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Tehran & Tears
I am Persian but I was born and raised in Los Angeles. Growing up in a Persian household, my mother always speaks Farsi and cooks Persian food. I started to build a love for my culture. I wanted to be more connected to it so I decided to write about the Iranian Revolution.
As I walk home from school, I feel the harsh wind hit my face and my body starts to shiver. Winter just began, meaning we had a different dress code in school. I pass the liquor store, where they sold my favorite cheese puffs that my mom never let me eat before dinner. I stop there just to get one on my way home to hide in my backpack for later.
After a long day of school, I finally walk into my house. The smell of the khoresht makes me hungry so I put my stuff down and go to the living room. I sit down on the rusted Persian carpet. The table’s are made small and we can sit without chairs. The walls are painted a dark maroon. I feel the cold air coming from the window and the hairs on my arm stick up. I hear someone moaning in the kitchen.
“Hello, Hello, is anybody home?” I say loudly.
The moaning stops.
I slowly walk towards the kitchen and push the pantry door forward.
Ziba’s eyes are red and tears are rushing down her face.
“Oh my God Ziba, What happened to you? Are you okay?” I say. I try to sound loving and calm but my paranoia rises to the surface like water mixed with oil.
She clearly can’t move, frozen with fear. I try tapping her on the shoulder and waving my hand back and forth but nothing moves. Not a single bone in her body can even tremble.
I know Mom and Dad are at work and I have no way of communicating with them until they get home.
She finally raises her hand and points at the window.
“What’s wrong, Is it Omid?” I say.
She nods her head.
I quickly ran next door to Omid’s house. He always knows what’s going on around the neighborhood so I thought I would knock on his door.
I knock again And again
No one is answering.
I find myself pounding on the door now. I feel my frustration in my fist and I know I am trying to release some of my confusion.
“Hold on, I’m coming” I hear him screaming from the backyard.
He unlocks the latches and opens the door.
“Shirin, it’s so nice to see you, what are you doing here?” he says with shock.
“When I came home from school today, I heard someone moaning in the kitchen. I went to go check and it was Ziba. She couldn't speak and her eyes weren't moving. Tears were rushing down her face. She told me to go to you, do you know what happened to her?” I say while realizing how surprised I am at the monotone voice that I am able to use.
Omid stands there with his lips pouted. He wears a button down shirt with the three bottom buttons unbuttoned. He wears small glasses at the tip of his nose. His gold chain laying on his burley chest. He holds a cup of chai and I can see the steam rising out of the cup. His back was hunched and his hair was partially white. He seems to be years older every time I came to him for advice or news.
“Hello Omid, are you okay?” I say waving my hand back and forth in his face.
Now he is frozen.
He finally moves his eyes and says, “Shirin Joon, come on in, sit down and have some chai while I tell you what is going on.”
I walk into the house and step lightly onto the Persian rug. I enter the living room and sit on the old vintage tapestry that smelled like rose water. While I look around, I see lots of ancient artwork. They all have one thing in common, the unibrow painted on the canvas. The room was overly decorated with antique furniture. Part of me felt welcomed and part of me felt overwhelmed.
Omid comes into the living room holding two cups of dark chai. He places them on the table. The table with dates, nuts, and Persian cucumbers. I usually don’t eat anything with my chai, I like it plain.
He sits back in a chair across the room from me with no expression on his face.
“Shirin Joon, I have some really really bad news for you and I don’t know how you will take it” he says softly.
I sit on the edge of my seat.
I take a deep breathe, sigh and say, “What is the bad news? What could be so horrible?
Omid pushes back his glasses and says, “It’s about the revolution”. I nod my head.
“There is a lot of violence and killing going on. Many people have died today and these past days.” he says softly.
I lean back into the chair.
“I still do not understand what this has to do with me?” I say in a melancholy tone though I am eager to know.
“I’m sorry Shirin Joon but there is no other way I can tell you this. Both your mom and Dad died today during the War. They were working at the store and a random person was rummaging through stores and started killing people one by one. One of my friends reported to me that your parents store was broken into during the riot and killed your mom and dad.”
The words leave his mouth like a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun in slow motion. I sit there and watch the bullet pierce my skin and drive through my heart. I am shaking yet I am frozen. I assume that my body trembles but my mind is frozen. The wound slowly starts to bleed as tears come rushing down my face.
