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Invisible woman
That is the little mixed blessing I have of my past, a blank slate that I can write anything on



January 17, 2006

A few months ago, I discovered something an astounding number of Iranians discovered ages ago.  Frankly, they had discovered it so long ago that the Iranian government has even gotten around to restricting access to it.  Ah yes, I’m slower than the IRI -- are you impressed? 

I’m referring to Orkut, a networking site that links millions of people most of them Iranian and/or Brazilian. 

First of all, it’s a work of genius.  Finally, a tool that puts the power of the internet to good use (ok, so online shopping is great, too, but this is damn impressive).  Second, thank goodness you can take people out of Iran, but you can’t take Iran out of them.  Not only are we EVERYWHERE, but we’re also crazy about finding friends old and new.  That’s the only way I can explain the fact that Iranians are the second largest nationality on the site. 

Finally, I love the fact that I can sit in the quiet of my little home and think back to my elementary school, junior high and high school days, thinking of people’s names and search for them.  Some of them are people I hated--the bullies who made my life miserable and their little cult of followers.  Unfortunately -- or fortunately perhaps -- I remember few of their names.  Nor do I remember their faces. 

However, I have found that I remember friends names and names of the people who I liked and admired, but didn’t even know I existed.  There was a boy in third grade who stood up for me when everyone else was picking on me.  I haven’t looked for him, but I like the idea of knowing I could if I wanted to.  Plus, I thought it would be strange to seek someone, potentially find them and eventually write them -- just to say you still remember them enough to do a Google search.  How would that communication proceed?

“Hi, my name is Parissa Sohie.  You may not remember me, but we were in third grade together.  I was the short-legged Iranian girl that everyone used to pick on.  Well, everyone but you.  You even defended me to your best friend once and that made you unpopular for a couple of weeks -- until you brought everyone watermelon flavored Bubble-Yum.  You even gave me a whole pack.” 

I can almost hear the sound of the poor man’s jaw hitting his keyboard as he thinks, “Who is this freak and why the hell does she still remember a package of Bubble-Yum from third grade?!?”

Awkward, no?

But I figured my junior high and high school friends were safe.  After all, those are the years that kids learn how to socialize as adults and are molded into the social creatures they become later in life. Plus, Iranians care about socializing--they live for socializing -- note my observation above.  If they didn’t want to find and be found, then why the heck would they all be on the site, right?

So I sought, and I found.  Girls from junior high school that I didn’t have much to say to, and girls whose sense of humor I loved back then.  I found quite a few of them, and even wrote my most memorable classmate.  She was at the time, one of the funniest people I had met in Iran.  She was from a prominent Iranian family, which she failed to point out to an ignorant foreigner like myself.

It was left to our crazy Herfeh-o-fan teacher to raise her over-plucked eyebrows in her direction and ask, “Are you one of Those ... ”  To which she mumbled, “Yes” as if too much attention was being drawn to her for something she couldn’t take personal credit for.  She stuck out in my mind because she was the only girl who didn’t laugh at my attempts to speak Farsi -- although her Farsi was much better than mine -- and she never asked what my father did for a living; something that I had been drilled on for weeks prior to her arrival. 

I liked her almost immediately.  The fact that she was smart and knew how to make fun of afore mentioned Herfeh-o-fan teacher without even trying just made her the coolest class clown ever.  So I wrote her a letter, almost expecting a cyber embrace of long lost classmates.  Her response, proved she hadn’t changed much; she was still funny and friendly.  Unfortunately, she had no idea who I was.  She didn’t remember me.  I wasn’t offended, so much as surprised.  How could someone not remember me from a class of 16 girls?  Huh!

So I continued my quest, finding so many people from my past, even some I didn’t have anything to say to but was glad to know were out there.  M -- as he is wont to -- started teasing me when he saw me on my little chair, quickly typing up names and staring at my screen.  “Who else have you found on Orkut tonight, baby?”  It wasn’t the question that bugged me so much as the fact that he got so much amusement out of my quest, and the tone with which he asked.  My day would come though; he too started looking up his long lost friends ...

After a while, I found a high school classmate of mine.  I remembered her well, even though we weren’t particularly close friends.  We were in different classes having been too far apart in the alphabet to be classmates, but we had mutual friends and eventually as Konkoor loomed large in our lives our paths started crossing more often as we went to the same pre-konkoor tests, the various konkoor tests and grade checking events.  And while I saw her at least twice a day, six days a week, it was during a particularly depressing day that she left her mark on my mind.

We had gone to a konkoor test, most of us for the sake of practice, but I had done miserably.  I was anxious before I took the test, I was dry heaving and choking back hot tears on the way back.  It didn’t help that I was supposed to go to my grandmother’s house after -- a home I normally loved, but would be full of screaming cousins and curious aunts and uncles.  I wanted a hole I could crawl into and stay in for a very, very long time.  The crisp early winter air was the only thing keeping me from exploding as we boarded the minibus, a gaggle of giddy high school girls and one morose excuse of a girl caught in their mix. 

