Creative Writing

Poetry


“Rarely on My Remington”

February 23, 2016

I rarely write poems on my Remington,

For the tip-tapping clicks off my creative mind.

On each word the space bar bumps,

Interrupting the usual dance of poetic prose across the page.

 

The shift keys lock each stanza into

Confining aligning regulation.

Though bound by the faded ink and tightly strung ribbon,

The free verse poem struggles to set itself apart.

 

And so I rarely write poems on my Remington.

I prefer my fine-pointed pen gliding across unlined paper,

For these instruments allow fluidity and flow,

Presenting a stage for the brief piece of literature

To dance in a flurry across the page;

Akin to the vibrating strings on a booming cello

The dance boldly covers the page, leaving few opportunities

For spaces,

For rests,

For breaths.

 

Yet this youthful performance

Inevitably transcends and tires into a light stroll.

Gently strumming the strings of a setar,

The dancer sits cross-legged in the center of the stage,

Coming to the end of its fleeting lifetime

On this stage

Set by a pen and a piece of paper.


“The Passing Below”

Fall 2008

Published in The Manuscript (2009), Moravian College’s literary magazine

I wrote this poem on a damp autumn day at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, New Jersey. There are countless works about autumn, but I hope that this one stands out due to its thought-provoking imagery, psychological meaning, and its shape. It (essentially the leaf) ponders whether happiness is achieved through wisdom and endurance, or perhaps the “critters below” have found bliss after all. The wrinkled old leaf has an admirable view from above but experiences tragic loneliness, a common feeling among elderly people. The poem is shaped to exemplify a falling leaf because even though the speaker refuses to fall, she secretly wonders what it would be like to go back in time.

Eight and a half seasons

pass

And I have not fallen from

my

Branch, said the wrinkled auburn

leaf.

 

The view makes me laugh,

she said,

For it is too good to last.

passing

My time while the critters

below

Gossip because they cannot

See what I can see.

 

Once above my eyes,

trees

Are now all my eyes

Ever see.

 

I will not fall,

She said,

But oh,

How I miss seeing your eyes.


“Relationship No. 4 (19th Movement)”

Fall 2008

Published in The Manuscript (2009), Moravian College’s literary magazine

I wrote this poem on a damp day at the Dodge Poetry Festival in Waterloo, New Jersey. I combined my interests in music, poetry, and relationships to produce multi-faceted imagery which, I’ve been told, is both humorous and thought-provoking.

The fermata falls

to my stomach.

It will churn my midnight snack

But I hold the falling

bird’s eye down

Because the music tells me to

And i never ignore the Music.

 

Verdi knows how the fermata falls

Deep into the stomach.

Romanticism toys with my

body as I tremolo with my bow.

Stop it! It tickles

too much!

 

Those drawn out notes last forever

uncontrollably touching upon one another

like rambling love notes

from a first lust.

 

Stay still!

Can’t you keep track of time?

I cannot follow these

Twists and turns.

I need a break.

I miss Haydn’s sweet bars

of rest. They give me some

Time

to listen

to drink

to speak

with another.

 

Like Verdi.

He holds me forever

As I squirm in my chair

The love notes never near

an end. He knows not how

to stop the movement

And so, he stays my friend.


“Behind Our Ears”

Published in The Manuscript (2009), Moravian College’s literary magazine

This poem is based on my family of artists.

 

My father keeps a paintbrush behind his ear.

I keep a pencil.

My father uses his hands to express.

I use a stencil.

 

My father and I are artists.

I like to sketch, but mostly to write.

Either way, we’re artists.

Caged birds ready for flight.

 

My mother keeps a paintbrush behind her ear.

A pen behind the other.

Her pockets filled with presents.

There’s no one like my mother.

 

I come from a family of artists

As we like to say.

Behind our ears

We hear calls of others’ cluttered fears.

 

It’s a blessing and a curse

To be an artist

For we love what we do

Yet hate how few understand

 

The paradox of happiness

For being truly happy

Always has a price.

Enjoying your purpose in the world

Never can suffice

Proudly pointing to your house.

 

We wish we weren’t meant to bear this blessing

And yet every time we do,

We see the beauty behind our ears.


Personal Essays


“Tree Hugger”

Fall 2007

Published in The Manuscript (2009), Moravian College’s literary magazine

This piece personally connect with the reader and expresses an often-lost emotion behind a construction site, ultimately redeeming the term ‘tree hugger’ on a relatable, more personal level. “Tree Hugger” links the morality of tearing down trees with the aesthetics of nature through the use of imagery, personal flashback, and reactions to the two as they weave in and out of one another. The memoir is bolstered with facts and softened with related sentimental feelings. The piece was written with intent to inspire the readers to think twice when they see another construction site, and with intent to emotionally and personally connect with the readers, who will have more appreciation for their mothers and fathers, and for their Mother Nature, when they gain a better understanding from a different kind of tree hugger’s perspective. 

I watched bull-dozers destroy my childhood the morning before my eighteenth birthday. I still regret not running outside and hugging those trees, as my yard was turned into a construction site. Instead, I stood at the window in disbelief.

We see it every day – trees torn down to build a house – tractors eating the branches of the left-over stumps. I never completely understood the tree hugger’s despair until my own trees, the trees I had climbed as a scrawny little kid, were gone. Those trees had held my memories since I ran into their arms at the age of three. And they were cut to shreds in less than an hour.

