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January 23, 2003
The Iranian

Part 16

February 21

Yes. I called Ali. Finally, after almost a month. You see, no matter what the future held for us, whether we would go at it separately or together, I could not bring myself to take that step without at least seeing him one last time. Ali isn't just somebody I dated. I really believed (and maybe I still do) that we were connected in a special way. At times, I even imagined that we must have started in this world as one single soul that, by accident, split itself up into two bodies and spent the rest of the days trying to find its other, lost, half. How else could I explain the feeling of wholeness when I was with Ali, whereas all my life I had always felt an unfillable void.

"Co-dependency!" Chloe said matter-of-factly, while chewing on a celery stick. Fine! Let her say what she will! I know I must sound like a lunatic or a love-crazed teen-ager (kind of the same thing actually!) to all. But no one can really know what makes a relationship work except the two people inside it.

Ali sounded so happy to hear my voice. It was almost as if we both forgot the less than glowing terms we had left on. But those hurt feelings were like a pink elephant in the room, with neither of us willing to allude to it, too scared we would break the magical illusion. So we instinctively kept the conversation short and agreed to meet in person.

Yesterday evening, I arrived at the Radisson Hotel in Santa Monica, where Ali had decided to stay. I met Ali at Toppers Bar, on the 18th floor of the hotel. As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, my breath was taken away. The walls were entirely made out of glass, revealing a magnificent view of the Ocean on one side, and the city, on the other. In the middle, a jazz trio was playing... of all things!... Rhapsody in Blue. I couldn't help but take it as a sign.

Ali was already there, sipping on his signature J.D. and Coke. We were both early. I thought it would be awkward to be face to face after all this time but as soon as I saw his eyes light up and felt his warm embrace, I forgot about everything else and just immersed myself in the joy of seeing him.

He looked thinner than I last saw him. It showed especially around his eyes and his cheeks. He had dressed up for the occasion, wearing a suit I had bought him as a gift on a whim. He looked at my hair and put his hand gently through my fire-engine strands, smiling softly.

-- "This is new... and nice" He said simply.

We chatted about stupid superficial things, like the drive from Orange County, and the weather.

Ali had made reservations for us at Gladstone's on the Pacific Coast Highway. I had never been. Ali told me he thought I would like.

He was wrong. I loved it.

What more could you want than a restaurant perched atop the Malibu beach. In the darkness of the night, I could only make out the white foam of the waves in order to follow the movement of the water. And the sound of the waves crashing onto the sand and rocks made me so nostalgic for our little nest in Laguna Beach, where I was used to falling asleep to that sound.

A couple of glasses of Pinot Grigio relaxed me even more. I was feeling blissful. My hand in Ali's hand, who was sitting across the table, I sipped on the wine, looked outside at the beautiful view then back into my lover's eyes.

We both knew this was magical and we didn't want to break the spell. Ali started talking about his book, the progress he had made. His stories were fantastic. I knew overall that he had led a whirlwind life, hopping from one hot spot to another to cover the latest wars, and conflicts. But I had never heard so many details. Ali was never apt to talk about that part of his life too much before he started writing his book. This was a cathartic experience for him, to deal head on with all the horrific things he had encountered in his career as a journalist. And there were some amazing things too.

I in turn related to him my adventures on the set of the Killer Tomato movie, and other more glamorous anecdotes relating to my loopy roommates. Ali was laughing his head off.

-- "I really miss the way you make me laugh Naz" He said after a thoughtful pause "Actually, I miss you plain and simple Naz... When are you coming home?"

Poof! The sortilege evaporated and we were back to reality. Two people reuniting after a painful separation.

I told him I didn't want to discuss it in the restaurant so we left and decided to take a drive. This led us to the top of Mullholland Drive. Once again, a great vantage point to take in the sea of stars that was the city below us. I tried to make light of it.

-- "No wonder people look down on each other so much in this city... With all these beautiful views, I would keep climbing my way up to the top too."

We eventually parked the car, facing the glimmering San Fernando valley. Maxwell's "A Woman's Worth" was playing on the radio.

But we still didn't start talking. Hand in hand, we sat there and stared out at the spectacle in front of us. It was more beautiful and mesmerizing than any play or musical. I didn't want my peaceful state of mind to end.

Ali was very silent too. When I turned to look at him, I saw to my dismay that a discreet little tear had formed in the corner of his eye, on the brink of rolling down. I couldn't tolerate that. I gently touched his cheek and made him turn towards me. Then I leaned over and gave him a long, soft kiss. It was the first of many.

We went back to Ali's room. It felt right. I had missed him so much. All of a sudden, everything in the past seemed so ridiculous and trivial and only this moment counted.

We were standing face to face, giving each other soft little kisses all over the face, neck and shoulder. His arms were hugging me tight, so tight. My face against his neck, I was drunk with his scent, that familiar scent of his skin which made me weak in the knees.

-- "Ali... " I whispered "Please... Don't let go... Don't ever let go... "

* * *

The next morning, I was awakened by the rays of the sun tickling my nose. I opened my eyes. Ali was sleeping next to me, his arms and legs wrapped around me. As if instinctively, he woke up almost immediately.

-- "Are you okay?"

I laughed.

-- "Yes I think so... Why?"

-- "I don't know... I just... I can't believe this is really happening. It's like a dream... "

-- "I think you just need some coffee to recuperate from last night aziz!"

-- "Either that or a heart transplant!!!" He laughed while burying his face in my shoulder.

Being famished, we ordered the works and soon were feasting on breakfast.

-- "Do you want to take our coffees out and go for a walk on the beach" Ali asked.

