He Was My Friend…

Where was it that I first saw him?

In the student Commons in college, or was it on the campus grounds? I can’t remember, but what I do remember is that we became real good friends not too long after the school started in the autumn of 1977.

Fresh out of high school, I had recently left the motherland to pursue an education in the US…ahhh, the motherland….I still longed for the crisp cool mountain air that flowed through the open windows in our house in Tehran. Back then, the air was still fresh where we lived in Tehran. I still remembered the summers when I was young. My mom and I would travel to be with my dad. He was an engineer who built and started up various industrial projects in Iran and his work took him all over the country. We would go stay with him where he was at the time from time to time, but as I started 1st grade, it was decided for us to stay in Tehran to avoid exposing me to the plethora of different little communities all over Iran each with its unique culture. I guess they did not want me to be confused! Later on, it turned out, that I would be exposed to some of those colorful subcultures anyway through school and otherwise, but in the beginning, we stayed in Tehran while he went on various assignments all over the country. I was 6 years old when we travelled to one of the cities where my dad was stationed to be with him for the summer. I had a bike, plenty of tools and toys for “gelbaazi” (playing and making mud pies, etc.), a creek to play around and abundance of sunshine. We lived inside the factory compound where there was a pool and a few other kids slightly younger than I was as playmates, so the scene was set that summer for fun. The kids were pretty much in the same situation as I was, but some lived there year round. This was in a rural setting since the factory that my dad was helping to construct was about 24 kilometers from one of the cities in the province of Khorasan close to the main highway and surrounded by small villages. One day I took my bike to one of the nearby villages to explore and ended up buying two little ducklings which I brought home as pets. They were adorable and, as it turned out later, a male and female. I would go visit those villages on bike often as I had made some friends with the local kids and they were fascinated by the city kid who visited them on his bike almost everyday. I loved drinking the cold clear sparking water from the Ghanats (natural springs connected via underground aqua ducts) in those villages.

I still had all this on my mind after being in the States for 6 months when I met Nema. We had both taken Speech 101 as mandated by school requirements for foreign students. Nema was about my size, slim with prescription glasses. He came from a Jewish background in Iran and at the time, his extended family was still in Iran. There were a lot of other Iranian students in that college. It had become fashionable for folks to send their kids to America before the Islamic Revolution, so there were a colorful variety of Iranians who attended colleges and universities all over the US. It sure seemed that some of these folks had bypassed any major city with significant population on their way to America, because there was an array of accents and personalities showcased by some of these students from my beloved Iran.  One even claimed that he was the “pesare kadkhoda (the son of the village elder who is regarded as a sheriff figure) – I kid you not! He would sit at the piano in the student commons and strike the keys aimlessly for he did not know how to play. One day one of the cafeteria staff (a woman) finally got so upset that she confronted him saying “you sit here everyday playing this piano, but you don’t know how…and you are driving us all crazy…..can you please stop?”. He did…thankfully! I sometimes wonder where he is now……….

Nema and I along with a couple of other guys really clicked and became inseparable. I had had my own band of high school buddies whom I had lost as we parted to search for our destiny in Europe, US and Iran. I had to form a new friendship circle again and this was it. We studied together, got drunk together and explored the newly arrived country and the DC Metro Area and vicinity together. We saw a lot of rock concerts together from Pink Floyd to Supertramp and Moody Blues. Nema was a smart kid, but his passion was not studying. I stayed in that community college for 3 semesters before transferring to a 4 year university, but Nema changed directions afterward and started looking into opening a business. We only lived a few miles apart so we kept in touch and in fact remained great friends even after I transferred. After the revolution, Nema’s family started migrating to the US in fear of religious persecution.  By 1981, almost all his family had left Iran and settled mainly in California (of course).

I think it was around 1985 that one day Nema told me that he was moving to California too. I was shocked as I did not expect this at all. He had married by this time to a nice girl and was planning to raise a family. I told him I was going to miss him. “Not to worry, just think of it as having another home over there and visit anytime” He said. With that he packed up, rented a moving truck and moved to LA. For a long time I missed having him and his smiling face around. We kept in touch by phone on a regular basis and I learned that he was getting into a partnership in some retail business in LA. I was glad to hear he was doing well. His little girl had been born a little before my baby girl and we were having fun sharing baby stories. In early 1990’s we travelled to LA to see Nema and family and had a great time doing so. It would be another year before Nema’s son was born. Throughout the 90’s we kept in touch and visited each other when we could. Nema now had a beautiful family; a great and prosperous business and everything to look forward to. Things were going great for Nema.

The last time I saw him was probably in 1997 when they came to our area for a visit. He looked good and healthy. In around 2002, it was getting difficult to get a hold of Nema. He was distant and vague in his communications every time we talked on the phone. I asked about Mandy, his wife, and kids to which his answer was “oh…they’re fine”. Soon, Nema stopped communicating. Every time I called, his excuse was that he was super busy and that Mandy was also busy with the kids and home life.

Last year, a mutual friend called and told me that Nema had died of a massive coronary failure…..”What the hell are you talking about? It’s not funny” was my reply.  “I am sorry….. I’m not joking…he really is dead”. I could not say anything else, but I wanted to know why and how.

Apparently, Nema had gotten mixed up with a bunch of friends who were involved in unhealthy activities. These activities had originally resulted in his marriage ending. He had sold his business and was living in an apartment somewhere in the LA area and apparently had been getting high and drunk as a matter of routine. I had stopped hearing from him and did not know where he was for the past 5-6 years. He had never told me about his divorce and the fact that his life was in shambles; perhaps he was not aware of that fact. I did not hear from his wife either all this time and had lost her contact information.

Nema’s story is a sad one. Not only because his children are fatherless at a young age, not only because his wife had lost him even before his death, but also because Nema was smart enough to know that the path he had taken was that of oblivion and destruction. So…why…what happened to that witty young man that I knew 30 plus year ago? Why would anyone abandon everything he had worked for all his life in this manner? Why did he give up on life?

Nema was 50 years old when he died.

He was my friend and I miss him.

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