When I was 7 years old, I wrote a letter and mailed it to America to a cousin that I adored who was now living in a country that I only dreamt about.
What I would give to enter the world of the 7-year old me writing this letter from Iran during the worst revolution of my country’s history? What I would experience if I could behold her composing these simple Farsi words in an elementary style Persian handwriting? What I would say if I could only engage in one conversation with her?
Oh how I wish I could go back in time to be a voice in the air she breathed, a vision of hope in the dreams she beheld, an energy filled with hope to give her the resounding assurance that all of her dreams, every single one of them, would come to be one day in ways that would surpass her best imagination!
I adored my older cousin, Deana. She and her family left Iran right after the 1979 revolution. I was too little to remember much about her except that I adored and worshipped her. She was the big role model that I wanted to copy from head to toe. She also went to America, which to all of us was the ultimate dream and fantasy land.
I still remember the sunny morning when Daddy woke me up to give me her new and shiny Teddy Bear – there was a lot people left behind when they permanently left their country; a life cannot fit easily in a suitcase or two, you know? So I am sure she meant to take the teddy with her – and compared to my ragged old one, it was pure perfection. Soft, fuzzy, and sporting a nice rich yellow “coat” as opposed to my own faded bordering-vanilla-shade-of yellow teddy bear. I ditched the old for the new without batting an eyelash!
PS: Deana, my darling, I took great care of your Teddy Bear until it was our turn to leave Iran, and sadly, she had to stay behind yet again.
A Letter from Iran to America
One day, I wrote Deana this letter and proudly mailed it to America. She held on to it all these years and gave it to me last year when we met in New York. It was my turn to hold on to the letter, my turn to travel back in time now. I have not once read it without shedding a thousand tears but why? Is it the simplicity of how I saw the world? Is it what I wish now I knew then? Is it the bittersweet irony of how little I had and yet how happy I seemed? Or is it just the growing pains of leaving my childhood further and further behind me, as though it was a different world altogether?
Much is always lost in translation, my darling readers, but alas, I am going to take my chances. Below I have translated every word of this letter so it can be etched here permanently. (Everything in parenthesis is my commentary.)
“In the name of God (we learned in Islamic school to start every single letter as such, and I was one obedient student),
I miss you very, very much.
What are you doing there (there being America)? Are you and your sister doing well?
How is my aunt and uncle and our grandpa?
Deana, do you have a dog?
This year, what grade are you in?
Dear Deana, please write me more letters and draw in them for me too.(I was big into drawing in all my letters!)
This year, I am going to second grade and my brother is going to first grade.
Dear Deana, what grade are you going to this year? (Clearly, I did not do any editing back then!)
How is our grandmother and grandfather?
Over there, are there cartoons on the television?
Do you and your sister have bikes so you can go biking?
Do you have a garden? (I obviously liked to ask questions!)
Deana, if you like, please share what I wrote here with your sister. (I was big into sharing even back then!)
What is the name of your cat?
We want to bring a dog.
(This is about to get very interesting)
We had five little duckies.
One of them ran away. (!)
Another one got attacked by an apple and died. (!!!!!)
Now the remaining 3 have grown up but I have not named any of them yet.
Dear Deana, I miss you very much.
In the evenings, we go out to the street. We get on our bikes and ride around. Mommy comes out too to watch over us.
What do you do in the evenings over there? (obviously still referring to America!)
What is our grandmother doing? I miss her a lot.
What is our grandfather is doing? My brother misses him.
We have a framed picture of grandfather in our living room.
Grandpa sent us chocolate, hidden in boots (!!!) and it made us very happy.(Chocolate must’ve been forbidden; actually, during the revolution, pretty much every human pleasure was!)
If you send us clothes, do not forget the chocolate. (The audacity to ask for precisely what I wanted even then!)
I do not remember your face very well but I miss you very much. Please send me pictures of yourself. (Fascinated with photos early on!)
Kiss everyone for me.”
You see, a simple letter, void of any tragedy, sadness or struggle. Just childhood sweetness from one cousin to another. Why it brings me to tears every single time, I have no earthly idea!
Ever since reading this letter, I have been yearning to have a conversation with the inquisitive 7-year old me to answer her questions and tell her that her life would blossom more magnificently than a rose in heaven’s kingdom.
Here is how that conversation would go:
7-year old me asking.
The adult and slightly-wiser me answering.
So do I get to come to America?
Yes, you do. You very much do. It is beautiful, colorful, and strange and crazy and you still love it to pieces because America gives you the freedom you craved and you have learned to never take that for granted. You can wear whatever you want, say whatever you like and be yourself without being afraid.
Do I go to an American university?
Yes, you do. You get a wonderful education at a great university, study very hard and impress your professors and your family and make something great of yourself. You graduate on top of your class, and get extra pleasure for being ahead of most boys in GPA in engineering school!
Do I learn to speak and write English well?
Yes, you do, and in fact, you love English so much that you devote plenty of time to writing and reading pursuits but sadly, you let go of your beautiful Farsi, and that was not very smart of me, little girl! I am sorry about that.
Do I learn French too??
Yes, our grandpa would be so proud. You study French all through high school and college and fall in love with it even more than when you fell in love with English.
Do I find myself an American boyfriend and fall in love?
You fall in love many times, dear heart, most of them turn into a heartbreak and only the last one matters because not only does he become your amazing American boyfriend, he marries you and becomes your American husband, and he is simply perfect. Grandma swears he looks Iranian and Mommy and Daddy adore him and always take his side in your arguments. It all works out beautifully.
Do I live comfortably? Do I have my own house?
Oh you do. You were independent since 18. You have a gorgeous house, with more books and furniture and clothes that your heart can contain. You love make-up and shoes and technology, which is something that revolutionizes your life and our world. Your house has warmth, love, and beautiful energy, and Mommy is very proud of how clean and organized you are as a woman.
Do I have American friends?
Yes, you do. Many. But you go through a hard time with friendships, and I am convinced it’s not the friends – American or not – so much as it’s you, my dear. You never, ever, EVER, replaced your childhood friendships and you never quite got over that. Lucky for you, you found your gems 25 years later but suffice it to say that you have had more heartbreak around friendships than happiness.
Am I happy?
Yes, you are very happy. You were very difficult to please for a long time, and you had to struggle through a lot of issues, but deep down, you are happy with your life and one day in your 30s, you find the real secret to true happiness. You decide to follow the rhythm of your own heart and not worry so much about all the nonsense that used to preoccupy you, and you start to return to the simplicity that you yourself beheld in this letter, little one. Pure happiness and gratitude for life. May I never lose it again.
If you enjoyed reading this story, don’t forget to tell me in the comments, share it with someone else and describe a childhood memory of your own that moves you even in your very adult life. Everyone loves a good story and I am waiting on yours with baited breath!