I blew out eighteen candles while the destruction roared outside our kitchen window. My parents and I decided to get away and treat ourselves to a shopping spree. It was October of 2007, the month of all our birthdays. They bought me the laptop on which I am typing this memoir, and we returned to our home a few hours later and found its greenness grey. The grass was dirt. The trees were stumps. My tattered yellow swing was lying on our porch. The raspberry bushes had been eaten by the machines.

Today, where the towering twin oak trees stood in the center of our side yard is our neighbor’s living room and kitchen. Where my rubber yellow swing swung from one of their branches is a paved driveway, used as a parking lot and basketball court for two gangling high school boys. We got lucky; we have some lovely neighbors on a street filled with some not-so-lovely, rowdy, and narrow-minded residents, but our lovely neighbors will never know what their existence replaced in our eyes.

Our side yard once had green grass, brown and green oak trees, luscious red and green raspberry bushes, poisonous shiny red berries, and fuzzy red sumac trees. The two largest oak trees in the middle faced toward our half-a-double house. To the right of the other big oak tree was a set of slate steps. Living in the Slate Belt of the Pennsylvania, we were never short of slate. As a child, I skipped up and down those steps, dancing around the twin oak trees, teasing the chipmunk who dug his home underneath the top step.

Behind the biggest oak trees sat a bench and a table, which served as a seating area for our many guests. In the front of the yard, to the right of the pillared oak trees were raspberry bushes, which my mother gladly shared with the neighborhood children. An arbor of three skinnier, but equally tall oak trees wrapped around the outside of the yard, harboring us from the hectic traffic from the high school up the street. And in the back was a tree of fuzzy red sumac, surrounded by daisies and daffodils in the springtime, and draped with snow in the wintertime. Once my neighbor discovered that we put the sumac in our salads, she was convinced that we were a family of witches.

The yard was picturesque, covered in diversely colored autumn leaves. We always loved sitting outside in October, celebrating our birthdays and Halloween with our closest friends and family. So seeing the trees fall amidst the autumn leaves on the cool ground was a tough image to face on my last morning as a kid.

On my third Halloween, I dressed up in a glittering turquoise Persian costume, assumed to be a genie costume, and danced in the leaves. I smiled at and giggled with my mother, who was dancing with her camera at hand – always with her camera – and my father waving with love in the kitchen window. The green grass and moss felt a little damp beneath my feet, but the dampness was blanketed with the crisp leaves crunching beneath the soles of my mother’s and my shoes as we twirled around in circles. Where we danced is where my neighbors eat their holiday dinners.

My father painted with watercolors outside in the summer of 1998. We sat in the yard, underneath the arbor of the large oak tree on the left. I swung from my swing, facing him and his flowing wet paintbrush, as my mother sat on the dark green bench and read a book. All our summers preserved that simple happiness for as long as I can remember. “We are a family of artists,” my mother repeated underneath the shining sun through the green leaves of the trees. We talked about art and laughed, knowing that we were not the richest with money, but the richest with love for each other and love for our arts. My father showed me how to mix the watercolors without turning a painting into a dripping pile of brown mess. I sat in his lap and painted on a little strip of paper that I later declared a bookmark. Where we sat is where our neighbors watch TV when they wind down after a long day.

On many nights, school nights and week-nights, I caught my mother awake and swinging on the swing. She caught me up at late hours doing the same thing. We would close our eyes and feel the branch waver as we swung higher and higher. After keeping our eyes wide shut, we would open them with a renewed sense of wonder, looking up at the moon and the stars and at each other in a new light. We talked about this and many other things until one of us decided it was time for bed. We talked about the promise of tomorrow and the glimmer of the past. In the summertime we wore shorts and T-shirts and in the wintertime we wore hats and scarves. Still, we would swing and talk until the weights on our eyes gave in to the night. Where we swung is where our neighbors park their cars shortly after the sun sets.

Living in one of the many half doubles on our street, my mother always used to say how lucky we were to have a big side yard. It gave us privacy. A home away from home.

But we are renters. We rent our half-a-double house, and rented the side yard with it until we switched landlords. Our old landlord refused to sell the yard to our new landlords, as he was hoping to make a bigger chunk of cash from it. And so he did. Apparently trees cut down to build a house are worth more than a green yard full of memories.

Since Columbus Day is right around my mother’s and my birthday in October, the holiday always gave us a three-day-weekend to celebrate together. She insisted on educating me not only on Christopher Columbus, but on the other side of the story, the Native Americans. Where she taught me is where she teaches me today – our living room. I remember learning at a very young age how the Native Americans value the land’s sacredness. When the Europeans burst into their ways of life, they perplexed the Native societies with their concept of the buying and selling of land. The Native Americans had never “sold” land because land and the nature upon it were regarded as home. Even if they built on the land, they did so with respect and did not treat Mother Nature like something with monetary value. Instead she was treated with respect, and they did not compromise her dignity by bringing in gold coins or machines to eat her branches and bushes.

I finally understood what my mother was trying to teach me when I wanted to eat chocolate cake and celebrate with my friends like a normal kid. I finally understood when I saw my little piece of Mother Nature disrespected as I blew out eighteen candles from a “normal” rectangular chocolate birthday cake. I returned to my dorm room as a legal adult that night, feeling stripped of my childhood. While the memories in our green side-yard will never fade into darkness, the barks of the trees sure did, and it was enough to make me feel sad, but also angry that my family lost that greenness to the greedy hands of our old landlord.

