I have not forgotten Iran. I have only now begun to move on.
I go out alone on most nights, roaming the city like a traveler. But unlike a traveler happily exploring, I am seeking something deeper. I live in an unconnected city and I seek to be connected. I often speak to strangers; I believe most people have a good story to tell. Last week I met George. I had been hitting a few bars in the East Village and by 2 a.m. I needed coffee. I walked into a McDonalds, got coffee and sat in a corner by the window. The usual crowd walked in: the drunks who were done with the night and were ready to enter the morning and start their breakfast early.
I caught the security guard’s attention. He seemed unoccupied and I needed a companion. I said hello and he walked toward me.
“Is there someone coming? Is he coming for you?”
“No. I am alone,” I said.
“You are too beautiful to be alone,” he said.
I thanked him and said that beautiful women can be lonely too.
We began a conversation then, like two old friends who were catching up. I found out that he wanted to be a fashion photographer and that he was an artist. I asked him about his job as a guard and what he had to deal with. He told me about an incident where a guy tried to punch him and George had to defend himself and then call the cops. He said he was good at reading people because it was part of his job, to detect those who would cause trouble.
I asked him how he would define life in a sentence. He thought for a bit, then asked what I thought. I told him that even though I am not great at it, I would like to live every moment to the fullest. He said he agreed.
It was those brief moments of connection that kept me happy the rest of the morning. I parted from George and decided it was time to head home as it was getting closer to 4 a.m.
Most of these strangers don’t become a permanent part of my life. Most of them only become stories that then turn into ideas. Sometimes I tell them about my story in Iran. I recently told a stranger that after 13 years, I am no longer nostalgic. He listened, then said that I must be a creative person.
Most of these strangers inspire me to keep trying until I find the connection I am looking for. But like love, you can’t go out expecting to find it on the streets, in the subways, on the roads that are covered with broken hearts. Love finds you when you are not looking for it. These connections are often best when they are spontaneous and unplanned.
Last night I found a new venue and listened to a new band. I found myself inspired again, the feeling was good though fleeting. I walked for a while on the dark streets, enjoying the fresh air that was no longer tainted by humidity or heat. I continued to walk and I knew that there would be no connection that night. Some nights it’s better to be alone, I decided. It’s a battle for me, to face myself, to take myself places and allow my soul to accept who she is. My wounded soul, for I have, out of habit, resorted to self-deprecation for many years. It’s been so long that I no longer a remember a time where I didn’t criticize myself. So on these nights, I must face myself alone and let my body carry me forward.
I become a city wanderer then, and I am no longer seeking connection. At this point in the night, leading to early morning, I simply want to feel alive and feel the city against my bones, against my skin, against my soul. I walk to the beat of my music and often realize I am in a deserted area. I then either choose to take the risk and keep walking or turn back to where there are people. I look at graffiti and make a mental note. I look at apartments and the constant division of class within one neighborhood. I no longer hear the honking cabs and the occasional night sirens. I no longer hear the conversation of friends and of people who have already been connected.
On rare occasions, I imagine myself as the newly arrived immigrant, and I remember that I went through a nightmarish type of loneliness, and that the one I live with now is only temporary. I realize that it is no longer the language that becomes a barrier, but sometimes the city itself. The mere fact that people constantly leave the city makes it hard to stay connected. And perhaps my personality too is to blame, for it seeks a special kind of connection…
And by daylight, I begin the search again. I become the seeker of connection.
I am the midnight visitor in my Virginia house on Cedar Lane. The house feels warm on on this July night. Everyone, including my four month-old niece Ayla, is asleep. I peek inside the room she is in. She has one hand up by her cheek- this is her sleeping habit. Before leaning in to give her a quick kiss, I look at her mother who is ready to sleep. My sister gives me her reassuring smile. Ayla moves a little bit; I suddenly fear that I have broken her peace. But she sweetly remains asleep as if the kiss was only part of her dream.
There are no traces of sadness or of loss here. There is only the warmth of a newborn, the pure baby smell that’s found nowhere else, and the echoing laughter that lingers even on a silent night like this.
Upstairs in my old room, there is now Ayla’s belongings. Her parents are looking for a house to buy, so their stay is also temporary. Aside from a few photographs of mine left on the wall, the room is no longer tainted by my nostalgia, but filled with Ayla’s light- her little stuffed animals, her gifts from family and friends, her hospital blanket.
I don’t know if we buried our sufferings, the old pain, the old tears. Sometimes they resurface, at least they do for me. But the overarching, the ultimate peace has been reached. Twenty-four years ago, after years of sadness, loss, and revolution, my birth brought light in my family’s life. Today, Ayla is the life and light that we needed again to keep living.
I am the midnight visitor. I have a plane to catch in a few hours back to New York. I leave my parents a note in Farsi: “I stayed the night, but missed you. Love you both.”