I keep telling myself this had to be a dream. But its not.
I run out of Omid’s house without saying goodbye and into my house, up the stairs, and into my room. I pull the sheets over my head and lay there quietly, pretending I’m asleep. I have school tomorrow but how can I go, I wondered.
“Shirin, Shirin” I hear someone scream my name. “You’re going to be late to school” Ziba says.
I barely slept last night. All I can think of are my parents. How can I live a life without them? I know they would not want me to stay home all day. They would want me to make them proud. So I decide to go to school and do just that. It still feels like a dream. Ziba also wants me to go to school. She thinks it’ll distract me from losing my parents to the war.
“Alright I’m getting up, now leave me alone” I whisper half asleep.
I dread getting ready for school. The same morning routine of washing my face, brushing my teeth, putting on that ugly uniform they force us to wear, eating breakfast, and going to school. They made us wear a hijab which is essentially a scarf that covers half of your face and head. Your entire body has to be covered in a loose cloth. My neck is of course surrounded by cloth, which covers my albatross. I can feel it weighing me down but maybe.
no one else can see it. My religion dictates that women should not display their beauty thus I have to wear this to school.
I look at myself in the mirror and see eyes that are red and dry. I don’t recognize the girl in the mirror; she could not stop crying last night. Fortunately, I have the hijab to cover up my red circles under my eyes.
I eat, even though I have no appetite. I have to force food down.
My school is filled with only girls. Mom and Dad want me to go to a religious school so I was not distracted by all the boys while learning. I have no male friends and I always wondered how they planned to marry me off without knowing any men.
I have to shut off all my emotions and be strong for my parents so I cover the bird on my neck and face the day.
I walk into class and see all my friends wearing their hijab’s. We all look miserable. I decide to sit all the way at the last row corner seat. I don’t want anyone noticing my albatross. I told myself I am going to try my hardest to stay strong throughout the whole day.
“Bang! Bang! I hear someone slamming something on the table. It was Professor Bahar.
“Quiet down children, quiet down, class has begun. Today we are going to learn about an important topic” he says.
My heart starts beating fast and my palms are sweaty. All I can think of was Mom and Dad. “The topic is the Iranian Revolution.” he says while staring down the whole class.
The whole class stares at him in confusion. My eyes start tearing up and I feel like throwing up.
“You might ask what the Iranian Revolution is. It is the overthrowing of Mohammad Reza Shah. Who knows who Mohammad Reza Shah is? Extra credit points for whoever knows” he says pointing his finger back and forth.
The whole class sits there in silence and no one's hands go up. I know the answer but I thought if I raise my hand and start talking, I would start crying in front of the whole class. I would not be able to speak. I would just stutter and choke the whole time.
It felt like hours went by and the whole class is still in silence. No one knows the answer.
“Ok kids, I guess no one is getting the extra credit. Mohammad Reza Shah is the president of Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini wants to overthrow the president. He is a Muslim leader and politician. Many people are not satisfied with the president of Iran. They want to replace the Shah’s regime and their goal is to replace it with Islamic government.” Professor Behar says speaking proudly in front of the whole class.
The bell eventually rings. “Alright kids, class is dismissed, see you all tomorrow” he says.
I can’t go to my next two classes. I want to go be alone. I want to find somewhere secluded where I can forget my loss. I want to go home. I want to go somewhere that does not exist.
I walk outside and the wind hits my face hard. The cold hits me like a boxer and his punching bag. My whole body shivers. I fear the walk alone after hearing about the riots. I speed up my pace and stop at the liquor store. I go inside and decide to a buy a bunch of bags of my favorite cheese puffs. Maybe it will make me feel better. My mom hates the cheese puffs because I would always eat them before dinner. I never have room to eat dinner after eating a couple bags.
I grab a bunch of bags, pay for them and leave. My house is only two blocks away from the liquor store. I try to run as fast as I can because it is getting dark.
I walk into the house and start coughing. Everything is dusty and it looks like the house has not been clean in days. The only thing I could smell is the leftover tahdig on the counter.
“Hello, is anybody home? I scream. The whole house is silent.
I look in each room on the first floor. No one is there.
I walk up the stairs and go into Ziba’s room. She’s not there.
I go into Navid’s room, my older brother. He’s not there.