Like many other children, I attended many of my conditional friends’ birthday parties. Quite a few of those parties were at houses larger than ours, and their parents owned their houses. At a very young age, we recognize the differences between our households, the houses we live in and the arms that hold us when we wake up from a nightmare. My parents rented a house, while most of my friends’ parents were able to own a house. Other households had clean cut lawns that have not changed as my friends moved on to high school and college. It was hard to attend those birthday parties and swim in those in-ground pools. I was embarrassed. But now I realize that even after losing my little piece of Mother Nature, I have just as much as they ever did because I have support from my old oak trees, my mother and father.

My parents and I, as renters of our house on our current landlord’s land, do not rent the memories in that house – they are not for sale. The memories in our old side yard were never for sale, so they do not fade with the destruction of last October. They stay vivid in my family’s mind and vivid on this paper, which, undeniably, was made as a result of another tree demolishing.

Driving the winding roads of the Lehigh Valley from home to school and then back again, I readily see more trees being torn down outside my car window. It makes me wonder what animals made their home in that wilderness before humans decided to build their home in the home of Mother Nature. I wonder what we should all wonder when we see machines eating the branches of trees, the berries of bushes, the innocent flowers whose faces are squashed underneath the violent roaring of a yellow bull-dozer. Maybe a couple of green and reckless teenagers shared their first kiss underneath the branches of those trees. Or maybe it was only the boy’s first kiss and not the girl’s. And in six months, their make-out spot will be a toddler’s first room to himself, with a big-boy bed covered with his favorite cartoon. Maybe his dresser will be made of real oak wood from the yard of someone else’s childhood. But we don’t really think of this when we drive or walk by a construction site. We shrug and maybe hope that the house looks nice and fits in with the rest of the neighborhood.

I’ll always remember the two pillared oak trees in the center of our old yard. They were old when they caught me in their arms, and they were old when their arms were chopped off at the end of their lives. Looking through our family photo albums, our side yard is the backdrop for the first eighteen years of my life. Behind preschool, birthday parties, concerts, high school, get-togethers with family friends, prom, and graduation stood two strong trees, my parents. Those tall oak trees may be gone now, but no bull-dozer can ever take my parents away from me. Their undying love and support will stay with me long after they are stumps in the ground. I’m grateful for the old trees in my life. So every time I hug one of my parents or aunts and uncles, I realize that we are all tree huggers even if we never leave our houses. On my last day as a kid, the greenness in my life was stripped away. And I didn’t even run outside to dance amidst the leaves, or swing from my mother’s branches, or hug the trees one last time. Instead, I stayed inside and hugged my parents. As I became a legal adult, I became a tree hugger. And now I understand the activists who lie on the ground or cling to the tree’s trunks as they prepare to fall to their impending death, sometimes both the tree’s and the tree hugger’s death. Tree huggers live and die for the oxygen in their lungs from the trees that keep them alive in the first place. They live for the moments underneath the green arbor in our lives. We live to first and foremost embrace one another, and so I have learned to live for the greenness and the life it brings. And I embrace it; I hug it whenever it comes my way. If that makes me a tree hugger, then I am proud to be one.


“Friendly Fawns”

Written August 1, 2014

Experienced July 22, 2014 at Dr. Melinda Toney’s homeopathic doctor’s office in Catasauqua, Pa.

As I wandered through the naturally paved pathways of Melinda’s outdoor doctor’s office, I came upon an open field of grass lined by a forest. I walked slowly carrying a cup of lukewarm green tea. Out of the haze of green ran two fawns directly toward me. Showcasing their multitude of white innocent marks, they boldly locked their eyes with mine. Perhaps my dress, adorned with blurs and splashes of rosy color, reminded them of a familiar flower bush (I may never know). I am almost certain though, that these fawns ran toward me as if recreating a reunion between long lost friends.

We may have known each other from another lifetime – I thought in this moment as they drew closer – but now we were meeting again in this life. The fawns slowed their stroll; I stood still. A few more steps on either of our parts could have given me the gift of touching their soft supple fur. Instead, I was given a different gift – that of curiosity and solitude. The fawns cocked their heads to the side and I began to do the same, mimicking their curiosity. We stood frozen in time wondering how and why two fawns and a human ended up within limb’s reach of each other. I broke the silence with a nervous giggle, and they remained though slightly shaken by this foreign sound I had created in the midst of their habitat. Their stunned silence developed into a confusion. So the two fawns turned to each other as if to say, “We saw her and delivered our message,” and then trotted quickly back into their forest.

I stood for a few moments longer, soaking in this meeting for whatever it was worth. Smiling wide and looking around for another human to possibly witness it, I made my way to the nearby river to finish my cooled green tea. I circled back to our meeting place. I stood and waited. One of the fawns peeked its head out of the line of trees and walked toward me again! This time she kept her distance, but yet again locked her eyes with mine. Then she went home to her companion and perhaps told this same story.


