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A war plan
"I am looking at the street," she said. "And I am thinking about how it is going to change if there is a war."


June 24, 2005

My grandmother had just been getting the hang of America when the war talk broke out. She had joined a hiking club, and they went out to a different place in the Cascades every weekend. My grandmother was one of the oldest members, but she would go ahead and walk with the fastest group, looking down because she was interested in flowers. She had a lot of experience from going up Mt. Damavand back in Iran. She told me she would go up high enough to where she could take off her scarf and there was nobody around to bother her.

She was the same way as far as exploring our neighborhood. She would walk in a certain direction sometimes and eventually ask somebody where the nearest pay phone was and call my mother and ask her to pick her up. I went along with my mother once to pick her up, and when we found her outside the supermarket, she looked like a little girl. She looked like a little girl that we were picking up from school, until she got in the car, and then she seemed like an old woman too.

I felt bad every time I heard on the news that Iran might be the next place that America attacked. I felt bad even though I had not lived there since I was three. I didn't know what was going to happen if there was a war. I had been born at the end of the last one, the war between Iran and Iraq. All I remembered was going past a cemetery and my mother saying that that was where soldiers were buried.

My grandmother was usually quiet when it came on the news. She wouldn't say much and we wouldn't say much either, respectful of the fact that she had only recently come. It was all of our country, but she was the one who had been walking along those streets, walking through the marketplace to buy something for dinner, going home and cooking it. She was the one who was thinking of the place as so close that to me it was like she had brought Iran with her. It didn't seem right to talk about the thing politically when she was in the room. She had brought with her the people whom she had bought her food from and the people she had passed on the street, and they were our main concern.

One night we were watching and after we watched the part about Iran, my grandmother stood up and went to her room. It was light out and I didn't think she would be going to bed. I stood up and followed her. In her room she was looking out the window.

"What are you looking at, Grandmother?" I said.

"I am looking at the street," she said. "And I am thinking about how it is going to change if there is a war."

"How is it going to change?"

"Well, I don't know," she said. "I have never been in a country that is attacking our country before. But I remember how it was the last time, with Iraq. For the first several years, I did not fight it. I mean I did not fight it when I read the newspaper. All I did was run to the air-raid shelter when the alarm sounded and come back out after the second alarm sounded. I did not fight it until my friend Goli's son was killed. After that I fought it when I read the newspaper."

I looked out the window. It looked the same as always to me. One of our neighbors had painted their house blue.

"Do you mean the flags that people put outside their houses?"

"No. It is not the flags. The flags are easy. It is what you do not see. When I have walked around these streets, I have been imagining what is happening inside the houses. I have always liked doing that. In Iran I would always want to go to school a different way when I was young, just to see streets I hadn't seen before. Sometimes my friends would all go one way and I would go another. It was my favorite thing. but it becomes harder to imagine there is anything good happening inside the houses if there is a war like that. After Goli's son was killed, I couldn't imagine anything good happening in any of the houses in Iraq."

I felt bad to hear her say it because it sounded awfully lonely. I didn't know what houses to think of if it wasn't the houses in America. I didn't have anything else.

"I am going to have to find some new worlds of sadness," my grandmother said. "I found some worlds of sadness when your grandfather died. If there is a war, I am going to have to find some new ones."

"I don't like being sad," I said.

My grandmother looked at me like she did not understand what I had just said. She did not look like she was upset, just that she didn't understand. I felt worse than if she had been upset, because I felt like it was something I did understand when I was three, or was starting to at least.

"It's not something to like or not like," my grandmother said. "It's something you are in. If there is a war, I am going to be sad. It is better to be sad and know it than to be sad and not know it. It is especially better if you are in the country that is attacking your country."

I didn't know anybody who could talk about being sad the way my grandmother could. She didn't look sad when she talked about it. She looked the same as when she left to go hiking or walk around the neighborhood. I felt very glad that she was not in Iran, in case something did happen. But it just made me think of everybody who was there. And I felt like I understood what my grandmother meant about the street changing. It could change into a place where it looked like the people in the houses didn't care about anything, like they thought it was far away from them. But it wasn't far away from them if it wasn't far away from us. I didn't want the street to change either, but sometimes it felt like it had already changed, like when the kids at school would say that they were tired of talking about the war. I'd come home and the houses would look closed-up along the way. They looked like they were fighting themselves.

And I knew it was better to talk about it than to not talk about it, but sometimes I didn't know what to say about it either. Sometimes I thought about it all day and sometimes I didn't think about it at all. But on the days when I thought about it a lot, I didn't want to talk to anybody about it, not because I was tired of talking about it, but because it was too inside.

"How are you going to find it?" I asked my grandmother.

"I am not going to fight it this time," my grandmother said. "I am not going to fight it with the newspaper. One of the women in our hiking club has a son who is in the army. I heard her talking about it. She didn't know that I understood English. I don't want her son to die. If you read about it but you don't fight it, you will find the sadness."

I didn't know anybody who talked about it like my grandmother did, but I felt like I had a chance for it because it went back to where I was from. I didn't know anybody who talked like my grandmother at school, but I also didn't know anybody who liked hearing it as much as I did. It wasn't that they would be against it, I just didn't know what they would be remembering when they heard it. Maybe they were remembering America. But I didn't see it. I didn't see it in an inward way, in a way that considered this war and all wars.

I knew it was an American part of me that didn't like being sad. It was the way I didn't know what to do with it. But I felt like I wanted to know. I wanted to know even though I was scared of it. I knew at least that I was from a people who had some practice with it. It helped a lot to have my grandmother around. I felt like I was ready for any kind of sadness when she was there. But she was not going to always be there. She was not going to be there when I was with my friends. They looked too lost when there was something sad like this. Somehow I knew that I was going to have to be a lot more alone. I was going to have to be a lot more alone if there was a war, but even if there wasn't too. I didn't know how else to be sad without being angry that other people weren't sad.

There was a place where everybody was sad. They were other things too, but they were also sad. I didn't know if they all did it as bravely as my grandmother did, but the way she was came from a place, and the only places like that were the places where the bombs fell, where I didn't want my grandmother or anyone else I knew to be. There was something missing wherever we were.

I watched my grandmother looking out the window and to me it looked like she'd already found it. It looked like she was ahead of everybody, ahead of presidents and soldiers and everybody else. It looked like she was ahead of everybody however far back they might have been planning a war. However far back it was, she was ahead of them, which wasn't really something that mattered much to her at all, but it was a nice thing for me to see.

For letters section
To Siamak Vossoughi

Siamak Vossoughi



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