Lili in Montreux
Looking back can be healing.

That Time She – A Personal Memoir Collection

This is for no one to read. Or everyone to read, years from now.

In the Wall Street Journal was an article called, “The Way You Tell Your Life Story Matters. Start Now.”

The part of the article, which was written by a well-known obituary writer captured my attention was this: “Many of us, however, want to cheat death by leaving a mark, however faint. We tend to believe the proverb that people die twice: the first time when their heart stops beating, the second when someone speaks their name, or thinks of them, for the last time.”

So this personal memoir blog is my faint mark. It’s not linear – it’s something I write down when a memory strikes. For example, the first memory is from 10 end of year holidays ago. And someday, I may make it a chronological life story. But for today, this is me, leaving my faint mark.

landscape photography of mountain during daytime
The Alborz Mountains in Iran. Photo by Mahsa Ameli

Part I – On the Run 

Chapter I: That Time She Fled to Iran  

It was December 30, 2012. She sat dismally on a bar stool, eyeing a glass of his whiskey. He would never stop drinking. He would never stop lying. He would never stop hurting her.

Yet this was the 1000th charade she played where it was “pretend everything is ok” and her dad was along for the ride, sitting across the table, making small talk. Sometimes small talk is polite; sometimes it’s a defense mechanism for an unfulfilled life. 

She never, ever, expected the events of later that night to happen. She didn’t plan it that way. She knew she had to leave. Her friends knew she had to leave. Her co-workers knew. Her parents had known before she even walked down the aisle. And she knew while she was walking down it. 

Later that night on another barstool, sadness completely washed over and she tearfully sobbed, “This needs to end. I can’t live like this anymore.” He got angry. He pushed her into their Mercedes and drove wildly to her parent’s house. And then it all went black.

Waking up two terrified parents, she had no recollection of what had happened. Her uncle was nearby. He put his hand over his heart in relief. “Your mom and dad were so terrified,” they called and they weren’t sure if you were breathing. I watched you sleep all night and I put a a mirror under your face to make sure.

Then she learned how she became unconscious. He had screeched into the driveway, pushed her out of the car while it was still moving, and she had collapsed. 

This was really it. But it had been “really it” for the last 3 years. Packing, leaving, coming back, unpacking. The honeymoon period would give her a high and her busy work would distract her from her life that was falling apart. 

So what made this time different? It was Iran.

Iran is not a country many people associate with escape. There is a cultural war that has been ongoing since the 50s and the most complicated love-hate relationship with the United States. You see, most people in Iran LOVE America. They celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. They wear risque makeup and clothes under their scarves and overcoats. They love Tiktok and Insta. She didn’t grow up there, but she had Iran in her blood. And she had the same complications when it came to loving people, reconciling things that are irreconcilable. 

She was determined to leave for the last time, but terrified of an unknown future. The situation, no matter how bad it was, was familiar. It had become manageable for years – but on this day, when she woke up, she knew it no longer was. Because it was the first time she realized that next time she might now wake up at all.

And so. She said she was really done. But she had no idea what to do next. “We’re going to Iran,” her dad said, finally relieved that he could take some kind of control. You see parents think they can save their children from any situation. But the boomeranging, the convincing, the “he’s really going to change” story was now almost a monthly ritual. This time was different, but it might not last. There was a small window for opportunity and it had to be that extreme of an escape for it to work.

So they got on a plane. She was in a daze – she could have been told, we are going to the planet Saturn and that would have been OK. Anywhere that was far enough from this 7-year long nightmare was fine.

When they arrived, the sun was rising over the snow-capped Alborz mountains. To be continued. 

The flight announcement came on from British Airways, one of the few airlines that would still fly to Tehran. Besides the usual deplaning laundry list, the flight attendant reminded everyone that this is a country under Islamic law, and women should cover their hair. The woman next to me flipped up her Gucci headscarf over a face clad in fire-engine red lipstick. It was 4:30 am. 

As we stood in line for passport control, I was distracted from any feelings I had of what I left behind by the sheer contradictions. I had been careful not to wear any noticeable makeup and to keep my attire conservative. I looked up ahead in the line and saw a woman walking ahead clad in platform heels, a transparent trench coat, with a scarf barely covering her glamorous hair and face. She looked like a movie star. Sweatpants would be more offensive here. 