Short Stories


“Tears of Rain”

Winner of Lebensfeld Prize for Best Short Story, Moravian College, 2009

I am passionate about this story because of what I hope it can do to change the minds and hearts of many people in the world. It illustrates a fictional scenario in which the U.S. military occupies a revolution in Iran. As an Iranian-American, this story is partly autobiographical as it brings together four women: an American-Iranian college student and her Iranian mother in the U.S., her cousin in Iran, and her friend in the Marines who finds herself thrown into an uprising in the middle of Azadi Square. This interweaving evokes the questions: How would you feel if this was your family? What part of the equation are you in the melting pot of the U.S., and of the world? 

October 27, 2010

“It’s about time we stopped them,” Elaine said.

The little television set in the booth of the college cafeteria shone in unison with the dozens and dozens of others on campus.

“They would have declared war on us if we hadn’t done it first. They could have destroyed our country with all that nuclear power if we hadn’t taken a stand.”
Nervously tossing her auburn hair from side to side, Norah said, “Who’s ‘we’?”

“Well, us,” Elaine said.

“And who’s ‘they’?” Norah said.

“Well, the Iranians,” Elaine said.

Norah tilted her high cheek bones toward the closest window and solemnly finished her ham and cheese wrap.

***

Late Spring, 1979

Pictures of the Ayatollah flooded the streets of Iran. A little boy misunderstood the pictures of the fanatic dictator as those of his grandfather. Raha’s parents and Raha herself decided it was time for her to leave. She didn’t want her future children mistaking the Ayatollah for their grandfather.

Her mother didn’t like to cry. It wasn’t her style, she always said. She was the strong pillar of the family of nine. The pillar stayed standing in the doorway of the house and calmly and lovingly waved goodbye to her only daughter, who was leaving home the spring after her college graduation.

Raha’s father liked to walk, everywhere. He walked two and a half miles to work everyday of his life. Well, almost everyday. The airport was less than a mile from their large ornate house, which all the neighborhood children and adults deemed their second home. Raha and her dad, her beloved Baba, carried her bags on their backs, giggling like children running away from home. But her Baba wasn’t running away. Only she could. Maybe she’d be back, she thought.

They laughed not to cry and held hands as they walked down Esfahan Boulevard one last time.

***

Raha did not have a veil to take off on the plane. There were a few ladies who removed theirs as they settled in their seats. Some veils were prettier than others, she noticed. There were veils with paisleys, with lace classily placed around the edges, with distinct colors like soft rose pink, turquoise blue, saffron yellow, stained crimson, and chocolate brown. Sometimes these designs even matched the ladies’ shoes and purses. There were others who wore dimmed veils of black and grey. Most of these veils stayed on for a very long time.

She didn’t talk to anyone on the plane. She sat quietly, pretending to read a book that her cousin lent her. She suddenly reverted back to those long lost times in grade school when she was shy.

The airport was sunny. Raha laughed aloud as the rain dripped on her face, covering and comforting her tears. She walked from the airplane to the door of the airport with her two carry-on bags dripping with memorable knickknacks.

“Raha!” Her sister-in-law called to every person with a veil. She hadn’t seen Raha since the play in her middle-school auditorium. Raha giggled and took a moment to lovingly watch her sister-in-law make a fool out of herself. At last, her oldest brother Nader playfully grabbed her hand, and paused. “What kind of tears are those?”

“Tears of rain, baraadar! What kind are those?”

“Tears of rain.”

***

She called her home in the capital of Iran from a payphone in the airport in New York City. One of the neighborhood kids answered the phone.

“It’s Rahaaaeeeeeé!”

She felt as if all those veils that she saw on the plane were weighing her down one paisley at a time.

“Raha, joon!” her mother said.

And the black and grey veils disappeared, leaving nothing but an assortment of color on her face.

***

Early Spring, 1985

“Deary, I can’t believe you didn’t even wear a veil at your own wedding! This is the only wedding you’ve ever had, and you didn’t even wear that gorgeous ivory veil we saw in the store. Against your olive skin, oh, you would have looked gorgeous. It’s not like you never wore a veil before! Do you miss home?”

Raha paused, lifted one eyebrow slightly, tilted her head, and shifted back into a knowing smile after only a moment.

“Actually I’ve never worn one.”

***

October 27, 1995

Norah skipped into her kindergarten class. You could never miss that girl in a crowd. Her mother had let her dress herself since she could crawl. An independent creature, Norah rarely admitted that it was her mother’s inspiration that really got her up and dressed her in the morning.

“Why does your mom talk like that?” said Jimmy, a freckled chubby face with glasses as thick as a soda bottle.

“Talk like what?” Norah asked.

“Like she’s an alien!” Caroline, Jimmy’s twin sister, said.

“Are you an alien?” Jimmy said.

Norah turned her head toward the craft table, where her best friend Miranda was making them matching friendship bracelets with plastic red and turquoise beads.

“I think they’re both aliens. Why else would she dress like one?” Caroline said to her brother.

“Hey!” Miranda chimed in.

“What?” the soda bottle twins said.

“I’m an alien too, so I have superb hearing capabilities,” Norah’s best friend said. Norah and Miranda stuck up their noses.

“Those are some big words there, aliens! Aliens, why don’t you go back to where you came from?” Jimmy said.

“I’m from everywhere!” Norah screamed playfully, yet with tears in her eyes.

Mrs. Lavenberg took Norah by the wrist and looked her straight in the eyes. “Little girl, you better lower your voice or I will send you back to where you came from!”