-- "Gladly!"

This was just like before. Nothing had happened. Nothing had changed. We were taking our daily morning walk barefoot on the sand, the water sometimes splashing against our ankles.

Ali was talking animatedly, making plans for our return.

-- "We'll stop by your friend's and get your bags. Don't worry about anything, I can come back for the rest later... And let me take care of any rent and stuff like that. I know it's gonna be a short notice for them so I'm gonna make this as easy as possible."

Suddenly, my heart started racing faster. This was really happening...

-- "Ali... before we do anything... I just need to know... Are you sure you wanna do this?"

He suddenly looked hurt.

-- "What do you mean? I thought that's what you wanted to also... Last night... "

-- "I know, I know honey... But... I just wanna make sure... We're not gonna have the same problems again... when we get back home... "

He laughed, which irritated me. Was he taking this lightly? I mean we had some real tangible problems before, namely the issue of trust between us...

-- "Nazanin! You mean your imaginary problems about something going on between me and my ex-wife? Come on... I thought you were done with this bacheh baazi... "

I stopped in my tracks. Now it was my turn to be hurt. Really hurt. My heart was now not beating anymore. It seemed like it was exploding.

-- "How dare you make fun of me? Do you know what you put me through? You think I just imagined you lying to me about where you were? I saw you that night at Shohreh's!"

-- "Yes, and you didn't let me explain. Instead, you just... "

-- "... left like a thief into the night? Yeah I remember your nasty message, thanks by the way! It was really nice of you to say that to me knowing how destroyed I already felt!"

-- "And did you think of how I felt when I came home and you weren't there?"

Suddenly, we both stopped and took a deep breath. The pink elephant that had until now surreptitiously stood in the corner had finally been unleashed. And it was crushing us under its enormous weight.

-- "Ali can we sit for a little bit?"

We sat on the sand. The sun was getting hotter now, higher in the sky. But I felt ice running through my veins. I shook my head.

-- "Ali... Let's calm down a little bit. I don't want to fight with you. I want to talk with you... "

Ali sighed.

-- "Will you at least admit we both have legitimate grievances ? I am tired of the bad guy role!"

-- "Okay okay, I admit I did not make the best decision when I ran away. That is how I best confront my problems but I should have been above that for you. But you... Can you please explain what the hell you were doing at your ex-wife's party? Why you lied to me?"

-- "Nazanin... I didn't lie to you. I really was doing research for my book that night. And then..."

-- "Then?... "

-- "My cell rang. It was her."

-- "How did she even have your number? She had our home number too you know?"

-- " I had called her on my cell once, after New Year's... I just wanted to tell her what I thought of her after her stupid comments to you. I guess that's how she got my cell number. As for the home number, honestly Naz, I have no idea. I suspect that kind of information is not too hard to obtain, even for a civilian. Anyways, she was in a very distraught state. I had to calm her down and find out what she was saying, She sounded as if it was a real emergency... "

-- "What, she ran out of foie gras at her party?"

-- "Honestly, Naz, I had no idea about the stupid party. She told me she needed to talk to me immediately, that I was the only one who could help her. She said she did not want to talk about this on the phone."

-- "And naturally, you ran to her rescue?"

-- "Naz, I tried to call you several times. But you didn't answer."

I closed my eyes, attempting to go back in time to that night. I don't even think I had my cell phone with me. I just have not been able to morph into an Angelino in that respect. I keep forgetting my cell here and there, and when I do remember to take it with me, it is usually out of batteries or silent. So Ali's story was pretty plausible.

-- "Anyways," Ali continued, "that's when I saw you there... I had no idea what was going on... And I was a fool to want to stay and find out. But I felt this was another of Shohreh's games and I wanted to stop her behavior once and for all."

-- "Did you?"

-- "Naz... If you knew her... really knew her... You would feel sorry for her. She is a broken woman... Completely unlike the person I knew back in my youth... "

-- "I guess you two did have a nice long talk after all... "

I couldn't help it. None of Ali's so-called explanations made me feel an ounce better. All I could see was that she had beckoned and he immediately had jumped.

I probed Ali.

-- "What did she want Ali? What was so important that she had to see you immediately?"

Ali took a deep breath.

-- "Please don't turn this into something it's not Naz. Remember, this is what she told me. It is in no way reciprocal."

My heart already started sinking. I knew what was coming next.

Ali continued.

-- "She told me all this ridiculous stuff... That she felt something when she saw me after all these years... That she hadn't been able to stop thinking about me etc. I just didn't want to listen to it anymore Naz. I knew where she was getting at."

I laughed bitterly.

-- "Come on Ali, don't tell me you weren't moved... I mean this was the first love of your life. And you always fantasize that the person who rejected you is going to turn around and ... "

-- "Naz you should know me better than that... "

-- "Do I?... "

At this, Ali's eyes seemed to lose their light. He looked away from me.

-- "That was really hurtful Naz... really hurtful... "

I was sitting, my head on my knees, my hands around my legs. I really felt like crying. Once again, I felt like I ruined everything.

-- "Ali... I believe you. I take you at your word when you say all these things. Still, I can't shake the feeling that there is some unresolved issue between you and your ex-wife. And, unless you work that out first, and you are sure of what you want, I can't be in the picture... "

We walked back to the hotel. But I stopped outside the doors. I turned to Ali and said:

-- "Honey... This is... This is where I say goodbye... "

He looked at me with these eyes... Oh god!!! If I had stayed one more minute, I would have wavered in my decision. So I hugged him one last time and turned away.

This time there was no doubt. Ali and I had broken up. Would I ever feel whole again?


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