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Growing up
I have never been afraid of growing old or dying, but I have always been frightened of growing wise and logical

December 10, 2004

Even when I married an American I knew I wanted to go home and to me home was Khorramshahr. I had seen plenty of beautiful homes with gardens and streams and fruit tress in places like Tehran and Shiraz but, I had no desire to live in any other home but in ours which had no garden or flowing streams.

The two-story house with the big one-ton Japanese air-conditioners -- which made each room like an icebox -- was just perfect for me.

I remember that painful day in 1980. My husband was working on his toy (sports car) and listening to the radio. Then he ran to inform me that my hometown had been attacked by Iraqi forces. I was inconsolable. I was convinced that God had punished me for betraying my culture and marrying an American. I cried until no tears were left.

The days that followed were filled with nightmares. My parents and so many people had to flee for their lives. My mother, still in her indoor clothes and slippers, grabbed a few pieces of jewelry, got in a car and left home.

for two and a half years I heard horror stories about the people of my province being abused by other Iranians in places they had sought refuge. They were called "jangzadeh" or war-stricken refugees.

To this day, I despise the places that were unwelcoming, particularly the one city my parents and family ended up in. I had hated that town in my college days because its people were ultra conservative and supposedly religious. The women were mostly uneducated yet very arrogant.

My classmates in college hated me because I refused to tone down my behavior and often made fun of me because of it. The boys scratched my car and broke my tail light. They tried to frighten me by blocking the little bridge. I triumphantly screamed, "I will run over your worthless bodies and won't even blink."

My father tried to be conciliatory and often said, "Beautiful lady these people are like tigers, they cannot see anyone better than themselves." I always told my wise dad that, on the contrary, these people were hypocrites and cowards. He would laugh and say not to pay attention to them.

Finally, in 1983 my prayers were answered and Khorramshahr was recaptured. That was the most joyous day of my life. I laughed uncontrollably.

How excited I was in March of 1983. I was going home!

I had spent over $3,000 for a coach ticket but I did not care. At the airport, the anticipation that filled my heart was beyond words.

What a scene I made when I found out that the airline I was flying with required a transit visa. Finally the officials gave up and changed my flight. That was better than staying back for days. I had to spend 12 hours stranded at the airport in Munich because I could not leave the airport.

The flight was practically empty. There were only about ten passengers: a few Revolutionary Guards in uniform, a Haji who drank Johnnie Walker until we got near Tehran airport, and a few German women.

I never forgot when the stewardess announced we were approaching Mehrabad airport and placed the scarf over her blonde her to signal women passengers to do the same.

Seeing the Shahyad monument brought tears to my eyes. How anxious I was to get out of the plane.

Images of bearded men and women in black chador, who wanted to tear my suitcase apart, enraged me. I lost my temper and began to shout and ask, How come the lady wearing the bright lipstick and blue dress got away form the side? Was it because she was married to some influential guy?

A German lady behind me whispered that I should be quiet, but I refused.

I was not surprised when a clean-shaven man in a blue suit approached and asked me to step out of the line. I was touched when he apologized and simply asked what I had in my suitcases. I told him that I had 10 brothers and sisters and had brought something for everyone. He just shook his hand and motioned me to go to the next desk, to get my passport stamped.

The bearded guy with yellow teeth asked why I was married to an American, which I deliberately answered: "So I would not have to marry an ugly bearded man with stained teeth." I glared at him and said, "Stamp my passport or I will start screaming again letting everyone know you are harassing me."

The site of my dad with his smile melted all my anger. He had aged and I knew why.

His first words were, "Beautiful lady, you are on vacation and you are not dealing with rational people. Please, refrain from arguing with these people. You are leaving in three months to go back to America, where you now belong, for now."

I felt a sense of sorrow because I could not accept that I "belonged" to anywhere else but Iran.

The ride had been filled with mixed emotions and my dad knew it.

It was the Iranian New Year and I wanted to see gold fish and sprouted green everywhere but instead the streets were filled with pictures of dead young men who had gone to war and been killed.

I ended up spending some of my time in Tehran with my friends because I could not bear to see my mother in that rented house, feeling displaced, but not complaining. I have always hated the fact that my mother never complains and is a martyr. I have no doubt the reason I am so opposite of her is the very fact that everyone comes first. She gives unconditionally, which I have no problem with, but she does it for everyone.

I was thrilled when my dad said he had gotten permission to go to Khorramshahr. But he said he could not take me because no civilians were allowed in the war zone cities. The only reason he had gotten a permission was the fact that the son of one of his old friends had been appointed Governor of Khuzestan. I was appalled to know that money basically worked.

The new governor had been a high school dropout. I could never tolerate him, but because I liked his parents, I agreed to be civil with him when he came to visit, when were in high school. Of course that meant calling him ignorant, illiterate, and lazy ass in polite terms.

Now, we have all these educated people in Iran. Why didn't any of them get the governorship? Because this guy bought his way!

That was the day for the first time I realized why my dad had always tolerated people and never made enemies. The result was obvious. He was only allowed to spend three days in Khorramshahr and bring only a few personal items back.