***

Norah always came home from school to see her daddy painting. Always painting. He painted a picture of her once, and after that she approved of his obsession.

“Your mom is making rice and gravy tonight,” Leonard told his daughter with a sparkle in his eye.

“And . . . stuffed grape leaves?!” Norah hoped.

“We have plenty of stuffed grape leaves, my little girl. Remember, from your birthday?”

“Oh. Right.”

Leonard looked up from his obsession and toward his daughter.

For her fifth birthday, all three of them spent hours in the kitchen preparing. All her friends were coming to celebrate and there wasn’t a moment to waste. Norah and her parents had made all of her mother’s specialties, but most importantly, Norah’s favorite: stuffed grape leaves. Some of her friends had stuck their fingers down their throats and ran out of the house looking for potato chips.

***

Late Spring, 2007

Norah found herself in a sea of pearly white. Miranda and a few of their best girlfriends tackled her with a hug. They fell to the damp green ground in their white caps and gowns, and laughed. It was finally here, the day they had been dreaming of since their first day of Kindergarten.

Norah’s parents, meanwhile, had the video camera rolling and got the whole giggle-fit between their daughter and her best friends. Miranda hugged Norah again, just the two of them, and they clasped each other’s hands, their friendship bracelets of red and turquoise clicking together as they swung arms.

“Your speech was great, Nor.”

“You especially liked the part when I thanked my best friend, didn’t you?” Norah giggled.

“Yeah, that was my favorite part!” Miranda said with a bashful smile.

“It was my favorite part, too.” Norah said.

Raha put her arm around her daughter’s broad shoulders and said, “Hey Miss Salutatorian, can I get a picture?”

Norah blushed and smiled, with a few tears rolling down her rosy freckled cheeks. Miranda took a picture of Leonard and Raha with their daughter, the Salutatorian of Pleasant Valley High School’s class of 2007. They lived in a small town in Pennsylvania, so the high school’s class size was under a hundred students. Still, Leonard and Raha couldn’t contain how proud and happy they were for their only daughter. Norah put her arms around each of her parent’s waist. Norah’s auburn hair matched her father’s wavy red hair, which was mostly silver by then. Her cheekbones, covered with millions of tiny freckles, arched like her mother’s cheekbones, high and prominent, which made Norah and Raha always seem to be smiling. Miranda pressed the button to take the picture of the happy family of three.

“Where’s your mom, Miranda?” Raha said.

“She’s running late from work. Her boss at the new restaurant really likes her, and keeps her late some days. But she promised we’d go out for ice cream later tonight.” Miranda looked down at her small hands and cracked her knuckles, her curly brown hair covering her olive skin.

Raha’s honey eyes found Miranda’s deep brown eyes, and said, “Well then, you’re coming to celebrate with us for a while!”

“No, really, it’s okay . . .” Miranda stuttered.

“No, really, you’re like family,” Raha said.

Miranda smiled another bashful smile and agreed to walk with them to their humble house down the street. Miranda and Norah walked across their high school football field together one last time.

That was the first day Norah ever felt just a little awkward around her best friend. There was no way she’d let Miranda walk home after graduation alone. Still, now that high school was over, she finally felt reality sink in. She was going to college on three big scholarships twenty minutes away from Pleasant Valley. Miranda was joining the Marines and would be at boot camp all the way in Texas. It all seemed so far away – high school, college, boot camp. All that seemed real was the summer of 2007 and the taste of vanilla and chocolate graduation cake.

***

October 27, 2010

“Ugh, this wrap is terrible!”

Norah looked up at her friend.

Elaine pushed her lunch away, “I don’t know why I ordered this green shit. Do you wanna go to Applebee’s or something?”

Norah stared blankly at the television screen. She pulled at her lip, so that maybe she could pull the words out of her head. But she couldn’t. She was too drained to do anything. If it wasn’t for her red college sweatshirt, she would have looked like a ghost. Her eyes stayed widely open and looking at the screen until everyone left to finish their partying for the weekend. Elaine stayed though. She was a good friend, but had no idea why Norah hadn’t looked away from the television screen for twenty minutes.

“Seriously, girl. I’ve been timing you, and you haven’t looked at my face for almost a half hour. Since when do you care about politics?”

“It isn’t politics anymore. I have to go. Eat your green shit and I’ll see you later.”

Iran declared war on America. Yeah, right. America declared war on Iran. Does it matter? They were fighting, just like teenage bullies who gossip about each other in the street corners. Pushing and shoving, nagging “you started it.”

But it was so different to her. She wasn’t one of the bullies. She was both of them.

Norah felt at war with herself. It was as if two halves of her body were destined to destroy each other, as two parts of the world declared war.

The countries continue to push and shove, nearly shifting the Earth off its balance, and nearly shifting her lunch out of her stomach and onto the floor.

***

At least it was autumn, she thought. Norah loved autumn. She could walk down Main Street and step on millions of leaves. She always liked stepping on leaves. She walked and walked and walked, abnormally disregarding her MP3 player in her bulky purse.

Walking into her dorm room, she attacked her fridge. She had been saving her mom’s rice and gravy, with those salty, crunchy tadigh potatoes for a special time. She shrugged and figured this was that time. She lay on the floor with a bag of potato chips under her left arm and her bowl of yummy goodness in her right arm.