I reached the front of the line, nervous about dealing with my first government official. It is customary when you greet someone in that capacity to say, “Khasteh Naboshee”, which translates to “Don’t be tired”. It basically is supposed to convey respect for someone you may not know well for whatever they have to deal with in their life. It is something that shows one of my favorite parts of the Iranian people, their empathy. 

My Amoo M had come to visit my parents when I was younger, when we lived by a big lake. In the mornings, he would go for walks with my parents, and when they ran into a neighbor, he greeted them in English with “Don’t be tired.” They were confused. It was one of those stories my dad repeatedly tells. 

My dad and I walked out of the final step of customs where families were waiting in large groups, excitement on their faces. My dad told me Amoo S would probably be the only person coming for us since it was the middle of the night. As we got closer to the glass pane dividing the waiting families from the passengers, I saw Amoos S, but also an army of extended family I hadn’t seen in years behind him. Khaleh N, my cousin A, my cousin O, more cousins and aunts and uncles. Excitedly waving and smiling. 

Again, this was on par for what Iranians represent. So many misconceptions arise from the burning effigies and hostage crisis, but what many people don’t know is that the people of Iran and the people of the United States had a romantic love affair and infatuation with one another’s cultures that lasted for years, before the Revolution created strife that killed diplomatic relations. But the Revolution could not take one thing away – the spirit of the people. And their love for all things Western. 

When I was at William and Mary, I befriended a Professor who had written a book called “The Eagle and the Lion” about this complicated relationship. He and his wife had gone there for their honeymoon in 1965. He told me stories of being invited inside from families as they walked in the streets, for food and hospitality. He fell in love with Iran and never fell out of it. 

This was my first visit since I was still in high school. When I went then, I had little appreciation for politics or restrictions. My cousins A and G would take me to parties that had “mixed company” which technically was not allowed but was never a problem. There would be alcohol and dancing, just like in parties back home, but the main difference was we always got dressed to the nines. That’s what everyone did. So what I remember resembled an episode of Gossip Girl – glitter, champagne, and disturbingly handsome and beautiful people. 

But now, we were “grown up.” A had come to the airport and she stayed by my side almost the whole time. We went to Amoo S’s house where I hid out. There was no phone contact, no trace of me possible. Even google and facebook were banned like in China. I was truly underground. 

A looked almost exactly the same, except she wasn’t as rail thin, and now she was blonde. 

A had a sister named G, and the three of us were inseparable the first time I visited, when I was 8 years old. When I was 17, I went back, and we picked up right where we left off. Except we were teenagers, and being a teenager in Iran is not different from being a teenager anywhere else. We piled into an SUV with A’s friend Z, who matter of factly swerved through Tehran traffic with her cell phone in one hand, a Virginia Slim cigarette in another. We drove to Jamshid street, which is famous for one reason and one reason only – teenage boys and girls drive up and down and “check each other out” and get phone numbers. It was like Tinder 1.0. G was the one all the guys fell for. I remember being in the back of the car with her as we drove up to the Alborz mountains with our dad and her eyelashes were fluttering in the wind. Did she do that on purpose? She always got the most phone numbers. In Iran the guy always gave the girl his number, not the other way around. Ironically such a power move in a country where women are seen as powerless. 

G wasn’t there that night, but I didn’t expect anyone else to be. A came over Amoo S’s house a lot. We hung out just like we used to, except the weight of the world was much heavier. We remembered all the glamorous parties and gossiped about all of our other cousins. 

My best memory from that trip is the time we visited my Amoo M in Isfahan. Amoo M was a lawyer, like me, and I got my competitive streak from him. We walked across the 33 Arches bridge, and he made sure everytime someone got close to passing us, he sped up. 

That was what I felt my whole life had been like. Always speeding up. Always wanting to be caught up to what everyone was doing and be the one who came out ahead. That blinded me to a lot of the things that dragged me down and almost did me in. 

Chapter II: That time she fled to Australia 

To be continued.

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