Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day 411.

Vernal Equinox. 2012.

The family collects, around a new table, sitting on new, soft, powder blue chairs, a pre-purchase image of which was emailed to me, months ago, just after my sister moved into her new apartment. Her new apartment - that's a heavy thing. It's in a shiny monster of an LA gated building called "The Palazzo" and you have to drive to a gate with your car and have the old man who most likely hates his job and hates your stupid face for needing things from him call the tenant you are visiting to make sure you are allowed. And in our case, he had to give us a code, because the complex is so enormous that we had to enter from a different gate than the one we were in front of, before we found a spot labeled "guest," parked, and followed a straight couple comprised of a muscle-y dude wearing an Ed Hardy shirt and a girl with bleached hair, a nose job, a tit job, a half shirt, and $400 jeans into the elevator and up to the penthouse floor.
So there we are, at the new table. I'm drinking overpriced chardonnay with an ice cube melting in it, like some kind of old divorcee. I've been trying to train my sister's fluffy little year-old mutt to stop biting my hand all evening, "training" being an apparently brand new concept to my sister and my parents, the dog's primary caregivers. And I've already been eating too much, stuffing my face, medicating intentionally and mindfully because I know that despite wonderful moments, this will be hard. It will hurt to be at the table and just feel. Feel the shit I am bringing and the wounds others have and don't want to acknowledge or talk about. Being an empath is absolutely worth it, but sometimes so all-consuming and exhausting.

So there we are, at the new table. The family configuration is a fun one. Me, my sister, my mom and dad, and two of my sister's friends, a married couple. They joined us for Thanksgiving, too, last year. There was a lot of wild laughter then, as there has already been tonight. My sister's friend informs me that the main reason she is there is because I am there. Apparently she appreciates our dynamic: my sister's extreme conservatism, my radically left politics, and the comic friction between the two. But she laughs a little too loud, a little too much. This is serious for me. I can take myself less seriously, yes, but that's for everyone else's comfort. No, it's not fine that I want the candles to be left unlit? But the scent will make me sick. It's not good for any of us. No, it's not fine to just light them, anyway. Yes, I will legitimately be sick. (No, it's not funny. Stop laughing.)

(Have you found a way to deal with that laughing? The I-clearly-don't-get-the-severity-of-the-situation laughing? The laughing that somehow thinks it's being completely benign but is undermining your needs and your reality and the shit you are so tired of explaining and wish to hell someone would step in and explain for you?)

So there we are, at the new table. What to do but eat? My people eat. We really, really eat. Other people have told me that their people eat, but then they come home with me. If they're lucky, we'll go to a party with my family. They get to see that eating can inform the way a culture does everything. Fruit and nuts and yogurt. Baklava and chickpea flour cookies. Cucumbers and grapes and strawberries. Tea. This is before dinner, after dinner. Sometimes during dinner. Dinner comes with sabzi and radishes and sometimes cheese and walnuts, and always bread. Lavash, pita, barbari, sangak. Dinner usually starts with an enormous heap of rice on your plate. I've never seen any other group of folks pile anywhere near as much rice on to a plate as Persians do. Then stews or kabob or fish, or all of those things. Salad. Big beautiful salads. And there is always dessert. Zulbia & bamieh or pistachio ice-cream sandwiches, or both. Or more baked things. More tea. Maybe some alcohol. More fruit, more nuts. We eat like food is the most significant indulgence on earth. We eat like it is our sole existential purpose.

So there we are, at the new table, sitting on the new, soft blue chairs. And we eat, and we're searching for the channel that will have IRTV on it, that will have some sort of big to-do, some kind of countdown to the new year. We can't find it. The channel it's supposed to be on is playing a Korean action movie, featuring some emotionally-wrought performances. We leave it on for a while and continue on with our conversation over dinner, finding anything at all to laugh at. My sister's friend pulls up his Radio Javan app on his smartphone, a few minutes before the equinox. A man with a honeyed voice that reminds me of old old Iranian radio that I'm surprised I even remember says some lovely things and I am very very sad that I only am catching about 30% of it, tops. And then it's the countdown, and then it's the new year. It's the year 1391 now. And we're, like, whipping out our phones and calling other people we love. My sister's friends are calling their families and chatting with each other's moms. We know they're up, so we call my grandma & uncle, even though they live in Toronto and it's hella late. And my mom hands the phone to me after talking to her mother, her fierce-ass mother who just got back from traveling to Iran on her own (like she does every damn year!) and her voice is so fragile that I have to focus really hard on my actual tear ducts to keep the tears inside my body. We say a few rote things. My Farsi is terrible, and I am embarrassed, and I want to keep talking to her but she's tired and I don't know how, and I sense that she doesn't want to talk to me anyway and I wonder if it's because she finally knows my deep, dark secret, that I am that kind of woman who wears pants to fancy dinners and fixes her own shit and likes to eat pussy. And I'm so immensely sad because I realize she doesn't know me and I don't know her and how could we be like that? How could the world have uprooted me and made me a refugee and broken my tongue and put me all the way over here, not knowing my grandma, and not wanting to until I realized I did in fact care, but just didn't have any idea how to ask her questions or learn who she is?

So there we are, at the new table. It's dessert time and we've been talking about this new reality show, called Shahs of Sunset, that features "our people," or some slim and specific representation thereof, and in fact stars one of our old family friends. And my sister, who can afford such things, has DirectTV and has recorded the first episode and I'm dying of curiosity. Her friend, who was so excited that I would be in town for this dinner, becomes extremely animated at the idea of watching my reactions to the show. So we pull it up and I scoop out Mashti Malone ice-cream onto delicate wafers and listen to my sister complain about how I didn't put enough ice-cream on her sandwich. The show comes on and I am experiencing the emotions I usually do when watching reality shows - disgust, mostly, and some tender moments for our friend and for another likable character. Everything feels old and new. We are doing a thing our folks have done for a long time, now, eating the same traditional dishes, seated next to a Haft-Seen that has all of the traditional items representing life and rebirth on it. And we're watching TV, we're watching our friend and people we don't know struggle for fame and representation and recognition in this American way of life, by aspiring to wealth and having hot bodies. Such overload, I find myself wishing I had more academic language for this, some way of talking about media and representation and immigration and displacement and cultural belonging and assimilation. But mostly I just find myself longing, so stuck in my longing.

So there we are, at the new table, sitting on the new powder blue chairs, in the new apartment, in the big LA building, with our little family, and the same old dishes, and the traditional Haft-Seen, and the new TV, and the new Radio Javan app, and the new young faces of Iranian-Americans whose parents risked something important to provide them with an opportunity to jump in and claim a piece of Imperialist Pie. And holy fuck, good god, all I can think of, all I want is to be with my grandma and sit around and sip some tea and eat some sunflower seeds and ask her what it was like to be a girl in Iran.