It is dawning on me in a deeper way that I am not safe here. My husband cannot keep me safe. He comes from a place I do not understand, cannot know. It is becoming clear there is a part of me that is “on my own”—-separate from a husband I thought I knew, could understand. I thought we are alike more than different. The opposite seems true. I spend more and more time in our rooms “resting” just to be away from this foreignness.


When I’m alone I have more time to think, so that’s what I do. Think and think and think! I am beginning to feel betrayed by my husband. He might have gotten arrested no matter what, since his name was already on a list, but Savak likely wouldn’t have kept him as long as they did had he not brought anti-Shaw literature in our luggage. He was naive and wouldn’t listen to me prior to flying. I tried to convince him it could be risky. He brushed it off. Angry? I am free to feel angry now. At him! A kind of fury is seeping inside me, like water looking for a low spot that keeps dribbling into an ever deeper pool.

I am not trusting my husband’s judgment on all kinds of things. He himself is suspect to me now. It is not a question of love. I sure still love him, desperately even, but a new reality is feeding an expansion of my own will, a sort of separation, part of a couple yet not a couple, like a limb tearing. Oddly, I can be in the same room with him yet feel like he’s very far away, an unknown commodity. Or is it me? I’m very far away. Marooned. 


My husband has gotten ill. Dysentery. His dad sends for a doctor who comes to the house. He is very dehydrated so the doctor orders an IV. Remarkably, my husband remains in the living room, on the floor like everyone else with tubing in his arm to pump fluid into it. He seems to be recovering before our very eyes. One of his brothers has also gotten sick. Probably something eaten from a vendor on the street. No wonder! He recovers quickly though with only rest. My husband takes longer to get well but it still doesn’t take a long time. Quicker than when I was at my most extreme from the food.

After a few days, my husband is recovered now from whatever made him ill. His dad decides we should get married by a Moslem priest, so our union can be blessed, legitimate. I begin to see all of his family more and more foreign. I am so very far away from them culturally. A moslem wedding I know nothing about, do not understand? I don’t really want to do this wedding business but part of me thinks “what the heck, I won’t know a word of it anyway.” 


The priest comes the next evening. We all sit on the floor like this is an ordinary activity but the mood is different. Everyone has a serious look on their face except one of my husband’s brothers. He sits removed and behind the priest a bit. He starts making funny faces at me, mimicking the priest but in an exaggerated way. It’s all I can do to not burst out laughing! Even though I can’t take this event seriously, it would be scandalous and rude to laugh. Oh God, won’t this ever end? At least all I have to do is act chaste, serious myself. How hard is that?

The following day we pack for the trip back to Tehran and home. My home! I can’t wait to get out of this country! I have never in my life felt so insignificant and small, as if something too long in a dryer has shrunk to half its original size from too much heat! At least it won’t take as long to get back to the capital since we will fly instead of taking the train. While the slower journey through the countryside was interesting, it took much longer. At least there’s speed with a plane.


Once at the Ahvaz airport it is hot, incredibly hot. Like Mehrabad Airport, most of the terminal is open-aired. We finally front up from the tediously long line to go through security. My father-in-law has bought us first class tickets so there’s a small mercy to look forward to since I’ve never had the pleasure of my anticipated comfort. 

We finally arrive at the endpoint for a final check before boarding. There are separate queues for men and women, which strikes me as odd. It becomes clear why, however, once I become first in line. The female officer frisks the woman in front of me, patting her down. Next, me! She goes through the same procedure from my neck, shoulders, breasts, waist-front and back, groin area and thighs. I don’t feel violated as much as I feel like a presumed suspect of sorts. It is chilling. Vulnerability writ large.

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!


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.


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!

1977 Tehran, IRAN—As far away from my world, further than the 10,000 miles suggest. The first 48 hours after Habib is arrested I’m still in a sort of shock-yet-arrogantly-pissed-off state. It becomes clearer however, that there’s little I can do to impact the situation. I am a stranger in a strange land after all. 


Nasser makes clear to me that I will not be allowed to visit my husband. As it turns out, neither can he. Savak, the Shah’s secret police, hold all the cards. After a couple days, I go to Nasser’s house in Karaj, a suburb about 30 miles from Tehran. His house is in a small but newer housing development on the edge of town. Oddly, he and I both maintain a peaceful coexistence which has not always been the case in our relationship. Back before Habib and I were married, Nasser’s disdain for me was obvious. However thin the thread, it is just as obvious now that we both share a strange kinship in tragedy.

