One summer night, my cousins and I, including our parents, decided to take a swim in the Caspian Sea. My cousin’s family had a villa house right by the beach, and that part of the ocean was ours, a private space where we lit fires and ate barbeque. All I remember is the dark water, the soft sand between my toes, the warm air, and a lot of laughter. My younger cousin and I were just sitting near the edge, getting wet, while his older brothers were going for a swim. “Don’t go too far!” Their mother yelled after them.
Earlier, we had been dancing to traditional southern Iranian music, the kind that requires going around in circles and throwing our arms up in the air. We had a lot of nights like that, just dancing, playing cards until we all got exhausted and went to bed.
The villa was an escape from Tehran, the crowded, polluted capital. It was an escape for us kids because we weren’t in school, and because we could run around on the beach and make sand castles or throw sand at each other. There was something about that place that I continue to be nostalgic for. I remember these white walls that surrounded the orchards and the steps we walked up to get to the gate, and then after that, it was just freedom. The freedom to run, to watch the waves, to be children, and careless.
Our parents’ political past, their obtrusive lack of freedom was something we children weren’t aware of yet. And now when I realize this, I know that parting for them from such a peaceful place must have been so much harder than it was for us. I understand now, why my mother always swam into the depths, deep ends of the ocean, far away from the beach, and pulled me along with her even though I screamed, and begged because I was afraid of the deep waters. She never was afraid. For her, that was the most free she could be, and taking me with her was only her way of sharing that freedom with me. But I always cried, and always became mad because I thought she never understood my fear. She even had this habit of pushing my head down the water, just for a moment, as if to test me, as if to make me feel there was nothing to be afraid of. I always swallowed the salty waters because she did it when I least expected her, and because I didn’t yet trust her. I just wrapped my arms tightly around her, and sometimes she wanted to let go, but I fought and in the end, I think I disappointed her.
I am even nostalgic for the car rides back to the city, where everyone was less jolly, more bored, not ready for reality. I always became carsick; there were a lot of deep turns, around the mountains. We were up high, often very close to the edge where below was just rocks and the ends of the mountains. Those roads were dangerous; a lot of deathly accidents happened there. My mother always wanted me to pay closer attention to the view, to nature, but I always wanted to close my eyes, and try to sleep. Perhaps if I had listened, I’d have a better image in my head now, and I’d describe it better. But I remember. I remember her, and us, and our surroundings, and all those trips that we all knew would eventually end.
When they sold that villa house, it was as if our freedom was sold. And we eventually all immigrated, and there was only with us the memories of a time long ago when some of us basked in the innocent pleasures of childhood, and others in the little freedom they could acquire.
And the Caspian sea remains still, a big part of my memory, now deeply vague, but bitterly sweet.