My editor called and asked if I could stay with the retrospective voice throughout the new novel.
Unsure of how retrospective she wanted the voice to be, I asked, “Why?”
“It may be more interesting to the reader if you write with your ‘now’ voice, but in an ‘if I knew then what I know now’ sort of way.”
I don't particularly enjoy that voice and find it pathetic to acknowledge the mistakes that could have been prevented. Then again, I thought blaming everything on not knowing any better may be a good way to get even with the past.
Once I got started on the events of long ago, matters that were out of my control and choices that I had been deprived of, I could not stop. The editor's advice had opened a can of worms, so to speak. Unfortunately, most of what came to mind seemed unrelated to the story in my novel and proved useless.
The first issue that came to mind was a lifetime's struggle to be the top student — shagerd avval. The struggle still comes back to haunt me in my nightmares in the shape of a thick book hours before an important exam and with no time left to study.
My family seemed to miss the point that perhaps I was not the best in my class. Many students could have achieved better marks without as much effort as I put in. But before I knew it, I had become the family's favorite racehorse and, no matter how hard I needed to work at it, there was a trophy that had to be earned and I needed to be the first to reach the finish line.
If only I had known that, down the line, none of those accomplishments would matter. Those who pushed me are no longer around to put their trophies on a pedestal. Yes, only if I had known that none of it will be remembered, then maybe I wouldn't have to know the meaning of anxiety so early in life.
In the real world, no one seems concerned with whether you were the top student or not, your colleagues don't care and your spouse for sure doesn't give a hoot on where you ranked in class. Worst of all, if you're not careful, you may turn into a competitive nut who can never achieve enough.
The voice of wisdom stops my chain of thought as I hear its echo from within me, “Oh, but what about all that knowledge?”
“Don't even go there,” I snap at that annoying voice. “When you compete for top of the class, you need all your grades to be the best, regardless of how useless the subject matter or how dumb the teacher may be.”
I studied, no, let me rephrase that. I memorized — parrot style, mind you — statistics, religious studies, calligraphy, and even calculus. When you think about the most critical subjects such as Physics or Chemistry, it would be nice to remember at least one of those formulas, wouldn't it?
I studied world history, geography, philosophy and I'm sure it's all somewhere in my brain's Spam folder, but it would be good to remember the capitals of a few countries. I won't even mention the names of the fossils. Today, the only one I remember is the Crossopterygian. I don't know what it was, but I used codes to help me memorize them. This one, for some reason, reminds me of a boy who lived across the street.
Then I remembered my teens, the diets, the exercises and all the food substance I rubbed on my face to get rid of freckles. Had I known that I would gain back all those pounds with a handsome interest, not only would I not say no to a “Cafe Glasse” at the Naderi, but I might have enjoyed a cream puff to go with it. And, speaking of freckles, they now don't look half as bad next to a few wrinkles.
Had I known that the handsome James Dean look-alike, who passed me on the way to school, would turn out to be a bald opium addict, I doubt if I would have crossed the street so he would notice me. Had I known that the guy who fell in love with me was also in love with half of my peers, I would think twice before shedding a tear over losing him.
Regret is overloaded with negative energy. Why can't I sit back and praise myself for all the right things I may have done? But that's not in my culture because, to an Iranian, self confidence is somewhere up there alongside arrogance.
Had the child of then known what the woman of today knows, she would have spoken up. I would have reminded all those grown-ups that I had a right to be who I was and to exercise my God given choices. I would have told them that respect, though it may have to be earned later in life, is a gift that needs to be given to a child. That the best education you can offer the young is to teach them that their worth is not in the grades they earn, but rather in who they become.
There is one fact, however, that I knew then and know now and perhaps will know forever. We do our best and we try to accomplish what seems right for the time. Contrary to the common belief, man does not learn from his mistakes because, while experiences may sound alike, no two incidents are the same. Thus, looking back brings about a sad regret that is unable to prepare one for the future. Learning is a positive process. We learn through motivation and mainly by imitating those who seem to do a better job.
As for speaking up, I'm glad I didn't. Knowing how my free speech would have been received back then, I may not have lived long enough to feel any regret!