As the days drift by like so much dead wood in a fetid river, Nasser is kind to me. He introduces me to Mohammed and Soriah, two doors down from his house in Karaj. They both speak English, which is a godsend, Mohammed having been in the US while he completed a PhD in economics. An added benefit is that he is funny, energetic and engaging, Soriah, warm, compassionate and sympathetic. 

I wander down to my new friends’ place most days while Nasser has gone into Tehran to his engineering firm, and to push for Habib’s release. Sometimes my new friends feed me but I have noticed no matter what I eat, I’m starting to get the runs! I deal with this and my overall stress load by smoking up a storm! If I’d had a pacifier I would have used that too!


After I-don’t-know-how-much-time, my diarrhea becomes chronic and I’m losing a lot of weight. Nasser takes me to a doctor who diagnoses me as pregnant. Impossible! I’m on the pill!! After ten days or so, it’s also clear Habib may be held longer than I’d ever believed possible. I read every book in English I can scrounge in Nasser’s house, as well as a few I brought myself. All this between walks alone in the little housing community and visits to Mohammed and Soriah’s. Still, I grow increasingly more nervous, frightened, and am filled with a sense of dread. 

Some nights Nasser stays in Tehran while I grow lonelier and more isolated. At some point, he takes me to Tehran to stay with his aunt and her family for a few days. One of her daughters is attending university, an English literature major, at last a verbal lifeline and connection! We talk about the book Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee. What a strange story to bind over. 

I press both Nasser and his aunt’s family to at least let me call my family back in Michigan. They have no idea what’s happening. Emphatically, No! The phones are bugged—it’s impossible to call as Savak will likely be listening, making it riskier for Habib. These Iranian relatives try to distract me, cheer me up, and while small snippets of time I feel some relief, it never lasts long. 


Nasser sends for his dad and I meet my father-in-law, Aziz, for the first time. He knows no English and my limited Farsi offers only a small link for communication. A short, slightly portly man, Aziz has a generally happy face, cheerful even, given the circumstances. But our greatest link is obvious, a grim potent fear we could lose a young man we both love. The weight of this lies just beneath our individual and collective interaction like quicksand lurking just below.

Aziz takes me to a large bazaar one day and buys me all sorts of things—a dress, gold jewelry, and other trinkets. This kind of shopping is new to me. Not only is the bazaar’s narrow lane lined with shops on both sides, it is filled with lots of booths, creating a carnival feel. Owners hawk their wares to draw in customers. It’s loud and boisterous with everyone talking at once, indicative of the Iranian culture. Once these hawkers smell a live prospect, they ratchet up the volume and start haggling. I find it intriguing but alien. Their energy is unnerving for me, aggressive even, yet I find the whole environment fascinating and oddly for a time, I forget about Habib.

The smells in this place are intoxicating, filled with foreign spices and sweat in the 110 degree heat, fragrant and pungent. We stop at one stall and Aziz buys me pistachios, which I love. If ever Iran was to claim a National nut it would be pistachios. There are empty shells all over the paved walkways for foot traffic. We open the nuts and donate more to the ground beneath.


It’s been more than two weeks since Habib’s arrest and I’m becoming more scared by the day. I deal with the fear and stress by smoking, perpetually smoking. My dysentery increases. One day while I’m down at Mohammed and Soriah’s they have visitors, a couple, who have come for lunch. I’m off by myself after we eat, on the other side of the room, observing. They speak in Farsi and I understand very little, they speak so fast. I might as well be on the other side of the planet which, quite frankly, I wish I was!

After they leave, Soriah comes over and we talk. She tells me the husband has given me a prescription for my dysentery. Evidently he used to be a doctor but can still write prescriptions. I ask her why he’s not practicing medicine anymore and she tells me he lost his license after being arrested by Savak and held in prison for three years. 


She tells me he had been tortured repeatedly. One way they tortured him was to hang weights from his testicals for extended periods of time, leaving him unable to have children. I am horrified, knowing Habib could also be tortured and maybe in this way too. I think my heart stopped for a whole minute at this thought, shocked as if I’d been hit with a high voltage cattle prod. 

This whole episode is a turning point for me. While I want Habib back, I am shocked to think I want to get out of Iran more than anything—with or without him. I would be ashamed of this if I didn’t also know I was hanging on by the thinnest of psychological threads. A new sense of awareness dawns on me, one so pervasive not just because of a heightened terror but also because for the first time I realize not only could I leave Habib behind but also because I realize I’m as imprisoned as he is, just in a different way. I do not yet know I can’t get out of this country by myself just yet!

