Sunday, May 10, 2009

My sister Azi

The emotions surrounding my birth were unknown to me until many years later. I was the last of five children. My mother had married at the age of sixteen and had given birth to my oldest sister, Zhaleh, at the age of seventeen. When my mother got pregnant with me at age of thirty seven, Zhaleh had been married for about a year and was one month pregnant with her first child. My mother had her fourth child at the age of twenty eight and did not want to have any more children. Her children were growing up and she had no intention of changing diapers and breastfeeding again. More distressing to her was the fact that Zhaleh was already pregnant. The idea of being pregnant at the same time as her daughter was utterly embarrassing to her. She was depressed and tried not to go out very much and hid her pregnancy. At some point in her first trimester, she decided that she didn’t want to have me. She made an appointment with a gynecologist to have an abortion. In Iran, at least at that time during the 1960s, there were no laws against abortion. Abortions were done discreetly. The subject was considered more private than immoral. The night before the abortion my mother had a dream about one of the holy figures of the Baha’i Faith, which is the religion of my family. In the dream, she makes a great effort to speak to this most revered holy person, but he appears upset and he refuses to look at her or speak to her, turning his face to the opposite direction of my mother’s at every effort that she makes to look at his eyes. She woke up filled with remorse about planning to take the life of her own child. She concluded that God would not be pleased with her if she would have the abortion and that was why the holy figure would not look at her and seemed angry at her. She canceled the appointment the next morning and I was born about 5 months later one month premature.

The day before my birth was filled with anxiety and stress for my mother as Zhaleh went into labor. My mother accompanied her to the hospital and stayed with her during the long hours of a difficult labor and finally at about five in the afternoon my niece was born in the midst of cries of pain. The difficult and painful labor of my sister and her cries of pain were all too much for my mother to bear. Almost at the same time that my sister delivered her baby my mother went into labor. After making sure that my sister was OK, she left the hospital. She took a cab and went home to have me. I was supposed to be born at home just like the rest of my siblings. My parents could not afford a hospital stay for my mother. In the early hours of the morning the same gynecologist who was supposed to perform the abortion arrived at our house. I was born minutes later, a month premature in a room in our house which later was converted to our dining room. Present during the delivery were my father and my seventeen year old sister, Azar. My mother told me years later that as the moment of birth grew closer, my father was anxious to know if his fifth child would be a son. Having had three daughters and only one son, only the birth of another son could make the arrival of this unwanted child desirable. My mother told me that my father’s expressions of excitement were replaced with disappointment when he saw a very little girl come out of her womb. He said nothing and withdrew himself from me completely and didn’t hold me or touch me until about a month later. My seventeen year old sister who had witnessed my birth was in an awe by the miracle of birth and by the sight of a tiny, helpless baby who was blue all over. The seeds of everlasting bonds of affection between her and me were planted on that day. She was the most positive influence of my early childhood.

After about a month, my father warmed up to me and accepted and loved me like the rest of his children. He was a very gentle, kind, and quiet man, a very loving and giving father with a great sense of self sacrifice for his family.

My beautiful sister Azar whom I called Azi joon (“joon” means “dear” in Persian) filled the first five years of my life with her cheerful youth and endless expressions of love and laughter. She was my world. She was mine. I really believed that the purpose of her existence was to take care of me, tell me stories, and love me. I couldn’t stand to be away from her. She took me with her everywhere she went. I slept in the same room with her with my bedding next to hers. Every night she would tell me a story while holding my hand. I would often ask for my favorite story, the story of Cinderella. Every morning, I would follow her to the bathroom, we would brush our teeth together and she would help me get cleaned up for the day. Often at nights, after dinner, she would teach me songs which we would sing together. She played the accordion and I liked to dance to the music she played. She was very artistic and would make different kinds of crafts. One of her hobbies was to make silk flowers. As a present to me, she made a few silk flowers and put them in a little vase and gave them to me. We put them in the living room on a counter and I boasted about them to whoever that came to our house. Those first five years were the best years of my life. One day Azi joon had to go to the dentist. I followed her to the door of the house and begged her to take me. She kept explaining to me that she would be back before I knew it and she couldn’t take me to the dentist. I waited patiently until she came back. Her presence always made everything OK.