As we moved uptown, a filthy old pervert reached over and grabbed my breast and squeezed in the chaos of the overstuffed vehicle.  I was paralyzed with fear, pain and shame.  I could barely squeek out, “Please sir, could you move aside.”  He brazenly looked at me, with the expression of a man who knows he has his victim exactly where he wants her, and said, “I can’t move, there’s no place for me to put my hand.”  His mouth was almost completely covered by his dirty beard, but his pink tongue licked them as if he was wetting his lips to bite into me.

From that moment, everything happened in slow motion.  I looked over and my eye caught her eye.  I don’t know if the expression on my face made her look or if she had already seen what had happened, but I saw her extend her hand, not to push him back but to grab his crotch.  Whether it was shock or a very strong grip (I think it was probably both) he gasped for air and loosened his hold on my breast.  As I leaned back, I heard him gasp, “Ma’am, could you please allow me to move aside?”  To which she coolly replied as she looked him straight in the eye, “I’m sorry sir, as you said there no room.  There is no place for me to put my hand.”  She didn’t loosen her grip, she didn’t flinch as he started doubling over; not until he had completely let go of me. 

As soon as she let go of him, he stopped the bus and got out as fast as he could.  She continued talking and giggling with the other girls as if nothing had happened at all.  As she got off the bus, she gave me the knowing smile of a co-conspirator and it was the last time the event was acknowledged.  I mostly lost track of her after we graduated six months later, as we lived in different neighborhoods and I moved to America. 

So you can imagine how excited I was to find her on Orkut.  She was one person I definitely wanted to hear from -- rather I wanted her to hear from me.  I wanted her to know that in what may have been a fleeting moment to her, she did something memorable.  I wrote her an email, introducing myself, general information and finally added a brief reference to the incident on the bus.  She responded almost immediately, warmly saying she remembered the incident on the bus as well as our classmates and mutual friends, but she couldn’t remember me. 

Do you notice a theme here?

My lack of memorableness was really bothering me.  Was I (and am I still) that forgettable.  WHY?  HOW?  I was speechless--almost. The good news was, that it was really entertaining M.  He’d walk around the house saying, “You look familiar.  I know your friends, but I don’t think I know you ... Who are you again?”  Clearly, the man was asking for it. When I stopped reacting to his obvious lack of humor, he encouraged me to find more friends from my past on Orkut.  He needed new material, and I couldn’t help but laugh at him -- because even in my mind there was a tragic-comedic twist to all this.

When my mom came for a visit during Christmas, she accidentally solved the little mystery that had been tormenting me.  We were all sitting around talking about growing up in Iran and how different our experiences were and I don’t know what my mom said, but it made M ask slightly increduously, “You mean she never went out?  She didn’t socialize with her own friends?” 

“Well, of course she did; mostly with us as a family.  Unless she was going to school, of course.  And she went to her friend’s birthday party once or twice, as well. She was different back then.  She had a quiet, ladylike laugh, she hardly said a word in a crowd -- hardly anyone ever knew what she was thinking.  That is why no one could ever say there were eyebrows over her eyes (Balayah cheshmash abrooeh).”  I recognized the pride she took in knowing how much I had avoided recognition throughout my adolescence. 

“No one knew I existed, Mum.  If anyone knew I existed, they may have pointed out that I obviously had eyebrows above my eyes.”  I tried to sound light-hearted, but we knew very well that there was nothing light-hearted in my tone.

Of course, this wasn’t news to me.  I always joke -- or not -- about how much time I spent in the house.  This wasn’t always a bad thing, considering how much I enjoyed reading in my quiet corners.  I had always been somewhat invisible, even in my own family; but there were advantages to that.  People said things, (too) honest things, when they didn’t think you were around.  If I played along, and I usually did back then, I learned things that no one would have voluntarily taught me.  Some of them were painful lessons I would rather not have learned, but they strengthen me for later. 

The problem perhaps isn’t that I was invisible for so much of my life, but that I didn’t want to be and couldn’t stop.  There are people who work hard to fade into the background and never succeed, but for me it was a way of life.  Which is why I can talk to so many people from my past in Iran, and almost all of them will remember my family, my noticeable brothers (they’re very hard to ignore) and perhaps even a party I dutifully helped my mother host.  But they will have little memory of me. 

That is the little mixed blessing I have of my past, a blank slate that I can write anything on.  Today, perhaps I’ll impress you when we meet.  My laughs are no longer ladylike and quiet, to my mother’s great dismay.  My eyes are rarely cast down when I speak; when you get to know me you’ll know when mischief is brewing just by the way I look. Despite all these changes, perhaps if I don’t make an effort to shine, I will dissolve into the couch at the next dinner party or worse; fade away without having ever left an impression at all.  All it takes is a moment’s retirement into my old ways and you’ll never know that I was right next to you.

For all I know, I may still be forgettable and not know it for another twenty years.  Unfortunately, my egotistical ways won’t allow me to take it graciously next time around.  Remember me, People.  I’m shining here.

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Parissa Sohie


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