Of course I can only process this feeling of emotional betrayal alone, filled with shame yet loaded with an innate sense of self preservation. I tell myself it’s natural, warranted, to be expected. It’s the way of the animal kingdom, to survive. Yet in all my naïveté I feel the tonnage of guilt. I wish I could talk to my friend, Carol. She and I process everything with all the psychological effects of the neurotic which we both acknowledge that we are. But of course I can talk to no one about this—not one single soul! My fear mounts, could I go insane here? 


Back in Nasser’s lonely house I’m glad he’s not there a lot. Gives me time to just be ‘me’ — the me I recognize still tethered to some sense of my American-ness. I can wring my hands and smoke more without the disapproving presence of Habib’s oldest brother. Nasser and I had always had a tenuous relationship at best while he was in America. It had become much more accepting since Habib’s arrest, much more. Far from warm, it was closer, respectful in a way, and more compassionate on both of our parts. Even so, his demeanor was still more guarded and reserved than is typical in the average American male. While it felt respectful of me now, more open, his attitude was still paternalistic in nature, unequal. Regardless, I am grateful for the improvement.

I continue my walks around the little housing community alone, imagine living here and can’t wrap my head around it. How naive I have been! My visits at Soriah and Mohammed’s house also continue. What would I do without them? The medicine helps my dysentery a lot though I still have some runny stool, just not as often, not as extreme. At least I don’t have to squat on the floor level toilets as often, which is a relief in and of itself.


Nasser has been gone for a few days in a row but all of a sudden, he and Mohammed burst through the door, anxious and rushed, bringing with them a weather front of fear. “What’s going on?” I ask. “We have to get rid of all the books,” they spit out, staccato fashion. They race from one room to another collecting books and bagging them. Their combined fear escalated, infecting me too, implying they are at risk with Savak, and maybe I am as well! Oh my, a new level of terror has infected me! 

After gathering every book they can find that might be remotely perceived as anti-Shah, they leave. Again, I’m alone, again to imagine something worse than what has already occurred. How much more can I take? I do not know. I only know the tension tightly wound inside of body and soul is ratcheted up yet again. What is my breaking point?


We arrive at Mehrabad Airport after hours and hours in the air. It’s sweltering hot, I don’t know, maybe 100 degrees or more? We walk from the plane, down stairs and into the terminal and get into a queue for passport and visa checks. Even inside it’s hot!

All the smells are different in the atmosphere, all except for the identifiable odor of human sweat. I’m excited, nervous, exhausted as we inch forward. Soon, we’re at the table where officials sit and a few stand behind, surveying the line.


Habib is ahead of me and hands the seated man his passport. A discussion occurs between himself and someone standing behind him. It’s Farci, and even though I had a tutor in the language for six weeks prior, I cannot tell what’s being said. What I do know is that there is a palpable shift in mood, ominous and destabilizing.

The man standing behind the table steps to the side, and beckons Habib. Again, In Farci, again I know not what they say. The rancid odor of sweat is replaced by the rancidness fear and I suppose, a bitter adrenaline taste. I ask Habib what is happening and the man answers, telling me in English they just want to talk to him, and they walk away from me.


I’m frozen. But not for long. The man at the table asks me for my passport so I hand it to him. He checks it, stamps it and hands it back. I walk away from the table in an anxious fog and search the crowd across the wide expanse of Mehrabad Airport looking for Habib’s older brother, Nasser.

I’m sure if you were to ask his brother now he would admit to concern, maybe even fear, but at the time, he just looked a bit worried without a lot of expression. You learn to not give too much away in the Middle East. It could be dangerous if you do.

In what seems like only seconds, a suited man exits a door caddy-corner from the chasm between Nasser and I. The official is brusque, purposeful. Once over at the luggage area he grabs Habib and my luggage and returns to the unmarked door on the other side of the expansive room.

In an immeasurable flash, I feel terror. I know Habib has anti-Shaw literature in our luggage. We had a fight about it in DC, me saying he can’t take it, and him scoffing—that he has a friend at the airport to avoid any problems with officials, thus totally blowing my concerns off! Typical! After all, what did I know, it was his country!


Nasser and I lock eyes as he remains behind the roped area on the other side of the terminal. Oddly, I have no clear recollection of how long it took the same official to come retrieve me and ask me to go with him, probably only a fraction of a second but seemed eternal. What I do know now is that I was to have an unforeseen event that was to change my life, my marriage and my view of the world and everything in it.

