving a certain urgency to my suitor's profession.
Does he have a foot fetish? I look at my feet: Do I need a pedicure? Would he make me get pedicures if we get married? Better yet, I bet he gives a mean foot massage.
“Be a bit open-minded,” my mother says somewhat angrily, easily guessing the gist of most of my thoughts, and I hurriedly oblige. Well, I think optimistically, of all fashion items, shoes are truly my favorite. That's good. I wonder if we have that in common. I wonder if our married life's pride and joy would be rows and rows of shoes.
But, I think now worriedly, what if he only wears ugly comfortable shoes (We all know there is no such thing as beautiful comfortable shoes.) and what if he makes ME wear shoes that are good for me?
All this thinking has made me hungry. I am hungry and think of food and of course, out of nowhere, an image of jars and jars of pickled pig feet come to my mind. Yuck! Does he like pickled pig feet or does he have qualms about eating the object of his medical profession?
Pickles. It suddenly strikes me: This is why I am having this conversation with my mother. Pickles. That's me. Torshideh. Rotten, even if you decide to take the unkind translation of the word. I am in the last year of my 20s and by some accounts, it is time for me to crawl inside a kuzeh and pickle in peace. Or, marry a podiatrist.
Last time my aunt asked why I don't marry, I asked her to name two reasons why my life would be better off if I got married. Better yet, I asked her sincerely, name two-three marriages where it was to the benefit of the woman to get married. She smiles and says no one gets married because it's to her benefit. She should know: Her husband drank, smoked opium, cheated on her, and even beat her at times. And now that he's a toothless good for nothing, she cooks and cleans for him.
Oddly enough, I sense there is less pressure to get married here in Iran than in the States. Let me clarify a bit: There is less pressure to be one-half of a couple. In Iran, my unmarried status is treated in the same way as other things I do (or don't do): It is a sign of my having lost part of my Iranian identity. It is not so much a deficiency of my character as a possible outcome of the course my life has taken. If anything, my relatives think, all I need to do is lab tar konam — wet my lips — and I can get married.
Marriage is a part of life. Its occurrence is not necessarily just the result of the individual's actions (and thus a reflection of the individual's character) but rather a collective act, one that involves one's friends and neighbors. That's why in Iran, when asked why I am not married, I can look sad and say well, my mother hasn't really looked hard enough. In some circles, that passes as a valid answer, resulting in the shaking of heads and offers of help.
In the States, the pressure to be part of a happy, functioning, loving, relationship is at times too much. In this highly mobile society, in the absence of a childhood home, childhood neighborhood, childhood friends, and childhood city, i.e. in the life of this first generation immigrant, one must grow one's roots in another person, usually of the opposite sex. A failure to do so is the individual's fault. It is my fault.
The pursuit of happiness is not just the pursuit of money but also, if you are in your twenties and thirties, the pursuit of love, of the all-encompassing type. Case in point: two of television's most popular female programs, Ally McBeal and Sex in the City. Both shows involve tiny petite protagonists with expensive clothes who just can't find the right man. Both are over 30 as are their friends and colleagues, none of whom are in a “correct” relationship. The underlying question in both shows is this: WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?
Taking my cue from these shows, I ask, What the Hell is Wrong with Me? I am approaching 30 and I have not had one single relationship that I could label as being even remotely nurturing (most of the men in my life would have to look up that word in the dictionary.) Additionally, I have maintained them as my friends, watching them get involved with other women, having them as constant reminders of MY individual failure.
Where is my American dream, I ask? Could they revoke my citizenship on this basis? What the Hell is Wrong with Me? I think as I place my foot on the floor and cringe with pain. Only recently I had cringed with another kind of pain when thinking of returning to the States from Iran.
Where did I belong? Boston where I have lived on and off for the past 10 years, where my books are stored, where my surrogate family resides? Or California where my blood family lives but which holds no other attraction for me? The answer would've been clear if I had a Significant Other. In its absence, things get muddled and convoluted.
Am I truly without a place to rest the sole of my feet? But then a strange thing: My foot, my right foot, only hurts if I've been off of it, sitting or lying down. Once I start walking, after 5-10 excruciating minutes, oddly enough the pain in my foot goes away.
I don't need a podiatrist, I realize. I just need to keep walking.
Footnote: The author confesses walking did not cure her foot. Only made it worse.