I hang on to my emotions and, I guess, my sanity by a very fine thread. Days, weeks at this point have gone by after Habib was arrested, after the books’ removal, after meeting the innocuous former Savak detainee held for three years. Still no Habib! The energy around the whole thing, whatever all that thing is, has settled to a dank fetid pool surrounding my psyche. Even Nasser seems a bit resigned when he’s home, although it seems he comes back from Tehran less frequently.
And after asking numerous times if I could visit Habib when Nasser is home, I have given up, despondent about any realistic chance of it occurring. Of course not! It seems hope is a funny thing, mercurial in nature. At times it surfaces with the potency of a rich promise: things will change, a corner will be turned. And then, poof. It is gone, evaporated. The very thing that feels like a lifeline, frays bit by bit until all threads have exhausted themselves, even those holding me together.
A consequence of more resignation and despondency, I continue to lose weight. Nasser becomes concerned I guess, and takes me to a doctor. The first guy I see speaks no English and my Farsi is too limited so Nasser translates my symptoms: extreme fatigue, nausea and weight loss. The doctor tells him I’m probably pregnant. But I’m on The Pill? I know it’s not that. This guy is useless!
Sometime later when over at Soriah and Mohammed’s their ex-con doctor friend is there again visiting with his wife. I ask Soriah to translate my ongoing symptoms of nausea and chronic diarrhea to the guy. He ends up saying it’s probably dysentery due to bacterial levels in foods they’re systems are used to but mine is not. He prescribes some sort of pills and kaopectate paregoric, a potent anti-diarrheal. As it turns out, this cocktail of sorts slows the symptoms down dramatically though there is still some frequency.
As the days drift by, I become increasingly more anxious and continue smoking up a storm! How I have not had a heart attack is beyond me! I’m 25! I think of Habib. I try to block out of my mind how Savak might be torturing him. The ex-prisoner friend had been periodically tortured, Soriah tells me. He had been jailed for three years and I try to imagine Habib surviving something similar, either in abuse or length of time, and can’t. Then of course I try to speculate how long I can wait. For what, you say? I can’t think!
I walk. I smoke. I walk. I smoke. Perpetually for both, like a pendulum moving equally back and forth. Sometimes I just sit and stare out the living room window. Then, I rise and walk into each bedroom, the small kitchen, eventually ending up squatting over the floor level “toilet”, relieving myself. Will I ever stop having such frequency? Will my bowels ever calm down and be regular? The paregoric has helped a lot though not completely eliminating the problem. More resignation.
Occasionally, I let myself imagine living in Iran. Perpetually, indefinitely, world without end, Amen. How I’m surviving on yogurt, rice, occasionally some boiled chicken or eggs and cigarettes is beyond me. Oh, and the bread. Sort of a not-completely-flat bread, pita style but far more flavorful, specially fresh. There is a shed within walking distance not far outside this little compound community that sells it baked early in the morning. It’s warm when I get it. Sweet salvation, I start eating some even on the walk back to the house.
It’s been weeks since Habib was arrested and Nasser has argued against me trying to visit him in prison. He says it’s delicate now as Habib is to have a “trial” soon and we should not press things. I know he’s not telling me all that’s going on behind the scenes but this information is more than I get out of him most days when he returns. He even suggests he take me back into Tehran to stay at his aunt’s house for part distraction and/or if the situation shifts.
I fantasize once again about calling home—my parents, anyone—to tell them what’s going on but I know I can’t since the phones are tapped. Am I getting paranoid? It’s several years later before I read an article using the term “justifiable paranoia” in Psychology Today. I think I’ve got it whether I knew of the term at the time or not! This whole society is paranoid, as well they should be. The life-death risk that is ever present is its own fetid ecosystem and saturates the cells of a body and soul.