Elaine walked in.

“This is where I’m meant to be, roomie!” Norah said.

“What have you been smoking, Norah?” Elaine joked.

Norah let out a huge sigh and fell asleep with her head in a bowl of tadigh. Elaine draped a blanket over her roommate and shook her head with a smile.

***

October 28, 2010

Norah woke up the next morning to the blurred sounds of another television. She couldn’t escape the news. Iran was the new Iraq. She had random outbursts in class about her mother, the great Raha, who left during the revolution. “So if the new Iraq is Iran, the new black is green, then maybe the new 1979 is now! And we should happily greet those ‘crazy’ Iranians at the airports! They are our brothers and sisters too!”

But those same Iranians weren’t her classmates’ brothers and sisters. And it was virtually useless trying to help them understand these raging internal and external wars.

As she was walking out of her math class, where this kind of conversation was completely irrelevant, Norah opened her phone to three missed calls. She giggled to herself; her phone was always blowing up. The first call was from her mother (not unusual), the second from Miranda, the third from her cousin Arézoo in Iran.

“Hey Mom, what’s up?”

“I’m picking you up from school.”

“Why?”

“Just walk back to your room. Don’t get distracted by anything else. I need to see you.”

“Okay . . . I have my writing class later though . . . “

“Just walk back to your room. Just walk.”

***

Don’t get distracted by anything else. …Just walk. Maybe she should have listened.

“Arézoo! Cheh-toe-ree? How are you?”

“I need to see you.”

“Well that time will come, my cousin! One of us needs to cross the Atlantic first, huh?”

“One of us does, indeed!”

Arézoo choked over her words.

“Those damn Americans!” Norah’s cousin gasped. “I’m sorry! But those fucking Americans!”

“Since when did you learn curse words?” Norah joked through a failed attempt to provide comic relief, choking through her tears because she knew in her heart what her cousin was about to say.

***

Norah didn’t feel like calling Miranda back. Those damn Americans! Norah didn’t feel like an American. She didn’t feel like anything. The autumn air cut through her throat and took away her identity, lifting her spirit so high that she could no longer reach it. Another wave of air caught her throat as her parents’ car drove past and came to a screeching stop at Norah’s feet.

…I’m an orphan.

It was in the middle of Tehran. Arézoo walked with her parents, carrying a few groceries in plastic bags. A gust of autumn air blew Arézoo’s dark green veil off her long curly brown hair and onto an American soldier’s shoulder. The soldier scurried away from his assigned position and placed his calloused palm on Arézoo’s upper back. She held her breath with her broad lips slightly parted and turned around to face the soldier.

“You lost this, little girl?” he said.

“I . . .” she said.

“Get your hands off my daughter!” Arézoo’s mother glared, remembering the English she had learned in high school. She shouted in a high-pitched sigh, not unlike any other mother. “She is not a little girl, she is seventeen years old!”

“I’m so sorry . . .” the soldier said.

Arézoo’s father held his wife’s hand and wrapped his other arm around his daughter’s broad shoulders. He slowly raised his head to look up at the soldier, his nostrils flaring and his slightly wrinkled face scrunched up like a frightened tiny animal. Trying his best to think in English, but feel in Farsi, he said, “Why . . . why . . . you . . . soldiers . . . here . . . in our Azadi Square?” he couldn’t help himself.

The soldier held his gun in his arms and slouched, tilting his head and smoky blue eyes away from the family. The four of them stood underneath the arched opening of 148-foot-tall white marble tower in the middle of the Azadi Square. The crowd of people coming and going began to stop and wonder why Arézoo’s family was making conversation with an American soldier in the middle of the busiest and most popular square in Iran. Within ten minutes, the soldier was surrounded by a confused angry crowd of people, demanding an answer.

“Mester! Mester! Why you here?” an elderly woman mimicked.

Masses of frightened words in Farsi shot out of hundreds of mouths, while the soldier squinted his eyes and clung to his gun, child-like, as if he was naked in a dream, hoping he would wake up in his cartoon-covered sheets.

A young college student pushed through the crowd to stand behind Arézoo’s family. He said, “Why are you here? What did we do to deserve being watched while we go about our everyday lives? Just answer me that question. How would you feel if you walked with your family through Times Square, with our soldiers lurking in the bushes?”

“Why you here?” the elderly woman said again.

The soldier placed his left palm over his mouth, still clinging to his gun in his right arm. He sheepishly kept his smoky blue eyes on the green soiled ground. More frightened words, crammed with unknown harsh sounds and consonants, pealed through his squinted eyes. The words of the people cut through the crisp air and cut the insides of their throats as they screamed louder and louder.

“He asked you how you would feel!” Arézoo’s mother shouted, her lungs breaking, like an angry cat about to pounce, but never would.

The soldier’s right arm flinched, he released his left palm from his mouth, and said, “I don’t know, God dammit!” And the soldier flipped his gun to face the crowd of alien sounds, his eyes just barely leaving the ground. He fired a bullet into the crowd, to wherever it may land just so the popping piercing blast could wake him up from his nightmare. The bullet landed in Arézoo’s mother’s neck, the pop of the gun and the murder’s words “God dammit!” echoing three times in the bottom arched cavity of the Azadi Square’s beloved white, intricate marble tower.

