If you are under 18 and happen to read
this, talk to an adult afterwards. And ask lots of questions.
July 2, 2001
- "Hi, it's Rick."
- "Hey, Rick. What's up?"
- "I'm in your neck of the woods and Jim says you should take me
out to dinner."
- "Who is this?"
- "Rick who?"
- "Rick... "
- "Oh, I know. You're Rick..."
- "Isn't that what I said?"
- "Yes. But I thought you're our own Rick. I'm sorry. How are you?"
- "Good. How about yourself?"
- "Not bad. How's the project coming along?"
- "Jim seems happy with it."
- "Good, good. I'm not sure if Jim's told you or not but I've moved
to another group and am not really working on your project any more."
- "Yes, I've heard. That's good news."
- "It is?"
- "I see."
- "Now you can take me out for no reason other than seeking the
pleasure of my company."
This is how it all started. My long distance relationship with the American-Indian
with strong hands and distinguished cheek bones. As I sat there listening
to him talk on that cold November evening sugar cubes were melting in my
heart, as Iranians would say. The saying could be translated as sugar cubes
melting in my stomach but that's not quite as romantic, you see. The word
for heart and stomach is the same in Persian, dell, like the computer.
As in stomachache which is Dell-Dard. Dard being pain.
We don't really have a word for heartache in Persian, now that I think
of it. When it comes to love, it's the liver that responds. We would say
my liver burnt for him or her. Or he grilled my liver. In fact, nothing
would be sexier than whispering in your lover's ear "I want to eat
your liver." These things fascinate me. Why the liver? Why the heart
for that matter? The liver cleanses the blood and the heart pumps it. How
does that relate to love? I'm not sure but by the time I actually took Rick
to a family dinner he knew the difference between dell (heart) and
jigar (liver). And I knew that the blood rushing in his veins was too
tempestuous for both my heart and liver.
Cross-cultural relationships are difficult. This perhaps is an obvious
understatement. I believe in improving the gene pool. I believe people
of mixed heritage and race tend to be more well rounded. Of course being
of mixed heritage myself, I may have some bias. Regardless, evolution would
support my assertion. This is interesting since capitalism is supposedly
based on the theories of evolution (survival of the fittest) yet most capitalists
tend to be conservatives who preach purifying the races. These things fascinate
me too. At any rate, although there is a certain level of comfort when one
hangs out with a lover of the similar heritage, there are a lot of assumptions
By the time Rick and I met that muggy afternoon in Buffalo to deal with
some job-related technical issues, a couple of months before he called me
with his dinner order, I was ready to feed outside of my own manger, to
put it crudely. Let's just say that Iranian men carry quite a lot of baggage,
as do most people. However it is their reluctance to deal with their baggage,
check it in perhaps, or have it searched by authorities. Yes, it is their
reluctance to deal with their baggage that keeps them at a disadvantage
when it comes to relationships, specifically with an Iranian woman. I am
no social psychologist, of course, my assertion is based purely on personal
experience which is by definition both limited and subjective. But I believe
many women out there would agree with me on this. And so will many men.
Let's move on, which is exactly how I felt right about when I met Rick.
Rick comes from a complicated mix of bloodlines: Cherokee, Inca, Norwegian
and Basque; those he has written proof of. The African, Jewish and Vietnamese
lines are alleged but not confirmed. I found the global distribution of
his cultural heritage impressive. My own although similar in numeric variety
is geographically limited to Northwestern Iran and the Caucuses. We shared
a love for mountain ranges and eagles. Taos became our meeting spot. I would
fly from San Francisco and he from Buffalo. All was well until he expressed
an interest in spending Thanksgiving in San Francisco. "But there's
such great skiing in Taos this time of the year." I tried to divert
his focus. "No. I want to meet your family. You can't hide them from
me for ever." Perceptive and direct. That's why I like him. But as
the song says (or one should), so much can change between Thanksgiving and
Today is the fateful day. Stuff-your-belly-day. Rick is taking a shower
and I'm busy listing all the reasons why a car accident would be preferable
to dinner at my grandmother's house. It's not that our family is unfriendly
or cold. On the contrary, it is their over-friendliness that will intimidate
the new comer, the way they go out of their way to ensure that you have
been thoroughly fed and are being fully entertained at all times, the constant
questioning: "More tea?... Another slice of melon?... Are you having
a good time?... Would you like anything else?..." Oh, how those broad
smiles mislead you into believing you are loved. They are addictive. After
a few family gatherings you find yourself condescending other gatherings
for their shortages either in quality or abundance of food, or in sheer
lack of entertainment value. And so it goes, the ritual of breaking bread
together. The challenge, for all families I believe, remains the same: how
to break bread without breaking any heads or hearts. Gastronomically speaking,
we are well cared for under the auspices of my grandmother. I can't think
of a boyfriend who disliked my family. But then again, they didn't always
know how my family really felt about them.
The water is no longer running. Now, I can clearly hear Rick singing.
It concerns me that he knows the entire Barbara Striesand songbook. The
door is propped open and he sticks his head out "ready?" A simple
enough question one would think but amazingly it throws me into a whirlpool
of anxiety and restlessness. This would be the first time I take a "foreign"
boyfriend to a family dinner. Foreign-ness is an interesting concept all
by itself. One would think that the fact that we were born in a country
other than the one we reside in makes us foreigners. But no. In reality,
anyone who does not speak our language, figuratively and metaphorically
speaking, is considered to be a foreigner by my family. For example, most
Americans are foreigners. But my Jordanian friend is not a foreigner and
I often find my grandmother speaking to her in Persian fully expecting a
response, in Persian. Don't try to inflict your logical paradigms on family
behavior or the psyche of the displaced. Families are like enigmatic organisms
that can only be observed, never fully understood. And the displacedsimply
cope the best way they can with whatever life throws their way.
"People... people who need people... all the luckiest people...
in the world." I look at him wondering how we have come to meet the
people we meet. How is it that this lovely statuesque bronze figure is standing
here teasing me with a gentle flexing of his glutial muscles? I've been
too nervous to fully delight in his presence thus far. Sensing my continued
reticence, Rick takes my face into his hands kneeling in front of me. His
dark blue eyes excavate my soul. I am unable to look away. The wetness makes
his dark blond hair look black. I seek shelter in his breath whispering,
"We don't have to go." To this he responds with a broad smile,
"And miss all the entertainment?" I hate it when the facts are
so clearly laid out. There is no mystery, no need for guesswork, no excitement.
He laughs. I am not amused. Why am I so concerned? Oh, the expectations,
the need to continuously translate, explain every comment, food ingredient,
family history... in short, why can't we just be alone together? Why does
he feel compelled to meet my family? Why turn a very convenient, delightful
long-distance romance into a complicated mesh of failed expectations and
misunderstandings that will only sieve bitterness? Am I being too negative?
I feel him sitting behind me on the bed his legs framing me. He massages
my shoulders intent on squeezing the tension out of them. The relaxation
is affecting him more than me. I can feel him getting hard behind me but
I'm absolutely not in the mood. God, I never thought I would say this. Not
in the mood? What's wrong with me? Who's ever heard of a Libra not be in
the mood? I get up frustrated and lock myself in the bathroom. I don't have
to do this, I keep telling myself. If it's this painful, if it's killing
every morsel of affection I feel for this guy, I don't have to do it. I
don't want to take another shower but I don't want to get dressed either.
But how long can I stay in the bathroom? Hey, it's my house. I can stay
in my own bathroom for as long as I want. "How long are you going to
stay in there?" Mr. Rick asks. "I'll be out in a second."