I walk into Mom and Dad’s room. I see Ziba laying on the floor crying and Navid rummaging through Dad’s closet.
“Navid, what are you trying to find?” I ask him.
“Looking for some money and valuables” he says quietly.
Ziba is in shock.
“Ziba, can you please talk to me? You are not going through this by yourself?” I say.
“Shirin, I’m sorry but I just need some time. I’m going to take a walk around the neighborhood. I will be back soon” she says sadly.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Ziba. The riots are getting worse each day and the last thing I need is to lose someone else” I say.
“I’ll go with her so she is not alone” Navid pitched in.
“I really don’t think it’s a good idea to walk around anywhere. The riots are very harmful” I say raising my voice.
“You’re only thirteen years old and we are both older then you, so you can’t tell us what to do” Ziba says with an attitude.
“Ok Shirin, Navid and I are going on a small walk now to get some fresh air, are you sure you do not want to come with us? Ziba says.
Part of me wants to go and spend some time with my siblings. I want to talk to them about Mom and Dad. I want to talk to them about this burden that only they understand. The other part of me wants to stay back and just cry in my bed. I am afraid to walk outside because I don’t want to be added to the list of the deceased.
“Yeah I’m sure, just please be safe, I really can’t afford to lose anymore family” I say staring at both of them in the eyes.
“We will Shirin, don’t worry, we love you” Navid says staring back at me. “I love you guys too” I say waving goodbye.
I close the door behind them and I run up to my room.
I crawl into my bed and pull the sheets over me. A shed one tear. I couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to me. I decide to take a nap and try to forget about it.
5 hours later
I hear a loud gunshot and wake up.
The rioting is getting close to my neighborhood and I am home all alone.
I start to worry about Ziba and Navid. I didn’t know what to do. They haven’t come home yet.
I quickly put on my shoes and run next door to Omid.
I always go to him when I feel something is wrong or I just need someone to talk too.
It usually takes Omid a long time to open the door. I wait there for about 5 minutes and then he answers the door.
‘Who is it?” he says walking towards the door.
“It’s Shirin Joon” I say screaming.
“Ok Shirin Joon, I am coming “ he says screaming.
He opens the door and smiles. This time his hair was even whiter than before.
“Come on in Shirin Joon, what can I do for you today? When I told you the news about your parents you ran off without saying anything and I got worried” he says while gesturing his arm toward the living room.
I walk into the house and sit down on the rusted antique coach.
“I’m sorry I ran off so quickly, I was just in shock and I didn’t know how to handle the news” I say.
“That is okay, what did u want to talk about?’ Omid says.
“I know that the riots are getting worse each day. I’m worried about Ziba and Navid. It’s been almost six hours since they left for the walk and they haven’t been back yet” I say worried.
“They should not have gone on a walk. It is to dangerous. Did you try stopping them? He says filled with a combination of fear and anger.
“I tried my best but they would not listen to me. Ziba wanted to get fresh air because she was sitting at home crying all day” I say.
“At least she went with Navid and not on her own. Maybe they stopped at a friends house on the way” Omid says.
I start to bite my nails and my palms begin to sweat.
“Shirin, I know you are paranoid but everything will be okay” Omid says.
Omid gets up and walks to the kitchen. He pours two glasses of dark tea and grabs the nabate. He brings them to the coffee table and puts them down.
“Drink some tea, it will relax you” Omid says handing me the hot tea.
I grab the tea as it burns my fingers. I can see the steam rising from the cup. I take a sip, my tongue burns, I place it back down.
My mom use to give me chai all the time when I wasn’t feeling well because she said it’s suppose to relax you.
I grab the nabat and drop it into my tea. Nabat is a sweet sugar candy that sweetens your tea. Maybe I am clinging to the hope that somethings remain sweet.
I spit it out after one sip. It tastes so bitter; the liquid looks thick and heavy. “Don’t you think we should go check on them?” I say looking Omid in the eyes.
“It is to dangerous to leave the house right now, things are getting worse at the moment.” he says looking at me straight in the eye.
I have a weird feeling in my stomach and I feel like something had happened to Ziba and Navid.
“Do you have a radio by any chance, I want to listen to the news?” I say. “Sure Shirin Joon, it is right there” Omid says pointing to the shelf.