Arézoo’s father caught his wife’s body in his arms, and looked in her eyes as they rolled to the back of her head. He looked up to see bullets raining from the sky, from airplanes, and screeched at the sight of Arézoo running for her life in the direction of their house a couple blocks away. He laid his wife’s dead body to rest on the ground, and laid beside her as the raining bullets orphaned Norah’s cousin. The soldier’s knees buckled, and he knelt beside them, looking up at the sky, praying to God for mercy.

***

I’m an orphan. Those . . . Americans. I’m an orphan. Arézoo had said.

Norah and her parents sat on the sidewalk outside her dormitory. They shivered in the wind as the crisp brown leaves fell on their shoulders, but couldn’t bring themselves to get up and sit in the lounge on the other side of the dormitory’s front door. Norah got a text message, which she opened, as Leonard and Raha shook their heads in disbelief that their daughter could open her phone at a time like this. It read: “So, um…Did I tell you I got transferred out of Texas finally?” Miranda and Norah kept in touch on a regular basis, but Miranda was never really good about updating her friends on her location…mostly just on her social life and career in the Marines. Location in the country or on the globe never meant much to her. Norah rolled her eyes.

“We’re going to try to bring her here. It’s not going to be easy. But we’re going to try,” Leonard said. Raha’s words came from her husband’s mouth, as she was paralyzed by the sight of her daughter and by the ringing sound of Arézoo’s voice in her head.

“I’m an orphan,” Norah muttered.

“Stop saying that! You are NOT an orphan! Can’t you see us?”

Norah’s eyes said it again. Her eyes saw her parents, and saw them with love. The nuclear explosions never ceased behind those eyes.

“We think it’s best to take you home for a few days. Do you want to go up and get packed?” Leonard said.

“No.” she whispered.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” Leonard said.

“I don’t need to pack anything. I have everything I need in the car.” Norah said.

***

The family of three drove home. It was a silent twenty-minute car ride. The light in the sky was beginning to dim. It was the kind of sky that looked, and felt, cold. Norah and her parents looked wide-eyed out the windows at the blemishes of fiery blue and orange in the sky. Leonard drove his wife and daughter up and down the winding green mountainous roads of Pennsylvania, tackling one hill at a time, until they arrived at their humble home.

Norah marched up the stairs to the second floor of their house, and fell into a comforting pile of earthy pillows and stuffed animals on her bed. At college she had been trying to avoid every television in sight, but now that she was home, she wanted to know what the rest of America thought happened that day.

RIOT IN TEHRAN, IRAN IN THE AZADI SQUARE. ONLY ONE AMERICAN SOLDIER WAS KILLED . . .

scrolled at the bottom of the screen, as the newscaster

reviewed the Northeast’s 10-day weather forecast: a slight chance of a thunderstorm tomorrow and the day after. Norah had seen and heard enough. She fell asleep on her stomach with the television blaring next to her frizzy head of thick and wavy auburn hair.

***

October 29, 2010

Norah woke up unusually early in the morning to the smell of hot cocoa. Her mom always made hot cocoa when either of their spirits needed a lift. She pulled herself down the stairs and into the kitchen along the slickness of her dirty white socks and wrapped her blanket over her chest. She hugged her mom, gave her an unnecessary half-smile, and neither of them said a word as Norah took the cup of hot cocoa. Her plastic beaded friendship bracelet clicked against the ceramic cup as she walked. She slid into the living room and opened the front door to check the mailbox on the porch. For the past few days, every time she stepped out a door, she felt the air grow colder and colder.

Norah found a few household bills, an advertisement for chiffon scarves, and a bank statement of her savings account. She tossed the mail on the coffee table, as Raha sluggishly walked into the living room so they could drink their hot cocoa together and try to feel warm against the nearly November wind. Norah gulped her drink, burning the middle of her tongue. Raha sat down and looked through the mail to avoid breaking the silence. She found a postcard stuck on the back of the static pages of the advertisement, sunk in her chair a little bit more, and handed it to her daughter.

On the front, Norah saw a picture of her best friend Miranda in her Marines uniform. Miranda smiled with her head held high, standing in front of an intricate white marble tower lit up at night and shining golden in the looming dark sky.

On the back of the postcard, Norah read:

You’ll never guess where I am now! You and your mom would be so proud of me! I saw the Azadi Square. You know, the one your mom was always raving about. It was so beautiful. Anyway, how have you been?

Love always, Miranda.

Norah held the Azadi Square in her hands. Her eyes were fixed on the postmark date: October 13, 2010. She bowed her head at the sight of her plastic friendship bracelet, the red and turquoise beads against the crafter’s post card.

Raha looked up from her warm drink and at her daughter’s bobbing head.

There was nothing to say. It was too early. It was too late.


“Leaving Julia”

Fall 2008

If you’re confused as to the characters’ identity in the beginning, this confusion is intentional. The haziness of setting and characterization is written to promote the theme of the story. The reader focuses on the words spoken, the questions posed, and the feelings between the two people, rather than how they look or how tall they are compared to one another. The theme of inevitable human connection is understood through the juxtaposition of physicality and emotionality.

She and I met a few weeks ago, and yet it felt as if we could talk about anything and everything. It was wonderful, until I had to leave.

