August 31 I closed my eyes and when I opened them again, the summer had zoomed by. It was all such a blur. A 1 hour show, 4 nights per week, for 2 months, and what did it all add up to? Oh, who knew? I had never liked to measure my happiness with numbers. I preferred replaying the images of my life in my mind, like a beloved movie reel.
There was me, on the night of my first show, with the house rocking with laughter then alternatively moved to silence, all at the right moments. It felt like an electric charge going through my body each time I got the reaction I wanted, each time I felt that I had connected with them and they got “it.” “To the Happy Few”, Stendhal mused with melancholy at the end of his novel. As for me, I had never felt more connected with the people around me. I had found the happy few!
Then the scene changed to the celebration I had with all my friends and family gathered around me. After the show, we all went to Palermo's, a terrific restaurant with an authentic New York Italian feel, the kind that I always loved: Black and white photos of Hollywood stars from long ago were plastered on the walls. It didn't matter that nobody recognized any of them anymore, they could still blow you away with their glamorous smile and sad eyes.
The wine flowed freely, and every five minutes someone would make some silly toast that had us all (as well as the staff and the rest of the patrons) doubled over with laughter. I remember the next morning my jaws hurt because I had laughed so hard and my voice was almost gone from all the excitement. I had to spend the whole day stuffing myself with spoonfuls of honey to make sure I could go on again that very night.
The shows all started blurring with each other after a while. I won't lie. Nothing equaled the exhilarating feeling of the first night. I started to understand how crucial the audience was to the performer. It was such a synergetic relationship. Some nights, I could be in a darker mood, with misgivings in my heart and cold sweat trickling down my forehead, but then I would get on stage and almost tingle with the electric sparks in the air, because the spectators were eager to share their evening with me and have a hell of a good time doing it. Other nights, the mood was not there, and on the very contrary I felt my energy was being sapped, my feet would get heavier, my mouth had a hard time articulating the usually effortless flow of words. But thankfully, those were exceptions to the rule.
All throughout the highs and the lows, one person was standing in the background, as discreet as always yet a powerful presence at the same time: Ali. I had never stopped loving him but I realized that the whole time, our relationship was marred by my doubts and insecurities: The fear of the unknown, of the what-ifs. The anxiety at getting hurt all over again; that this was too good to be true, at least for me, and that I was meant to have happiness yanked out from under me whenever I felt it was in my grasp at last. This time, I had conquered the fear inside of me, I had finally accepted myself for who I was to the point that I could also accept Ali's love for me and stop trying to sabotage our happiness.
The first step was to renew our friendship, which we did from the first time our eyes locked after the curtains fell back and all was over. In that look, which lasted maybe a few seconds, we said more to each other than if we had pulled an all-nighter trying to figure out our feelings. The rest of the summer, it seemed that we were spending every minute together. The moment we had to say good-bye was always a painful separation and I held my breath until the next hour that we would meet again. Though our friendship remained platonic, I had never felt closer to him or more in love.
Tonight, I had planned a special celebration for him, a surprise birthday party at Odyssey Restaurant, which had a beautiful view of the City of Angels. I had taken every precaution to swear all the people involved to secrecy and I must say, I felt pretty proud of myself for pulling this off. Ali would never expect this. He thought we were going to a business dinner (Some people had expressed an interest in buying the rights to my play) so that was the perfect excuse for the fancy setting and dressy clothes.
That night, when he came to pick me up, I made sure I was wearing a dress that he had bought me long ago, a light, feminine dress the shade of coral, which he loved on me. The look on his face when he saw me told me that I had done the right thing. He looked so handsome, himself, standing with his back to the car, his beautiful brown eyes welcoming and warm, with just a touch of mischief in them.
We drove up the winding road to the top of the hill where the restaurant was perched. The hostess gave me a knowing smile and took us to a table by the window. I pretended to fuss with my watch, and wondered aloud if our “business guests” were late.
— “Yes, I wonder that too,” Ali replied with what I thought was a slightly sarcastic tone. No, I must have been paranoid. There was just no way that he could have guessed my plan. It just wouldn't be fair to ruin my first ever planned surprise birthday party!!! I would never recover!
— “So, while we're waiting, why don't we go take our drinks by the fire outside. It's such a beautiful night,” Ali suggested.
For a second, I panicked. This was not part of my plan. We were supposed to wait at the table when all our friends showed up at exactly 9:15. But, then I didn't want to rouse his suspicion. And it was, I mean it was a beautiful night.
We were sitting by the fire, chit-chatting about this and that, when suddenly I heard the sounds of a familiar melody:
— “Oh my god, Ali, I love that song!”
It was “In a Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington & John Coltrane.
— “I know,” Ali said simply.
Something in his voice made me turn around and look at him. There wasn't any irony or sarcasm. In fact, it seemed his voice was shaky a little. Nervous. For some reason, I couldn't speak a word. In the next few seconds, all I could do was sit still, mesmerized, while Ali mouthed words that I was hearing but that I couldn't grasp. Words about love, about happiness, about… the future. The music was growing and Ali's words were continuing: “Love… .our lives… couldn't imagine… without you… together… forever…”
I felt my heart beat faster and faster. Then suddenly, Ali stopped, grabbed my hand, and made me turn around and look up. Into the sky. There, in the pitch darkness, there were fireworks going off and I even remember wondering what was the occasion. I mean, the Fourth of July was long gone. It was when the exploding lights and colors spelled out “WILL YOU MARRY ME” that I finally lost it.
My whole body was shaking with great, huge sobs, my cheeks were glistening with tears. I was holding on to Ali as if for dear life, I felt that I was slipping away, falling deep. For a split second, I remembered my dream from the beginning of the summer: The plane, Ali, me, and the little girl. And that's the first time I realized that little girl was… me. The symbol of all my fears that I had harbored within myself since I was a kid. At that time, I had blocked out then end of my dream. I didn't know what had happened to us after we had fallen out of the plane, whether we had landed safely or perished into an abyss somewhere. Now, in a flash, all of it came back to me.
I had never felt a better sensation: My body had no weight and was just floating, gently, into the clouds, which were soft like cotton and smelled of jasmine. But the most amazing thing was that I had ceased to fall. Ali and I were flying up, hand in hand, and I never even once bothered to look down.
— “Naz… Oh my god… Naz, azizam, are you okay?”
Ali's voice brought me back to reality. I looked up at him, and between my tears I saw the concern in his face. I had to undo it immediately, no negative feelings should intrude on us in this moment, the best moment in our lives.
I put my arms around him, and brought my head close. I kissed his neck ever so lightly and then I whispered in his ear:
— “Yes… Eshghe-man… I am okay… more than okay… “
Relieved, Ali smiled and gave me a tight hug.
— “Good! So… Are you gonna leave me hanging all night or what? I don't think my poor heart can take it… “
We both laughed, though I was still crying.
— “Naz,” Ali added more soberly “Seriously, are you ready to make the jump with me?”
I smiled widely, wiped the last of my tears away, and I answered: