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Peyman
Short story

June 25, 2001
The Iranian

On a day like today I say I'm lucky. Lucky for being alive. Lucky for not being in love. Loving has become very difficult in our time. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't.

He calls. I am friendly. He thinks I want him back. He calls. I'm short and aloof. He complains that I'm a cold bitch who treats him like dirt. My nature is the former but it seems to cause more problems than it is worth. He plans to come back and propose. Why? Why now? Why do men want you only after you've made it very clear you no longer want them? It's the hunter instinct. They enjoy the chase and afterwards simply long for more chasing. Keeping the cave clean and the food warm just isn't on their agenda. They must roam the hills constantly looking for fresh prey.

I broke up with Peyman while he was out of town on business. I told him it's over on the phone and he said let's talk about it when I get back, sweetie. I said there's nothing left to talk about. He extended his stay by two months and returned when I was conveniently out of town so that he could take over the apartment and serve me an eviction notice upon my return. Unfair? Of course. But one of us had to leave. Why did it have to be me? It didn't matter at the time. The eviction simply provided me with more ammunition for hatred.

I was right in hating him, in leaving him. I was right as testified by the pain in my heart and the tears in my eyes and the suitcases I dragged with me everywhere. I was right. There's no power like the power of Knowing. Knowing you're right. It didn't matter how little sleep I got or what loser offered me his bed as consolation. The knowing was like a shield protecting me from the pain of reality and apparently making me even more attractive!

One night an old friend dragged me back into the car to take the long awaited kiss from my lips. Old friends often feel they really want to kiss you until they actually do, only then do they realize they didn't really want to kiss you at all but thought they did because they knew they couldn't or shouldn't or both. Men think like that.

Elvis Costello has a song called "I Want You". Peyman used to play it when he felt I was distant. He would be horny, I would be tired. He would be hungry, I would be preoccupied. He would want to talk, I would be on my way out of the door. This is the picture he would like to draw for you. But no, nah-uh, that's not how it was. My body temperature rises by five degrees even thinking about it. About him.

Yes, he is attractive. Peyman is the type of man your mother would love you to marry. Good-looking, a fabulous conversationalist, a plethora of topics at a tongue's distance, dresses well in that sort of conservative yet fashionable way, right, I believe it's called the classic look, he certainly would call it that, and yes, he does make good money. Like many other engineers in this town, Peyman's networking capabilities are priced at a premium. He would be the networking guru, with animate or inanimate objects, note object, yes, that's what everything is to him.

Oh, I do see tears welling up in his sensitive eyes. Me? I treat people like objects? I was elected project manager of the year! And it's true, he was. It's called having the potential to be wonderful but sucking at it. It's called being sensitive when it serves your purpose. It's called being manipulative and calculating. It's called Peyman.

Interestingly enough, today I am the one living in the apartment we once shared. He took on an international assignment and was kind enough to offer the place back to me. Because he was very generous and forgiving, he said. Because he wanted free packing and storage of his furniture, a friend elucidated. Because he wanted to keep a tight leash around my neck, my sister theorized. Because I didn't have the guts to spit in his face and kick him out of the home that was rightfully mine, I thought quietly to myself.

Our relationship was complicated. Maybe I made it more complicated than it really was. Maybe it was the fact that I believed he was the one and I had to live with all his faults. I didn't argue, I didn't question. I welcomed his shortcomings perhaps because it was a relief to know that even someone as seemingly perfect as he also possessed them. His shortcomings became my treasures. Oh look, he does speak five languages but take away a potential parking space and he will swear at you in all of them. Or he may have good taste in clothing but if you don't wear what he "suggests" he will forbid you to accompany him to the event. And then when I was absolutely convinced that he was a monster he would cry at a movie and lament about this cold, cold world. Or sing me a song he had written only a few minutes ago inspired by how I looked as I was reading The New Yorker.

Ups and downs. We had a ton of them. There came a time when the awful outweighed the wonderful a hundred times over. It still took me a long time to let go. I had become dependent on him. De Niro's character has a line in the movie "Heat" where he says something to the effect that to survive in this business you've got to be able to leave everything at the drop of a hat when you feel the heat. I could feel the heat, or in my case the freeze, but had too much invested to take off and leave it all behind. I actually argued that now that I've put up with all his shit why should I leave and let someone else reap the benefits of my training.

But it was he who had trained me. To ask permission not propose a plan, to let him explain my actions and behavior to everyone even to myself, to grant him control of our lives together as if I was a bystander purely observing the action only remotely interested in the outcome. I don't know when it happened or how it happened but it happened and I didn't see it. I didn't see it.

Today I feel lucky that it's over. Except that a few minutes ago Mr. Personality called to see if I'd be interested in getting together for coffee. This means "I'm coming over put the Turkish coffee pot on the stove." He says to me, "You made a promise. You promised to commit to me and this relationship but you can't. You never commit to anything. You can't commit to anything can you? You're too afraid. Too selfish. My stuff is there. I'm coming back and I expect to sleep in my old bedroom."

I'm too selfish? I can't commit? He always did have a way of throwing my failings at my face. But suddenly it occurs to me that in fact I did commit to him and this stinking relationship. I was so committed that I couldn't see exactly how stupidly I was behaving. I realize what he is doing. He is defining me again, for myself. Like any nation that ever dominated another, in order to dominate they must define you first. They must make sure you operate within the very limited scope of their intelligence. All of a sudden I feel like Occupied Palestine. Being told I never existed previous to the Israeli invasion. That I have no character outside of that which is being defined by my enemy. No history, no family, no one cares about what happens to me.

Listen to me. You are lucky that I'm so tolerant and forgiving. I'm back to take over my home. This is my home, why does he expect to come back? Why should I feel bad about wanting to live here? Why should I be the one who has to justify my actions? In fact my right to this land has nothing to do with God or what happened two thousand years ago. It has everything to do with how I have behaved since living here. I have been an exemplary citizen: taking care of the house, planting flowers in the garden, taking out the trash, living peacefully with my neighbors. And he? What did he ever do in this house? He was traveling half the time and while he was here he just spread his cigarette ashes all over the place. He polluted the air with his noise. He used up the resources without giving anything back. He doesn't deserve to live here.

I see things in a new light now. Not the light being emitted from Peyman's burning eyes as he stares at me in anger but the light of newly gained knowledge within. It's quite liberating. Those self-help books do actually help sometimes. He has been the occupier, I the occupant. He has used violence against me, throwing the couch out the window that day like a maniac. What sane person behaves that way? Screaming his "sound" argument at the top of his lungs. Is that how you show you love someone? His anger used to silence me. Now I see through it. Now I see the frightened nobody behind the flames. If it takes tanks and machine guns to prove your point, the point is lost, I promise you. The suffering you inflict on others will come back to haunt you; I know this only too well.

There were times when I played with people's feelings. There were times that I basked in the glory of feeling in control of a relationship. But there is no room for control in love, only room for understanding. Then how is it that a people who were victimized so horrifically will victimize another in such a short time? The same way an abused child becomes a murderer. The cycle of violence and abuse this is one theory.

I'm not sure if I agree with such straight and narrow analysis. There is more to everything. Peyman is not a monster. He is capable of enormous love and caring. When he chooses to open his heart. When he feels safe enough to make himself vulnerable. I relate to this completely. This is why I understand him so well. This is why for such a long time I justified his brutality and disrespect. We understand the fear Israelis feel, their need for a home, for support. But where do you draw the line? When is an act of aggression not justifiable? Some would say never. History has shown us that acts of aggression are often not only justifiable but celebrated. It all depends on the label. Is it "reestablishing democracy" or is it "threatening our way of life"? Are we "freedom fighters" or "insurgent guerrillas"? It all comes down to who is telling the story? Is it history, or herstory?

My story is that Peyman abused my trust and broke my heart. As attractive and charismatic as he is, to be in control, he felt the need to crush me and my character. The Palestinians are fighting to regain a portion of what they took for granted as their homeland but more importantly they are fighting to tell their own story, to rebuild their character.

After we separated I felt it was important to keep the lines of communication open. But Peyman is not prepared to listen. He only issues unilateral statements, threats, and baseless accusations. On a day like this I can call Peyman on his cell phone and tell him not to bother to come. I will not be here. He will either yell and scream or lecture me on the shortcomings of my character. I will tell him not to call me again. I will tell him that given my flaws of character it is stupid of him to seek my company. He will laugh and say don't play these games with me. I know. I will say you don't know me. And more importantly you don't own me. Goodbye, have a nice life, or just a life, yeah, have a life. I have the luxury of being able to ask Peyman to leave and lock the door. I have the luxury of not needing to return his calls. I am not dependent on him emotionally, politically, or economically. It's not as easy for the Palestinians.

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