When I was about five years old, I noticed that Azi joon was crying a lot. She wasn’t happy anymore. I didn’t know what was going on. One afternoon, she was sitting at the dinning room table, her head was on the table and she was crying. My parents were standing next to her. I went to her and said, “Why are you crying Azi joon?” My mom said, “Azi joon wants to go from here.” I said, “Where do you want to go?” She said, “To hell”. Thinking that she might go and not take me, I pleaded, “Take me with you.” I didn’t know where or what hell was and my response sparked a laugh from my parents and my sister.

After about a month or so, I noticed a young man, Parviz, who was starting to come to our house on regular basis. Azi joon was always happy to see him. She would light up whenever he was around. Seeing him so friendly with my sister and so close to her bothered me. I felt that he was partaking of attention that should only be bestowed on me. He was always nice to me, but I didn’t like him. I was wondering for how long he was going to come around. He intimidated me. When he was with my sister, I didn’t feel comfortable running to my sister and throwing myself in her arms. At about the same time my mother started to tell me that Azi joon might be leaving us soon. I would ask why and she would say, “She is going to marry Parviz and go with him to Ahvaz.” My reaction to these words were to throw a fit, cry and proclaim that Azi joon was mine and she shouldn’t go with Parviz. My mom would say, “Azi belongs to Parviz now.” Again, I would cry out, “She is mine and I’m going to ask her if she is not.” I would run to Azi and say, “Azi joon, are you still mine?” “Yes, I’m yours.” she would always reply. I would ask, “Are you going to leave me?” She would always say, “No, I’m not going to leave you.” I guess, she didn’t have the heart to tell me that she was getting married soon and moving to Ahvaz, a city in the southwestern part of Iran, near some oil fields and very close to the Persian Gulf. My mother at first didn’t approve of the marriage, because Parviz was only a year older than my sister and was not yet established in his career. My mother also had someone else in mind for Azi. A doctor who was very much interested in her, although he wasn’t nearly as attractive as Parviz, but established and prosperous. These were qualities that were very attractive to my mother. In addition to that, my mother doesn’t have a romantic bone in her body or if she does none of us has ever seen it. She is extremely practical. In our culture, parents sometimes exert a lot of influence on the marriage of their children, but this time Azi’s perseverance and refusal to ever marry anybody else eventually changed my mother’s mind. I found out that the reason my sister had been so sad for a few months was because of my mother’s refusal to give consent for her to marry Parviz. The time that she was crying in the dining room was during one of her arguments with my mother about marrying Parviz.

Parviz was beautiful. He was tall and slender with light green eyes and chestnut color hair, uncommon in that part of the world. He was muscular and mild mannered. During the three months engagement of Azi and Parviz, I got to see him quite a bit more and my mother tried very hard to prepare me for Azi’s departure. I remember her engagement party. She put on a beautiful dress that she had made herself. She fixed her hair and put flowers in it. She was so happy and excited that her happiness and excitement rubbed off on me too. All that night, I followed her around like a puppy. Parviz was always next to her. By then, I had gotten used to the idea of always seeing him next to her. Everybody commented on what a beautiful couple they made. My sister was slender and proportional with beautiful face and hair and Parviz was considered handsome by everyone. I remember me and my niece who was born a day earlier than me would tell everyone, “I’m going to marry Parviz too when I grow up.” Although in the back of my head I thought he would be too old for me by then.

The day of the wedding was approaching. I knew something was going to happen but I didn’t know what it was. I was seeing less of Azi as she was preparing for the wedding. I still wasn’t sure if Azi was going to leave me or not. She had given me a lot of assurances about her love for me and how she would always be my Azi. But I couldn’t ignore my mother’s efforts in telling me that Azi would someday leave with Parviz.