He brought back a few plates my mother so dearly loved because they had the picture of Soraya, the Crown Cannibal's first wife who was let go because she could not deliver an heir to the throne. My mother always felt sorry for the queen's misfortune. Of course one could explain to my mother that Soraya was actually a lot better off than most Iranian divorcees. But my mom stuck to her belief that this lady was beautiful and unfortunate therefore, one should feel real compassion for her!

My dad brought me a priceless item. It was a white dress I designed and wore one night when we had dinner at Carvansara Hotel. I took a picture with my brother. Looking at that innocent 20-year-old face makes me smile to this day. It was dirty and my dad explained that Iraqi soldiers had thrown everything on the floors and walked on them.

I had the dress dry cleaned and I have kept it to this day.

I cried and said to my dad that perhaps the following year I would be able to visit Khorramshahr.

How hard it was to leave Iran after three months of feeling that I finally belonged again.

I wanted to stay in Iran but my dad confessed that he had prayed that I marry an American and be forced to stay out of Iran because he knew I would be killed. These past three months he had been worried sick that it might happen. I was constantly getting into arguments with Pasdar revolutionary guards and my dad would interfere and diffuse the situation.

Two days before I left Iran an old friend of mine who had worked in the Ministry of Finance during the Shah and now had become a big shot and owned many businesses, called and wanted to have dinner with me.

I asked my dad to go with me since the family knew him but my dad said that I should have dinner with him alone.

My intuition told me to change plans so I called him and canalled dinner and instead agreed to stop by at his big furniture store in the ritzy part of Tehran.

When I arrived before noon, for some reason the place seemed empty.

He hugged me but squeezed me so hard I gasped for air as he smothered me with his kisses mixed with his tears.

I was so baffled at this strange behavior and finally, punished him hard.

H told me that he had always loved me and the restaurant invitation had been really a set up to have Pasdars stop by and ask me what was my relationship with him. Further exams would show that I was not a virgin therefore; I would be forced to marry him.

I was appalled and his crying did not make me feel compassionate.

Of course I remembered that he had asked me to marry him in 1977, but I had answered no because despite his good looks, his sense of honor and love for me, the reality was that he was from a very conservative Azari family. The women in his family all wore chadors -- and that was his one request from me. I could not imagine myself wearing chador and pretending to be conservative, when one can just take one look at me and know that I am too liberal and a rebel against any kind of oppression, which chador is one.

I shook my head in disbelief as he said that I should call my American husband from his shop and tell him that I would not be going back to the US. He then said, "Well now I do not have to ask you to cover your head since everyone is required to do so." He went on to say that if I accepted his marriage proposal my dad and I could go to court with him and he would sign the deed to all his 15 businesses to me and he would work as my assistant!

He told me he would wait all night at his shop so if I decided to accept his proposal we could go to court first thing in the morning.

I had such mixed emotions -- not because of the offer but -- realizing the fact that I should have never married outside my race and culture.

I told my dad and he just listened. I told him that even if I were t stay in Iran I would not marry Amir. My dad smiled.

I left in May. I was the last person to get on the plane.

When I arrived at the airport in the US, I felt I was in a strange land. For weeks, I would not want to talk to anyone and kept crying.

When I found out I was pregnant, for some reason I was not thrilled. The thought of having a blond child with blue eyes frightened me. And, may God forgive me, but in my heart I knew I did not want an "American" child because he could not live in Khorramshahr.

One night I was reading a poem from Hafiz and as my husband brought me a cup of tea and said, "Tea time for the Persian queen." I did not want to hear any words in English and asked God to release me.

The next day I had a miscarriage.

At the same time I found out that my brother's life was in danger and he had been forced to leave Iran.

Then in no time I was divorced and wanted to go back to Iran but had to wrap up my personal affairs.

In the meantime, I was in a relationship for the wrong reason, at the wrong time. He was Iranian, and most importantly, from next-door Abadan and spoke with that "home" accent.

When we broke up, I felt liberated and by everyone's account, looked and behaved like the old Azam.

But a month later, I found out I'm pregnant.

The trip was postponed and I did not tell my parents because I did not want them to worry. The pictures I sent did not show my belly, and only after I gave birth I sent them pictures of me coming out of the hospital with my son in my arms.

I wanted to go home, but I was fearful of Iranian laws that grant custody to the father's family.

That fear kept me away from Iran and Khorramshahr for more than two decades.

Finally last year my parents announced that they would be going back home for good. They had raised my brother's son and helped my divorced sister raise her son. My mother had taken care of my baby sister's child. She is my father's other source of pride.

She was named after me and in many ways she has most of my character, except that she is more spoiled. She made sure she graduated first in her group of law students from Tehran University, got married and got herself a two story house where my parents could live downstairs. I had no doubt that she chose her husband because he is very sweet and quiet and does not question why she spends most of her time with her parents and works two jobs despite the fact that he makes enough money at his own business and could support both of them.

She is a court inspector, working as a lawyer representing women in divorce situations to make sure the alimony and child support are fair.

Well, for the past 24 years my contact with my family has been through the phone lines so I should be fairly reasonable and understanding, not jealous.

