A Memoir

February 2, 2014
By , Salt Lake City, UT
It was 5:00 in the afternoon. The sun reached out its calming arms towards the earth and the house was bathed in quiet and peace. The creatures within were lazy and happy. I had recently gone shopping with my mother and was excited to see my dad come home. As the deep, fierce rumbling started, I ran down the stairs and opened the white door to the garage, yelling, "Salam, baba-joon!" (Welcome home). I remember precisely the hurt expression of my father's face and his slow movements - and it’s painful, that deeply installed memory. He tried to smile and said hello quietly back to me, but I did not notice the deep sadness in his heart. It was until he reached my parent's bedroom, my mom lying on the bed studying, that I realized something was terribly, terribly wrong. "Halet khobe?" my mom asked him, are you okay? At first he did not say anything; he just closed the bathroom door. Seconds passed, and with a muffled voice he said, "My mom died." And that was when emotions went flying. Immediately, I said, "really?" but I knew that my father told the truth. How could my world so suddenly blur and fall away? I walked to my mother and collapsed into her arms, crying and crying. I just could not believe it, and his mind didn't register at all. It was only when he was at my grandmother's first funeral that he wept. Maybe all men hold on to their spiraling emotions within, refusing to acknowledge them. That was the beginning of a month in Iran I can never forget.

I sighed as I packed my last items; tooth brush, notebook, pencils. This was going to be a long journey. I wished I could just stay in the comfort of my own room, my own fluffy bed. Twenty-three hours on several planes and waiting in airports was enough to make anyone wish to never travel again. My past memories as a younger child sleeping and riding planes for hours on end already filled me with extreme exhaustion. When I come into my room again, I knew that I would be a different person. Every time I travel, I am changed, but for better or worse, I do not know.

Hours and hours later, I am sitting in a plane, by the tiny window and it is deep into the night. The TV screens above flash, people moving with purpose and silence, but I simply do not care enough to be absorbed into its plot. My eyes are tired and old and I can only listen to the soft beats of my music. Soon I see bright lights; hundreds of them, alive in the pitch black. “There it is,” the girl next to me says. “We’re here.” I nod and a woman on the speakers announces that we have to wear our scarfs and long dress like coats, called montos. My mother, in a seat ahead of me hands me a bag. “Go change,” She says. I walk slowly and heavily down the narrow aisle to the lavatory, my steps uneven, reality still lost to me. I slip behind the curtain-like bathroom door and look in the mirror. My eyes are blood shot, my face bleak, my hair frizzy. I sigh. I am tired and nothing really matters to me right now. I wash my face; change and walk back to my seat. The girl had fallen asleep. “Excuse me,” I whisper, and her eyes flash open. “Wait…who?” And then her sister nudges the girl, and she says, “Oh! It’s you! You look so different!” I smile tightly, everyone says this and I’m not sure it’s a good or bad thing. The next few minutes pass in agony. I stare at the clock in the front of our section of the plane. Every time one minute passes I can’t wait for the next, and I feel like bursting. Finally, the plane begins to descend.

I remember the escalator and the huge, towering plastic wall that separates the passengers and the welcomers. I remember so well the sight of my cousins, and being surprised at how large and muscular Esan was. Now, I see my Khaleh (Aunt on maternal side), her husband, my cousins; and the oldest one’s husband. I do not know how to react. Every time I come to Iran, everyone has changed, becoming people I do not know anymore. I smile and wave; my mom and brother mouth words to them. Somehow I dread talking to them. What will I say? I missed you? I do not know what to do.

We stayed awhile at my mother’s sister’s house but when it was dawn, it was time to leave and go on another, smaller journey.