I take Nasser up on his offer for me to stay at his aunt’s house in Tehran for a while. At least I’ll have a change of scenery. And one of the cousins there speaks English, quite well in fact. When we’ve met before she tells me of the literature she’s reading in English, citing Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee as one that particularly impacts her. It seems strange to have this discussion of US history from a Middle Eastern perspective. Plus, the irony of that book in the current moment of my own experience is bizarre, uncanny!
A FORTY-FIVE DEGREE ANGLE
We arrive at Nasser and Habib’s aunt’s in Tehran, a lovely little house with lots of light, bathing the front yard with shards of it reflecting off the small pool in the front. It seems strange for a swimming pool to be in this place on the property, yet it’s lovely nonetheless. As we walk in the front door, the aunt greets us all cheery in demeanor as if for a party. The justaposition of this mood and the massively mounting tension I feel in my gut makes me jumpy, as if spooked.
After we get settled a bit with tea and cheese and fruits, the phone rings. It’s for Nasser and ends up as a brief call. After hanging up the receiver, Nasser spits out something in a rush to his aunt, then turning to me, says it was an agent who told him he could go pick up Habib! Huh?? Where? When? Now? Can I come with you? “No,” he tells me, and rushes out the door leaving heightened and frenzied hope in his wake like a motor boat.
I can’t sit still so I smoke, my pacifier of record for what has seemed like a neverending event although could it be possible… that it will end? I pace then sit, then stand and pace a bit more. But mostly I just sit in perpetual angst! Waiting—I’ve never been good at waiting. I’m sure I have been born with a massive need to manage and control situations in part so I could get to the end of them. A perverse sense of accomplishment either real or imagined!
Nasser has been gone for a while now and the longer I wait, the more anxious I get. Until, all of a sudden, Nasser bursts through the door with Habib behind him. It feels surreal that after a month of not knowing anything, whalah, here is my husband. A different kind of disbelief and shock!
We embrace, hug, clutch, cry, shake. Habib has a tremor even after we pull away from one another. In a rush, aunt, uncle, cousins, me, all talk at once, asking how he is, do you want food, here, sit down ad infinitum. My husband, my Habib looks overwhelmed, still trembling subtle though it is. There’s a strange look in his eyes—a combination of relief and ongoing shock. I can tell he’s struggling to “re-enter” what had previously been normal but now seems foreign to him.
Questions, food, drink until we eventually leave Habib’s aunt’s house and Nasser drives us to Karaj and his home. It’s odd how I don’t remember where we sat in the car? Were we in the back seat? Was Habib in front with Nasser and I in back? My mind seems to want to clear away a foggy image to instead bring it into focus with us in the back seat together but I truly cannot reclaim the reality.
It remains hazy. Instead, what comes into focus in my mind’s eye is the overwhelming feeling of entering Iran for real this time. The airport scene now seems only a precursor of a wider barely suppressed ironfisted culture that does not blink during repressive acts. It stands clear-eyed ready to use any tool available be it imprisonment, torture or death to maintain control of its population. The smiles employed are merely tools of misdirection. Iran, I am to learn, is a culture filled with not just contradictions but hidden underneath, lurks a menacing energy where the unspoken message is one of repression and brutal control.
HOW MANY REALITIES ARE THERE?
Why did I not see this nature before coming to Iran? Why was I unable to see the bifurcation that permeated the culture, not just their political institutions? When I think back on the argument Habib and I had in DC before traveling, that he thought he could get past SAVAK’s scrutiny with his anti-Shah literature, I see now how naive we both were: I, from a wholly different social and political system of democracy, and he from a belief he could use the tools of subterfuge in an autocracy that is far better at deception than he could dream to be.
I know now I cannot live here. I do not know if he can. But for the first time in our one and a half year marriage, I feel a shadow over us, a tall one, an inescapable one. What’s more, I sense a separateness from him even though he sits in the car with me, regardless of placement, regardless of clutching, regardless of wanting to make it different than it apparently seems to be. And for the first time in 28 days, a shudder from a very different kind of chill runs through me, as if I know deep down there’s more to come!