I respond automatically and immediately regret it. No, I'll need more than
I remember how much everyone loved my ex. How impressed they were with
him. He had it all, or so we thought. They were very disappointed when we
broke up. Okay, when I left him. They advised me to reconsider. At my age
and all... I was only in my mid thirties but apparently the end is approaching
more rapidly than I expect. Am I afraid that they won't like Rick? But that
won't really affect my feelings for him. And I know he will like them. They
might shock him but he will like them, the way Mendel liked his peas. Suddenly
it comes to me. I should recognize this fear. It's the same one I felt when
Lateef suggested he move here from Paris. It's the same one I felt when
Nader gave me a silver ring for my birthday. I felt it from the moment Rick
revealed his Thanksgiving weekend itinerary. What if everything works out
well? What if they all like each other? He loves me, I love him, and the
family approvesyes, the fear of the next "logical" step. God,
I hate being an adult. I hate being expected to marry. I hate these games,
courting, surveying, evaluating. I thought with Rick I would have a better
chance of walking the path less traveled. But I guess the desire to tie
the knot is more universal than I thought. I do long for a partner but I
just can't say until-death-do-us-apart. It just seems such a cruel thing
to do to someone. To me specially.
There is a knock. "Darling," I lift up my head to find two
windows to the world's vast oceans. "We don't have to go if you don't
want to." See? Some people can read your mind. "Do you mean it?"
I ask sheepishly. He kisses my hair, mumbling yes. "I'll cook us the
best turkey you've ever had." I exclaim running to the kitchen. This
is the only promise I can commit to at this moment. But I have none of
the required ingredients and all the stores would be closed now. Plus I
feel ashamed. He came all this way to meet my family and I'm denying him
the experience. He shouldn't be punished for my insecurities. I decide to
act grown up for once.
- "Why is it important to you to meet my family?"
- "To see what kind of in-laws I'll have to deal with in the future."
He laughs mischievously as he approaches my freezer. I know this routine
well. A bottle of vodka, two shot glasses, one lime. He pours. I watch from
the hallway. He looks at me philosophically as he offers me one of the glasses.
I take it, suspicion coloring my smile. "I know nothing and guarantee
nothing." Is how he begins what I expect is a short yet profound statement.
"I feel close to you. I am curious to learn more. It is neither the
beginning nor the end of anything. The only way I know to live life is by
fully experiencing what it throws my way. I know when I hide I lose. Here
is to staring fear in the eye." His glass touches mine. The dryness
on my tongue tells me that my mouth has been open for some time. I remember
to breathe and swallow the juices gathered inside my cheeks. The glass touches
my lips and the contents find their way down my throat. Somehow I have
kept my eyes on Rick's this entire time and I see him come closer. Eyes
locked, lips come together and for the first time since he has been here
I relax in his arms. This is all it takes to get me to do something. Pretty
Thanksgiving is one of the more purely American traditions. Canadians
and Americans are the only people I know who celebrate it. Yet my family
has successfully appropriated this holiday to such extent that those Americans
who have had the opportunity to be served Thanksgiving dinner at our house
will never again be satisfied with a menu that does not include zereshk-polo
and borani. As expected, Rick is absolutely dazzled by the exotic colors
and smells around him. He has responded dutifully to all offers of second
helpings followed by tea and Turkish coffee. Presently, he is absolutely
enchanted by the taste of the honey-dripping bamieh that accompanied his
fourth glass of tea. He looks at me his eyes drunk with pleasure. The family
response to Rick has been quite positive, I must say. They were quite impressed
to find that he is well versed in the art of Rummy. The highlight of the
evening was when Rick proudly declared "Jigareto bokhoram" to
my mother in appreciation for a key card she had passed on to him. In response
my mother offered him the Turkey's liver and said "Na azizam, eat this
guy's liver instead." Everyone laughed and continued the game merrily.
For some time now I have been ready to depart except that we are awaiting
Rick's turn in the long line of coffee cups to be read. My mother is looking
at Rick's cup. In recent years, she has become progressively selective in
publicly sharing her fortune telling talents. I make sure Rick is very
aware of the honor that is being bestowed upon him. Finally, my mother
takes a deep sigh and begins, still holding the cup and turning it ever
so slightly to the left and now to the right "Rick jan, what to tell
you. I see a fish that is just beginning to grow legs and crawl out of the
water. You are going through a big change. You will completely change where
you live, how you live, all of it. This is good change for you."