At the night of the wedding, I saw Azi and Parviz together. My sister looked so different in her wedding gown and make up. Her dress was beautiful, but I had never seen her with make up before. She looked so different. She had changed. She was sitting next to Parviz surrounded by flower baskets. I circled around them a few times. I had become shy all of the sudden. She looked so different that I didn’t know if I should approach her or not. She noticed me circling around them and watching them from a distance. She called me and I ran to her. She made a little place for me to sit between her and her new husband. I realized that she was still the same person and all that change was just on the surface. On her wedding night she told me that she would see me again in a few days. The wedding had taken place in Tehran, the capital. Day after the wedding we went back to Hamedan, my hometown, and there I waited, patiently, for Azi’s return. In the last few months I had come to accept her not spending so much time at home. After a short honeymoon, Azi came home with her husband. I was happy to see her. I didn’t know that she had only come home to pack her things and move to Ahvaz with Parviz.

The day that she left we all accompanied her and Parviz to the bus station. I knew she was leaving. I clang to her and refused to let her go. I screamed and cried. My face was wet with tears. I remember Azi kissing me and telling me that she would come back to see me. My parents separated me from her. She got on the bus while I was calling her and crying. I saw her bus move and the last thing I saw was Azi’s face by the window at the back of the bus. She waved at me. Her lips were moving. I couldn’t tell what she was saying. I was crying in my mother’s arms as I watched the bus disappear in the crowd of the street and the movement of other cars and buses. The days that followed were filled with sadness, emptiness and a great sense of loss. A couple of weeks later, my mother received a letter from Azi. She called me into the living room. I ran in and she, excitedly, said, "We have a letter from Azi." I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. Does that mean that Azi was coming back? Is the letter somehow going to make me feel better or make me miss her less? She read the letter to me out loud. Azi was doing fine and she was happy. For an instant, I was happy. Then the letter was over and I asked my mom when will I see her. My mother replied, “next summer”. So everything was still the same. Receiving the letter was a great disappointment. For days my mother had told me soon we will receive a letter from Azi and I had been looking forward to it. But when it arrived and was read, I still missed Azi as much as ever. The letter didn't cure my heartache. I knew then that there was nothing that could be done. I had lost Azi forever and she was no longer mine. Nothing could take away the pain, loneliness and the abandonment that I felt. When Azi left she took with her a piece of my childhood. The years that followed had less joy and were more difficult.

Twenty five years later when I was thirty and living in the States in a phone conversation with Azi who lives in Iran and I have not seen since I was seventeen, she said to me, "I still feel bad about abandoning you when you needed me so much." It was only then that I realized that our separation had been painful for her too.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Enlightenment, at last!

You know how so many therapists have written all these books about how not to be a co-dependent, how to be your own person and don’t look towards another person for validation and happiness. I have been trying to implement that in my life for as long as I remember. I’ve read books. I’ve gone to therapy, but I could never do it. It really always seemed like for me to be happy in life, I must have a man. For years, I wondered how I could feel happy without having a life partner. It seemed to me that life was all about finding someone to love and share your life with. Twice, I thought, I found that person, but I was wrong each time. After my divorce about three and a half years ago, I thought this time I will do it right. I’ll take my time and I’ll find the right person. But after three and a half years of searching, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such a person in the world for me. I can, actually, say that now without feeling a sharp pain in my stomach. It’s OK, really. I’m fine. I’m finally OK with it. It took a while to get here, but I’m finally here. I have finally reached Nirvana (grin), the state of happiness under all conditions. I think, maybe, or at least something close to it (not really)! We all get there somehow, right? Maybe not all. But I’m there. For so many years I have read the spiritual writings stating that detachment from this earthly life and earthly desires is the key to happiness and freedom from suffering. My ex-husband’s voice echoes in my mind, “You need to let go of desire. It’s only then that you can be happy.” He must know. He is a practicing monk. He went from being a Software Engineer to becoming a monk and living in a Buddhist monastery in Las Vagas, from all places, within a few short weeks. He would call me from the monastery and tell me that he meditated for eight hours that day. I always thought what stamina he has. I can’t meditate for more than five minutes. I must say that he was a monk for only a couple of months when he was going through a lot of emotinal pain. That was his way of finding solace. He is back to being a Software Engineer, thank God! But he meditates a lot and deals with life’s difficulties by practicing detachment. Buddhists say, “Desire will bring suffering.” I understand the concept totally, but letting go of all desires is way too difficult. I have already let go of so many things that I desired in life and never got. The last thing to let go of is finding a life partner that suites me. I am letting go of that as well.

