We don’t live there anymore

My mother sold my childhood home. The summer I was 18 and graduated from high school, Mom flew from Virginia to Tehran for my brother’s wedding and shortly after, called me and my sister Ra to tell us they sold our apartment. My brother and Mom both decided that since he was getting married and needed more privacy from our family-owned building, it was time for him to move.
I looked at Ra in disbelief. She burst out crying on the phone and said, in between sobs, “Couldn’t you wait Mom? Couldn’t you at least have discussed it with us?”
Mom said, “We don’t live there anymore. It had to be done; your brother had made up his mind.”
We hung up the phone and I thought about our apartment in Tehran. Thirty-four years ago, Dad and his brother bought the land and watched it built from scratch. Dad took the third floor; my uncle moved in with his wife on the first, right above the basement and the garden and the little pool, their mother lived on the second and when she passed, my older brother and cousin took her place. My aunt planted the garden and by the time I was 10, a tall walnut tree grew as high as our floor. Each floor had a balcony that overlooked the garden and the pool. On the rooftop, we ate watermelon in the summer, all the first and second cousins sitting around a tablecloth with pillows against the edges, watching the city around us, the Alborz Mountains in the North and hearing the Azan at night from the mosque. My uncle would knife the melon and cut it into equal pieces and we’d eat it with our hands, washing them later with the hose.
We had lots of gatherings on the Third Floor, birthdays, funerals, and then later goodbye parties for those immigrating to the States.
In our kitchen, Mom made blackberry jam once every summer. During Ramadan (when we still believed in God), we ate Sahari (the first meal) at dawn by the round yellow table that faced the oven. When I was little, I didn’t fast, but once I tried it just so I could sit with my siblings and eat a meal with them. Mom made rice with chicken and then we had tea afterwards, all of us feeling a bit queasy and going right back to bed. The kitchen tiles were white, and Mom made sure they stayed that way. Once a month, she washed the entire kitchen with a hose, emptied every single cabinet, washed the floor, the fridge and the windows until the place sparkled.
My childhood space was the dining room—we called it the Big Room because it was bigger than the living room and fit a lot of people. Because I shared a room with Ra, I didn’t have room for my toys and dolls so Mom let me place them in the cabinets inside the Big Room. I even had a key so I could lock them up when I didn’t want other kids to touch them while I was gone. I played in the Big Room when the adults weren’t around. I prayed there too or pretended when I was six, seven and eight and still hadn’t learned to pray at school. Mom bought me a small sized veil and I assumed different titles in my made up games—my favorite role was the schoolteacher where I wore the veil extra tight to make sure not a single hair showed, just like my teachers. I brought playmates in the Big Room, mostly my second cousins. Once we had a sleepover and saw the moon, full-circle and bright shining into the Big Room from the window. It’s an image I never forget, both frightening and comforting as my eight year-old mind raced with thoughts about what it would be like to grow up and move outside the walls of the Big Room.
Mom sold our apartment on Negahban Street to strangers. After years of family occupants, after years of memories, of comings and goings, another family of six took the Third Floor. Our Third Floor. Ra and I didn’t speak much about it, other than to say, “Bavaram nemisheh, I can’t believe it” over and over again like repeating it would somehow make sense out of it.
For eleven years I had loved that house and to this day, when I close my eyes, I can see everything, every detail, every object, even the single moments that the six of us lived there as a family. In our apartment in Virginia, I had nothing to love. Everything we owned, from the sofa to the dining room table to the television looked second-hand, the bare essentials of living bought from a cheap store with discount. Even the Indian rug wore out after a few weeks and lost its color. There was nothing permanent about our one-bedroom apartment, nothing admiring, nothing that even matched.
No matter how assimilated you become, you are always an immigrant, attached to your first home. I had just learned that my only home had now been sold to strangers who would never share the same memories. There was no going back now, I thought. Where would I go if I visited Tehran? How could I walk our street and not go up the stairs to the Third Floor? I imagined myself going back, kneeling behind the white door, touching the surface, knocking until the new occupants opened. Then I would yell for them to get out of my house, and I would lie in the Big Room and remember what it was like being a child.
“We don’t live there anymore,” Mom had said.
I realized later that when she sold the house, she had already moved on and willingly accepted her home in the States. She didn’t share my impermanence, my homelessness. She had taken away my safety and security, and expected me to love the new American home.
She thought that at 11 years old, I would understand that expectation.

One Comment, RSS

  1. hairofthedawg November 10, 2010 @ 9:58 am

    Yeah, they sold the place I’ve called home forever a couple of years ago. My brother wasn’t making any money and had just lost an arm in accident so it was for the best. It still sucks.
    I know the people that bought it though so I don’t think they’ll mind if I stop by to go walk through the cow manure on my way to look for agates on the riverbanks. Maybe they’ll still let me build a small fire and roast some hot dogs on the riverbank like my grandma, brother and I did many years ago. Now I have a beer or three with the hot dogs and listen to the Mariners on the radio if baseball’s in season.
    It’s the little things that get you.

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