We sat on the carpeted floor. There were a lot of small rugs placed throughout the room, a blue rug, a red rug, a yellow one too. Nothing really matched in the room. A lot of things that the parents didn’t need in their houses usually ended up in there. Julia turned on a glowing lime green lamp on a bookshelf behind her, sitting up on a red bean bag chair beside me in our corner. We leaned closer into the only glimmer of light in the room, as I relaxed my knees into an itchy dark blue rug.

“You know you can tell me anything, Julia,” I said.

She held my hand, moving our two hands from side to side, and said, “I can?”

“Anything your heart desires. Why didn’t you tell me what happened before?” I said.

Julia pretended to organize her drawings on the bookshelf behind her, and turned her shiny black hair to my face. She paused and finally turned around, her dark jade green eyes looking straight into mine. “I was scared,” she said.

“Why?” I said.

Am I that scary?

“I thought it would mess things up with you and me,” Julia said.

I shook my head a little and said, “Nothing could mess things up with us!” We giggled.

“I love you so much! So…I’ll tell you…everything,” Julia said.

“Good. I love you too!” I playfully put my arm around her, as we relaxed onto the same red bean bag chair, the lime green light from the cheap lamp shade illuminating our faces.

“William tried to hit me. I told him to stop, I said STOP! He didn’t stop! So I hit him. I hit him so he wouldn’t hit me,” Julia said.

“I see.”

“Is that okay? I know you love William, too,” Julia took my hand.

“Hitting is never okay,” I told her, crawling a few feet away so she could have the chair to herself. I made myself comfortable on the itchy dark blue rug, kneeling down on my knees with my left hand on my chin, my right hand still in Julia’s.

She found a cheap green paperweight behind the hand that was not in mine. She tossed it to me on the ground and we passed it back and forth as each of us spoke.

“But he tried to hit me,” she told me.

“I know, Julia. But what should you have said to William?”

Julia rolled her jade green eyes and rolled the paperweight toward my free hand.

I rolled it back to her.

“I should have asked him nicely to stop, and if that didn’t work, I should have asked you for help. …Right?” Julia said.

Yes, that is the answer I’m looking for.

Julia chimed in, “So you’re saying that if someone hits you or tries to hit you, you can never hit them back?” She looked genuinely confused and troubled, bending over in her chair and slowly running her fingers through her luscious black locks.

“I think . . .” I paused hoping she knew how much I cared to be with her, “if there is someone responsible nearby, more responsible that you, then you should ask them for help first. If you are completely alone, with just you and that other person, then maybe you should defend yourself,” I said, not really sure if this was the best advice I could give.

“Maybe I should?” she said.

“Maybe.”

“I hate that word,” Julia said, bumping the paperweight between her small crouched knees.

I tilted my head and sent her a questioning glance. Her olive skin had a hint of lime green, as she rolled her eyes back toward the cheap lamp on the bookshelf, which was crowded with books we had read a thousand times.

She turned her face to look right at me and said, “Okay, okay, I don’t hate that word. But it bothers me. Why doesn’t anyone ever say ‘yes’? Everyone says ‘no’ and ‘maybe’, but never ‘yes.’”

I wish I knew.

***

“Do you love William as much as you love me?” Julia wondered.

I pinched her shoulder and smiled. “I love all of you the same, I’ve told you.”

“Then why are you sitting on the floor, talking with me when all our friends are sleeping?” Julia said.

“Because I wanted to know what happened. Aren’t you glad we got to talk about it, just you and me?” I said.

“Maybe,” she said through a bashful smile, looking at me like I was all she saw in the mismatched room.

We giggled again, and Julia gave me a playful shove on the itchy carpet.

“Oh, was that hitting okay?” She whispered in my ear.

“I won’t tell if you won’t!”

***

“How long can you stay?” Julia asked me.

“I have to go to school tomorrow,” I said.

“You go to school? I didn’t know that!” She sat up on her red bean bag chair, throwing her arms up, with the green paperweight in her right hand.

“Yup, so I’ll be at school when you’ll be at school,” I said. I let my eyes wander anywhere but Julia’s deep jade green eyes, as they pleaded for mine to come back.

“Will we ever see each other again?” She asked me, as I pressed my knees and pushed my pain into the itchy dark blue rug.

“Maybe.” I eased Julia’s tears before they fell. “Ha, just kiddin’. Of course I’ll visit you.”

I passed the paperweight to her open arms. “I’ll miss you!” Her tears finally fell.

The fluorescent lights did not peel our eyes or our arms off each other. We sat and silently wept as our friends woke up from their naps. Julia cried for one reason, as I cried for something she would not understand for another decade. As Julia and I hugged, William and Cassie and Ruthie and Dorothy and Aidan – all the little tater tots – as I lovingly called them – crowded around the itchy Alphabet Carpet.

“Miss Samantha, is Julia in trouble again?!” William said to me from his yellow nap-mat on the opposite corner of the pre-school room.

“You’ll never be in trouble as long as I’m here,” I said.

Julia clung to my hand for the rest of the day, knowing I may disappear into the crowd of the local community college, never to make an appearance in the pre-school again. I cried, knowing that she could be right. I could leave pre-school for the last time, never to return to the world of nap-times, sing-alongs, and Play-Doh. I turned my head to look in the doorway of the room once more, with colorings the kids made especially for me, my car keys, and my paycheck in my purse. And the tater tots waved goodbye with tears in their eyes, crying for the future, as I cried for the past.

 

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