I am so good with routines. I have my familiar nightmares that do not scare me anymore and the usual stories I repeat; I love to read the same poem over and over until I know each word by heart. Each night I have this routine: I do laundry, I kiss my boys goodnight, I check my emails and I google Azita’s name.
It is almost 29 years since the last time I saw her. It was in Iran, at the corner of a busy street in Tehran. I didn’t cry.
Azita was my best friend. No, actually she was my only friend in high school. Or the only one I cared about. She was Jewish, and when the Islamic revolution happened, she and her family left Iran for Israel. We were forbidden from sending mail to Israel, so I had to send my letters through another country. Her address changed a lot, and it was in Hebrew, an alphabet that looked to me like modern art or bent nails. My last letter to her returned as a lost letter after having traveled through many different countries. I always wondered what letters or numbers I had missed in writing her address.
Once Azita was gone, I found other friends, but after the Iran-Iraq war started, they left Iran too. Leaving became an invincible drive, one that pushed me toward becoming the woman I am today.
Leaving, no matter what.
I didn’t care about bombs, I didn’t care about solitude. There were days, in my room, I did nothing but stand at my window, looking at the empty alley, observing the rare sight of people going somewhere.
My mother used to sit at her kitchen window.
Sometimes we would sit together watching the world surrounding our apartment passing by; there we felt abandoned by life.
I would try to come up with things to say. My mother is the silent type, and she listened to my long, nonsensical, made up stories about her childhood with wonder, never contradicting the world I’d created in my imagination.
All I ever truly thought about was leaving. I never wondered who would fill my empty seat at the other side of the window, sharing my mother’s silence. I never thought about whose face she would smile back at?
All that time I received letters from Azita. I was writing to her and to all those who had left me. I was their voice of guilt and conscience. I wrote to tell them about war and death and despair. To give them all the news they didn’t want to hear. I am sure my letters about bombs slowly began to repulse them. I am sure at one point in time, they all simply stopped opening my letters. This happened, I am sure, in the moment when they finally entered the zone where they belonged nowhere, in between two worlds, in no one place, hanging. That zone where I was not … not yet.
In 1983, five years after Azita left Iran, I left for France; the war still was going on in Iran. I didn’t have a TV in my dorm room in France. I used to visit the TV room to watch the news. The news anchor told me stories of my land and showed images of Iran, of places I had already seen and those I hadn’t. I was struggling, still, to choose. Should I grab at each image, try to recognize some familiar face or familiar half body or familiar ruin that passed for one half second in front of my eyes, or I should just close my eyes, let go of the past, leave for good, grabbing “hope” like the last resort?
I hate breaking news. I hate the ring of the phone in the middle of the night. I hate unopened letters handwritten by someone I don’t know.
Now, every night, as part of my routine, I search for Azita just to tell her my story. To tell her that we can be friends again. To tell her that, finally, I have reached this same place, the place to which she disappeared.
O, Azita, where are you now? I only want to tell you that from now on you can open all those unread letters I sent you long ago.
First posted on www.MadAsHellClub.net