The whole thing is lousy to look back on because she would call herself a princess in those days when we first met and I wouldn’t know what she was talking about. I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. I had a mind that was half-white in those days, so when she called herself a princess, I figured she was looking for a guy who was a prince, and to me that sounded like captain-of-the-football-team kind of stuff. If she was looking for a guy who thought of himself as a prince, that wasn’t me. I had just moved to the city and I was more interested in paupers than princes. I would stop on Market Street and talk to the guys asking for change and try to understand how they had gotten there. There was a sadness in the world, and I was interested in going into it. I was twenty-two years old and I was trying to take on as much of it as I could. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know that a woman could call herself a princess and still be trying to do that too. The other half of my mind was Iranian, only it was in the Iran that we had left, and the presence of royalty had been the reason we had left, it had been the reason my father had been imprisoned when he was young, and one of the first understandings of the world I had as a boy was that a king was someone who believed that he could rule over everyone else for no apparent reason, and that trickled its way down to princes and princesses and left me feeling like I wanted nothing to do with the whole thing.

Nobody expects you to learn about black people when you come to America from another country. Nobody expects you to learn why a black girl would call herself a princess, why there has to be a word for the notion that she is not ugly for being black, she is not unfeminine for being black, that she is not unlikely to be the source for a man’s heart riding out beyond what it has known for being black. The word covers it about as well as any word could.

Look, I said in those days, if it’s a prince you’re looking for, they’re out there. I’ve seen them. They’re driving expensive cars and wearing stylish clothes. They’re waking up on Sunday mornings in Lake Tahoe and Napa Valley. They’re not waking up in the Tenderloin of San Francisco wondering what the hell they’re going to write. Me, I’m just hanging on. I’m just hanging on to literature and children and the crowds in the evening on Powell Street and long walks down to the bay looking at everybody and everything, really. It’s everything but still I’m just hanging on. The funny thing is that I like it this way. I never expected any different. But if there’s some way to have it be everything and have me just hanging on and still be a prince about it, I sure as hell don’t know what that is.

The thing that I didn’t know and nobody told me was that there was nothing about a princess that meant that she had to place herself above anybody. There was nothing that couldn’t be trying to spread itself out for free. It was a very democratic kind of princesshood. I just didn’t know. Instead I would get to thinking about my father in prison when she talked of being a princess, or about the men on Market Street asking for change, and everything would turn out no good. There was a lot I didn’t know. But a young man of twenty-two is looking for a way to understand his father and men asking for change anyway, and I jumped at the chance to feel like I was on their side. The crazy thing was that she was on their side too. I knew that she was on their side too, so when I put myself over there as a place to hide from the princess stuff, it felt like a very small and isolated corner, instead of the big and open space it should be.

A man draws lines, I did anyway, and when my father told me about being in prison when I was a boy, I drew the lines to match the prison bars he saw, and I put myself on one side and kings and queens and anything that had anything remotely good to say about them on the other, and I went along like that carrying those lines with me in America for a long time, long enough to forget I was carrying them, and then a woman came along who knew all about lines, who knew all about them from being a woman and from being black, and knew about being more than someone carrying lines around with her too, and when I look back on the whole thing, it’s pretty lousy to think about it, because I can see how she was telling me about being a princess because there was some part of me that she saw as a prince. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t figure out how to look in two directions at once, in the direction of paupers and in the direction of princes, so I stuck to looking at paupers and saying to hell with princes. I held on to that line and kept it with me until I couldn’t live on one side of it any more. It wasn’t helping anybody to have me living like that, and I came around to understanding that I could look at at least everybody. They were who I had around me, and I could at least look at them, and see what there was on either side of that line that I could use to make who I wanted to be.

And I guessed that was something that she had done a long time ago. It was a little bit of where grace came from in her, not having those lines inside her, not having them be bigger than her at least. She saw that those lines were not hers, they had been imposed upon her by men who needed lines, so why should she hold on to them like they were? And there was princesshood in that. I caught on to it too late, but there was princesshood in that grace and that freedom and that willingness to give. But like I said, nobody expects you to learn about black people when you come to America from another country. Nobody asks you about it when you take the U.S. citizenship test. They asked me about the Korean War and the constitution, but they didn’t ask me about Nat Turner and Malcolm X. That would be a start. And then if they really wanted to do something worthwhile with it, they could ask why it’s always different when a black girl calls herself a princess from when a white girl does it.

If I could tell her now, I’d want to tell her that I’m sorry, that I was looking for a way to carry my feelings about my father in prison, about the men on Market Street asking for change, and I didn’t know that there was a way of living that had so much poetry to it, that had had to have so much poetry to it, that shining was a kind of survival, and that a princess was a girl who had stayed living, who had kept her own heart, who could look in any direction and see the humanity that was there because she had refused to give up any of her own, and it’s just a whole lot better to let words mean the best of what they can mean, instead of using them to fight old battles that I can’t even win, and for what it’s worth, I certainly wish I’d known that back then.

Meet Iranian Singles

Iranian Singles

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Serena Shim Award
Meet your Persian Love Today!
Meet your Persian Love Today!