My Mother, Her Secrets

SOME years ago, when I was in my early 20s, I found a photograph of my mother as a bride. That the man beside her was not my father, that she’d kept this marriage a secret from me, that she had been disturbingly young — none of this unsettled me as much as her expression. Eyes downcast and lips pouted, she looked as if the next shot would have shown her crying. In that moment I thought: That is not my mother. My family left Iran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. My parents bought a roadside motel in California and set out to make new lives for us. Immigration baffled, then broke, my father, and so it was my mother who took charge of the motel, my mother who sat behind the plastic window of the manager’s suite answering the phone, my mother who cleaned the rooms on weekends and all the other days when the maid didn’t show up. At home she was no less commanding. Here the woman who wrangled with truck drivers over motel bills wore a turquoise bathing cap and bright red lipstick to swim in the backyard pool. She reigned over dinner parties of 50 or 100 people. She coursed, coiffed and high-heeled, through rooms filled with marble coffee tables, gilt-framed armoires and fields of Persian carpets. She stuffed plump dates with almonds and passed them on sterling silver platters, smilingly, to her guests. >>>

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