Can you imagine how I feel at this moment? Here's to staring fear in
the eye. "Go on, mom." I say fully engaged. Rick is visibly proud
of me. I am visibly proud of me. She continues "You are building a
huge castle. You know like the one in Disney cartoon, big beautiful. You
are putting everything into this castle. But this castle is made of sand."
My heart sinks. I look at him. He is still smiling apparently untouched
by the connotations of this last remark. "Okay, make a wish and put
your finger to the bottom of the cup. Yes, like this." She demonstrates.
Rick follows as instructed. "Nice very good. Whatever you wish for
will be very good. A young woman with wavy hair will do this with you."
I consider myself young. I have wavy hair. Neither of these qualities is
unique to me but somehow I am convinced that my mother's portent is referring
to me. Okay then, it's time to go. The goodbye ritual takes less than thirty
minutes, possibly a record for my family, and Rick and I drive away with
the packaged leftovers obediently tucked in on the back seats.
Thank you, Rick says. For what? I ask without saying anything. "For
letting me be a part of your family for one day." I keep my eyes on
the road and smile. I feel exhausted. Can't wait to get home and relax in
Rick's arms. I look at him to see if he too looks tired. To my surprise
I see tears rolling down his eyes, in complete silence he is weeping. I
ask him what's wrong, he waves his hand at me dismissing the profound pain
he must be feeling. What could have happened in the five minutes since we
have been on the road? Rick, what is the matter? I beg to know. All of a
sudden he breaks into sobs. He is wailing, wailing the way women do in Greek
tragedies, a Trojan man pouring his guts out. Speak to me, I press not sure
whether it is safe for me to keep driving. I speed up. I need to get this
man home as soon as possible. Keeping one eye on him and one on the speedometer,
the car is basically on its own as far how it wants to reach the destination,
I reach out to Rick. He pushes away my hand. I'm at a loss as to how to
calm him down; maybe I shouldn't try at all. Maybe I should just let him
weep, sob and wail to his heart's content. And so it continues until we're
home. He slips out of the car like a ghost depleted of his physical existence
empty yet radiating. I embrace him as soon as we are inside he continues
No words, I keep caressing his hair and kissing his forehead, his wet
cheeks and wiping away the tears. He begins to kiss me back first gently,
almost timidly, then more intentionally as if to reclaim me. Standing at
the doorway of my apartment Rick begins to undress me with an immediacy
I find startling. He seems more like a tiger devouring his prey than a broken
man looking for comfort. Our mouths salty from his tears engage in an unending
journey across face and body. His hands are pulling at my skin mixing pain
and pleasure as he consumes me, searching for my most inner essence he is
digging deeper and deeper. I feel benumbed in his arms, fluid-like, transparent.
He is peeling away my layers one at a time, skin, tissue, pulling out organs
with veins hanging from them, I am bleeding on the floor my guts spread
out, he continues to feed on me no end to his voracity, no end to my bewildered
existence. We have formed a continuum in space swimming together through
a black hole. I hear my own voice calling out from a distance. His voice
joins in. We are engulfed in the echoes of our own howling, our sound reverberating
from the mountain we have created together, skin against skin, tissue beating,
no more tears and no more sorrows, only the crystal clear sobriety of physical
existence, heightened reality, awakened senses, pure pleasure.
Maybe the turkey was too dry or Rick felt he couldn't live in the absence
of yams and apple pie on his Thanksgiving dinner table. Or maybe the closeness
we shared that weekend scared him. Or, he just stopped liking me. I don't
know. All and all, I was quite happy with our stuff-your-belly weekend
together. But Rick never called me after he left. He did not return my
calls or respond to my emails. The Christmas card I sent him was returned
with no forwarding address. I stared fear in the eye, I followed through,
I didn't hide. Rick disappeared. He referred his project with Jimmy to
another associate. As to his project with me, it apparently fell through
I miss his eyes, his body, his appetite. And I can't help wondering who
that young woman with wavy hair might be the one predicted to make the move
with him. Suddenly, being in my late thirties does feel threatening. There
is a very real possibility that I may live the rest of my life alone.