I get up and walk towards the shelf. I pick up the radio and bring it to the coffee table. I put it down and press the on button. I turned it 670 AM radio Iran.
“Broadcasting live from 670 AM radio Iran, here we have the latest news regarding the revolution and Shah. We would like to inform everyone to stay indoors due to the massive riots”.
I quickly turn it off. My heart starts beating faster and faster. My neck gets heavier. My palms begin to sweat. I couldn’t stop thinking about Ziba and Navid.
“Omid, did you hear what the radio just said?” I say screaming.
“Yes Shirin Joon, I must go look for Ziba and Navid. They are out there somewhere. You need to stay here. It is not safe for a girl like you to walk around in this area right now” he says worried.
I stood there in silence. I really want to go and help Omid look for them. They are the only family I have left and if something were to happen to them, I would be all alone.
“No Omid, I am coming with you. I want to help” I say screaming in anger. I cry until my entire face is the color of pain and passion.
“Shirin Joon, I want the best for you. That is why I think it is best for you to stay here and I will be back soon. If I don’t come back within an hour then you can start to worry but for now just stay in the house” he says giving me a hug.
“Okay, I will. If you don’t come back within in an hour then I am going outside to look for you”
“I will be back soon, just please stay in the house” he says as he closes the door behind him.
I sit on the couch and start thinking about what could’ve happened to Ziba and Navid. What if someone killed them? What if they are just at their friend's house? What if someone stabbed them? These questions are running through my mind like runners at an over-crowded marathon. I feel lost in the throng.
I hear people screaming outside in Farsi, “No more Shah, No more Shah” or “Let the Shah be gone”. Suddenly, gunshots begin to fire. People are screaming and running.
I walk towards the window and put the curtains up. My jaw drops. There is a massive riot in front of my eyes. People lay on the floor covered in blood. People scream and run. An old woman with a cane, cries while holding her sign stating, “Shah must be gone”.
I am scared. I feel alone at the moment and I am tempted to just open the door and run.
I look at the clock and an hour passes. Omid is not home. I decide to wait another 30 min before panicking.
I hear something from the front door. He sounds like a soft knock. I walk towards the door. The knock sounds louder the more closer I am to the door. I didn’t know what to do. Was it Omid? Should I open the door on the stranger?
“Who is it?” I say screaming.
“Shirin Joon, It is Omid, open it up quick” he says screaming on the top of his lungs.
“Omg Omid, I thought you wouldn’t survive the riots, I was so worried” I say opening the door.
All I see is Omid standing on the doorstep. No Ziba. No Navid. My heart drops. “Did you find Ziba or Navid?” I say without wanting to hear the answer. “Come sit down and I will explain to you everything” he says.
I quickly run to the couch and sit down.
“Please tell me, do I even want to know?” I say biting my nails.
“Listen Shirin Joon, when I started walking around the neighborhood and looking for Ziba and Navid. I did not see them anywhere. I went down a little further by the liquor store because that is where the riot was the most dangerous. I walked towards the liquor store and I saw a pile of people that were killed lying on the floor. I looked around and then saw Ziba and Navid. They’re with your parents, Shirin Joon.. Someone shot them during the riot. The revolution is getting worse by the minute” comfort me.
Gravity pulls me down even further. I am frozen. My whole body is numb. I didn’t know how to feel. I am only thirteen years old and I lost all my family members. The only person I have left in my life is Omid.
“Shirin Joon, I want you to know that I will always be here for you no matter what, I would like to take care of you until you become an adult. I don’t want to have to send you to an orphanage” he says giving me a tight hug.
I couldn’t speak. Words couldn’t come out of my mouth. I am speechless. Am I alone?
“I was thinking about it while I was walking around the neighborhood. Since the riots are getting worse everyday, I think it is best if we move to America and start a new life there” Omid says looking at my face filled with tears.
I took a deep breath and nodded. Agreeing to the idea that moving to America would give me a new beginning.
I sit on the plane. Hand in hand with Omid. I look out the window and see my parents. I see my parents looking down on me from their window in heaven. Ziba and Navid are there too; proud to see me putting one foot in front of the other. Then it hits me like the wind that hit me like a boxer and his punching bag: I am not alone, I never will be. They are constantly watching over me. I suddenly feel something strange around my neck. My neck doesn’t hurt anymore, I see my albatross sink into the ocean below.