She spent three days crying at my dad's bedside when he was rushed to the emergency room when he fell ill as he raced in the mountains with men half his age.

She takes my dad on her business trips and vacations and watches him so he would not do strenuous exercises.

The day my parents told me they were going back to Khorramshahr for good, I went crazy with joy and told everyone that in no time I would be going back "home".

Every year they had gone back and stayed in Khorramshahr for about a month or so but this time it was for good.

I ripped out that picture my dad had sent me in 1990. It featured a bullet ridden wooden bench with sandbags around it. I had thought that symbolized me still standing despite all the wounds!

Before Dr. Dryer and Chopra ever wrote books on imagining and realizing your dreams, I had always imagined what I wanted and they would always materialize!

I told my son that once he graduates from college he can live in my apartment here in Florida and I would go back to Iran. I pictured myself getting up early and walking with my dad along the river bordering Iraq, teaching at the university which is only 5 minutes walk from our house, and go to the US just to visit my son and friends.

My friends were happy about my decision to return, even though they often say Iran is not a place for a "big mouth" like me.

Finally, two months ago the good news came through the phone. My parents were going to Khorramshahr. Baby sister's son was school age so he did not need my mother to baby-sit him anymore. That issue had angered me but I kept my mouth shut.

I had no doubt if I had been in Iran, my mom would have done the same for my child -- spoil him rotten.

I had been trying to call Khorramshahr for the past two months but the phone lines were not working. Two weeks ago I spoke to my sister Betty who was crying and telling me how much she hated the backward people where she lived and within a few months she wanted to transfer to Khorramshahr

I was so happy since she is divorced and despite many marriage proposals she has remained single for many years and would not settle. I was impressed that she had said no to an Iranian surgeon visiting from Boston who was working on a project in the hospital she works. Knowing most Iranian women would resort to anything to get out of Iran, I felt proud of my sister for her sense of honor.

I advised her that she should also get a part time job now that her son is grown, to occupy her time. She stopped crying and said she liked the idea very much.

Last Saturday I called my baby sister to find out if the lines to Khorramshahr were working.

She said triumphantly, "I came back from Khorramshahr yesterday. I went to visit mom and dad. They are bored and they are going to sell the house and move back here and live with me."

My heart nearly stopped. I wanted to hit her because I knew that little trip of her was to make my parents miss their favorite child. My dad has several other children in Iran and although he treats all equally, I have no doubt this one is the favorite since the others (from another wife) never went to college and my dad respects women who have degrees and earn their own money so they are not dependent on their husbands.

I swallowed my anger and tried to sound normal.

"What about the neighbors?" I asked.

"Oh, we have great neighbors and they visit mom all the time but she says she is bored."

I hated my mother. She cannot accept that at 64 she has earned the right to relax and not do anything. But god forbid, she is the martyr. She thinks she does not deserve to relax. She has raised everyone's kids. And her own 30-something baby needs her, and she proved it by making time to visit her.

I began to curse the people of the town she lives in and, sure enough, the phone went dead! They were backward and miserable when I lived in their town and are still the same in America despite their higher degrees and wealth.

I tried to call Khorramshahr but no luck.

Maybe it was divine interference so that I would not act like a spoiled and selfish brat.

How could my parents do this to me? How could my dad betray me?

He knows that one of the main reasons I say no to any marriage proposal is because I want to go home and not live the rest of my life in America. So why is he selling my "home"?

On Monday, a friend at work asked about the ending of the movie "House of Sand and Fog".

"She thought she was going...." and I burst into tears because I could not say the word "home".

I had planned to go home this year because my son is almost 19-years old and the Iranian government cannot take him away.

I had it all mapped out that once I arrived in Iran, I would only spend one day in that miserable town and leave that same night for Khorramshahr.

I had played the vision of my dad and I staying up all night and talking as the train whistled and passed the fields. I could taste the fried eggs for breakfast at the train station restaurant and see my big smile as I told my dad some of the mischievous things I had done in my college days.

Now, I do not want to go back.

I can spend time at my uncle's house in Khorramshahr but that would never be the same. All the stories, which took place when I lived there, I have not written about them.

I have to grow up. I thought I had by accepting that I will never be able to be a size 4. As my literature professor once said, I had accepted that the "crazy spirit" would never change and that alone was good enough.

I felt really okay at being grown up to communicate with my son's father in a civilized manner after many years. I even sent him "updates". I have even promised to arrange a meeting with his family.

All this grown-up stuff was okay as long as I had to do things for other people.

Losing my home is not what I want to be grown-up about.

Being the stubborn fighter makes me not lose hope. I will be back one way or the other. I have enough life insurance on me to leave a good amount of money for my son and have my body wrapped in the Iranian flag and shipped straight to Khorramshahr on a private jet. My favorite uncle Rahman, and a brother I lost when he was two-years old, are the only ones buried there and that is good enough for me.

I have never been afraid of growing old or dying, but I have always been frightened of growing wise and logical.

Being a fat middle age lady is just fine but being a rational grown up sucks!

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Book of the day

Borrowed Ware
Medieval Persian Epigrams
Translated by Dick Davis

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