I’ll tell you how I made this spiritual transformation or at least transformation. I don’t really know if it was spiritually based. At the risk of sounding, I don’t really know what, arrogant maybe, (grin) I will tell you what happened. I woke up one morning with extreme clarity of mind. That is when I see things with perfect clarity when I first wake up in the morning. That is when I’m most rational. Although it only takes a little while for my emotional needs to cloud my judgment, usually about 30 minutes. So during that time of clarity, I thought about all the men that I had actually dated since my divorce. I’m not talking about the ones that were interested in me, but I wasn’t interested in them and, therefore, I didn’t go out with them more than once or twice. I’m talking about the men that were interested in me, pursued me and I also became interested in them after a couple of dates. They were all highly educated, relatively attractive and successful in their own right. But they all seemed to have issues or be damaged in some way and these were supposedly the best of the bunch, at least on the surface. No, definitely on the surface. I realized that morning that I was actually more interesting than them, more well rounded than them, more mature than them, less confused than them, less self-centered and selfish than them. When I examined their character, I realized that they were all kind of flakey, unaware of their true feelings and scared at some level. I realized that I had been happier and emotionally healthier, since I hadn’t dated anybody. I thought, if this is what is out there, then not only I’m not missing out on anything, but also I’m gaining more by not putting up with a bunch of BS and by not wasting my time, energy and thoughts on these guys. Knowing that there probably isn’t anybody out there that is worthy of me and all that I have to give ( rolling my eyes big time) puts the idea of finding that person to rest. And I’m fine. The moment that I feel alone and in need of affection, I just remember the men that I opened myself up to in the last three and a half years and how incapable of giving and receiving they were. I remember the agony, frustration and the disappointment that I felt. From the guy who was so insecure that couldn’t stand the fact that I was more knowledgeable and educated than he was to the guy who said that I was too emotional and demanding when I got upset when he canceled our date for the fifth time just a few hours before we were supposed to go out, because his ex-wife who lived in another state had had a bad reaction to her chemotherapy treatment and was not feeling well. He said that he wasn’t up to going out anymore. Mind you, they had been divorced for three years and she was surrounded by her children and family during her battle with cancer in the opposite side of the country. There was also the guy who told me, “I don’t want to be your husband. I don’t want to be your boyfriend. I just want to sleep with you.” This guy was also the same guy who told me that we weren’t a good match, because I was spiritual and he wasn’t and oh, this is a good one, my English exasperated him. Yes, my English isn’t as good as his. He is a native born American with a Ph.D. There have been a few others.

I have decided that I will never again allow anyone make me feel bad about what I am whether it is my English, my accent or the fact that I am emotional. I’m not going to beat myself up for not measuring up to someone else’s standards. I refuse to allow my worth and value be determined by another person’s perception of me. The majority of my life I have struggled to please the people around me. I have tolerated unwarranted blame and abuse by different people in my life, people I don’t even respect. I will never let anyone make me feel less than what I am again. I have found that I’m a person of great strength. I have been the one taking care of most of the people in my life. I have been to hell and back and no one can tell by looking at me what I have lived through. I have not allowed myself to become broken by life’s calamities. I have finally realized that I am a person who is very reasonable and sensible and I’m not going to allow someone else to tell me otherwise. I will not allow the limited view and understanding that they may have of me affect the way I see myself. If that means that I have to be alone for the rest of my life, so be it. My mantra at the moment is “I can do it alone”.