There are points in a lifetime that challenge absolutely everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world you inhabit. In the fastest flash I knew I was alone, a single organism in an unknown place. So alone, the feeling was thunderous, instantly isolating at least for a time. It was destabilizing and disorienting yet somehow a perverse survival mechanism kicked in. I knew not whence it came.

When I think about this event now I realize how the animal reacts, thought seems suspended. You know to put one foot in front of the other, thoughts flash in a microsecond, responding as if programmed. But the heart pounds, the respiration quickens and you are on autopilot. 

In your head, it is as marooning as being on Mars. You don’t dare deal with the emotional earthquake of fear that is going on inside of you. Instead, both physical and psychological survival takes over like the rabbit chased by a wolf. It’s only later when there’s time to reflect on the event that you can absorb more of it. Even then it’s limited in processing the residuals of the event as if you’ve still skipped too many frames of the film being replayed in your mind.


The official takes me through the door that I saw Habib go through. We enter the room he sits in with other officials nearby, three or four maybe? I recall them asking me my name, a few other details about myself but I have no recollection of what those details were. 

Habib is nervous, completely still, with a look on his face I’ve never seen before. One of the men hands me some papers—in Farsi—and asks me in English if these are mine, asks what they say, did I bring them? I answer no, not mine, I don’t know what they say, I can’t read Farsi. It is clear to me this is incredibly dangerous territory. If not for me, certainly for my husband.

The sense of powerlessness and impotency that swamps you in certain situations is unexpected, sudden, as a westerner and particularly as a woman. That feeling (and knowledge) is to only grow over the next couple of months. It is also to alternate between impotence and a naive brashness, thinking I can go to the US Embassy and they will help resolve this. After all, US policy has changed. As President, Jimmy Carter has been pushing a policy promoting human rights issues on ally countries of which, Iran under the Shaw, is one of them.


Yes, I will tell Nasser to take me to the Embassy, that’s what I will do. The men subsequently let me go but, as night follows day, keep Habib. I leave the room and walk quickly across the remaining wide expanse of the lobby area to my waiting brother-in-law. I start to tell him what has just transpired and he tells me to wait until we get out of the airport.

We are in the car, Nasser and I, and I tell him what I want to do, to go to the Embassy. “No, you can’t,” he tells me. “It’ll only make it worse.” I realize I am trapped, just as much as my husband, but in a different way. The enormity of what is unfolding swamps me, as we whisk away from Mehrabad airport. My entire life, and my husband’s, has pivoted,  spiraling into the abyss. Terror sets in. I am the rabbit, heart pounding, and it occurs to me I am in uncharted territory, a stranger in a strange land, trapped between heaven and hell, lost and alone. Powerless!

I weep for America, but I may not always do so. As I watch the twisting and distorting permeate the fabric of our society, I grieve for the loss of integrity in some corners that manipulate communication into unrecognizable fashion.

I weep for America but I may not always do so. Does the fallen angel always know it’s fallen? How bold we began, with all the embryonic promise the New World had to offer. Making our way in fits and starts doing atrocious things counterbalanced by noble actions. 

I weep for America but I may not always do so. Is this the only Way? To rot from the inside, Staggering under the weight of grotesque distortion and lies? Unable to tell Truth from falsehood? Will we go the way of Greece and Rome through so much corruption, glut, brutality, greed, ignorance?

I weep for America but I may not always do so. Is Our way to become like the giant dinosaurs that die under the weight of rapacious gluttony? Cutting out minorities, a foreign tongue, the middle class? Reason? Facts?

Evolution is a glorious and wonderful thing. But why must we watch our own demise as an American democracy, those of us that have at least some inkling that that is exactly what is happening? Yet the pain of it… is there any ability to stop it?

I weep for America but I may not always do so. And yet, and yet… I know evolution IS creation. Ongoing, time is only perspective, an artifact only by which we live. A mentalization by which we watch emergence of new states of being occur.

I weep for America but I may not always do so. To be in the woods, the monastery, at the ocean. Sanctuary‘s, all. A respite from observation that is alarming, unable to impact what is viewed. Other than, of course, recovering the heart of all things, that the universe will right itself, the purgatorial nature that is earth offering a new choice every second.

Ultimately, I weep for America but I may not always do so. At best, sorrow is a temporary state, a moment, a second, an act of moving from participant to observer. A state of being. Like Ecelesiastes says—“to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sun.”

It is so.