The trip in the car was hot and tiring, as we had five hours of sleep last night upon arrival. I slowly stepped out of the car with my three bags in tow. My Ameh (aunt from paternal side), Homah, opened the large blue garage door that led to the house’s courtyard. Her eyes were red, her checks stained with tears. She hugged me and told us to come in. I felt the mood was stale and sorrowful, but I did not realize how much so until I came into grandfather’s room. My other aunts were crying and wailing on one side of the wall, and my grandfather quietly weeping into a tissue. They said hello and hugged me. I sat down, the slow breeze rustling my hair, drumming its noise into my ears. I felt like a shadow in the darkness. There was nothing I could do but weep softly as well. But why? For whom? I had barely known my grandmother, but she was someone I could not believe was gone. Surely she would appear in the kitchen and make breakfast, put her scratchy hands on mine and smile. I will always remember her hands, how worn, hard and callused they were. She had done laundry by hand for many years, and for many people. My grandmother was, in my mind, a person who loved me and gave me gifts…but did I really know her? I wish I could have met her again, and gotten to know her better, and discover who she really was. But in my naïve state, I did not think of these things. Little did I know that later, the grief would become nearly unbearable.

The time is close to 6:00 p.m. We had arrived late so we walked quickly, the dirt puffing up and coloring our shoes. There were many stone graves there, some of them my own family. A tough hero wrestler, a mother, a father, a young soldier. And now my grandmother; already in the soft earth, resting between her parents. There was a gloomy black cloth covering the grave and a banquet of bright, hopeful flowers in the center. A deep booming voice was on the speakers in the mosque and my mother and I hurried to the woman’s entrance. We took off our shoes and walked towards my father’s sisters at the front of the room. It was silent all for the screams of my Amehs, and the others who tried to calm them down. Leaning against the walls were people I did not know, wearing black and their eyes cold and still, measuring me down. I sat carefully next to my little cousin, Sara. We said hello. The room was hot, only a slight warm breeze would come by occasionally. A deep, sorrowful voice told prayers and stories, and the microphone was passed down. My father said some words. It went on for hours. The atmosphere was completely suffocating, the tensions crushing. I cried. I watched others cry. I watched others watching. I watched people pretending. It was exhausting. And that was the first funeral I attended.

My parents decided that we would take a taxi and go to Laijan, where my mother’s grandmother lived with her nurse. Batool had several brain strokes and dementia which made her very frail and ill. Her nurse was a young, poorly educated and formally abused woman who did not care for her well, as we later found out. My mother and I would spend most of the month there, sometimes with my aunt, her husband, my dad, my brother or my cousin but most of the time I was bored and lonely. I would tiptoe around the apartment, hating the different feel of the carpet beneath me. I would read and read, stare out the window and enjoy the rain and the nice breeze. Occasionally I would go into our room and pull the curtains close, put on a song from my phone and dance; pretending for a while that everything was normal.

One of my favorite moments were when my cousin, the daughter of my Khaleh (aunt on maternal side), came from Tehran. She taught me how to make professional jewelry, and her just being there brought me comfort. I loved when my mother and I would walk outside of the city and along the lush green rice fields. Once we saw a horse and her foal grazing. But despite the wonders and beauty, we could plainly see the trash on the side of the road. I liked being with my aunt too and often I would sit near the sisters and listen to their interesting talks and arguments. In the night they would talk even more, but I didn’t mind at all.

I changed a lot in those quiet weeks. Or mostly quiet weeks. At times my grandmother would talk in the night, murmuring about the past. Sometimes she would yell in pain. Sometimes she would talk of the need to put on her shoes and walk in the graveyard to lie down. And sometimes she would tell me short stories.

Most of the time Maman-bosorg was wary and restless in her bed. One day my father read her the holy book. The words flow like water and song and poetry. They fill you with a sleepy inner peace. My grandmother could even recite some of the verses with my father. It should have been no surprise, as once she knew the whole book, all 6,236 verses, by heart.

I would talk to her in Farsi quietly, tie her hair up and when I felt like I could bare it, sat there watching over my old Maman-bosorg. Now and then it was necessary to help bathe her and put the IV tube in. It was hard to see the deep sadness in my mother as she saw what her once intelligent, skillful (in cooking, knitting, cloth making and crafts in general) and cunning mother had become. I heard many stories of her from my elders and I felt I knew Batool better than I ever knew my other grandmother. Perhaps the saddest part of the whole experience was seeing Maman-Bosorg become a child and waste away painfully. Would I like to die younger naturally or would I want a long, prolonged but more painful life? I still ponder.

Many more things happened that month, many visits, many hugs, many experiences – some I smile to remember, some I wish I never did, but it was a big part of my life, a step onto another rock in the river, and I am still growing and learning and experiencing – for better or for worse.

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