Because someday you might ask how your father and I married. Part III

Because I am a romantic at heart, I have never quite weaned myself off from the expression "happily ever after." To do that, I'd have to disbelieve it entirely and that is not the case at all. What I do believe is that for every evolving, growing love, there is the commensurate possibility of seeing that same love stunt and decay. In other words, there is a happily ever after but, it comes with caveats.

This is what I have observed in several successful marriages: They function like last minute plans that somehow come beautifully together in spite of all the unforeseen obstacles that had to be overcome. You know why that is? The answer is quite simple really. We are all unique. And because we are all unique, we do things in a certain way, understand things in a certain way and react in our own unique way. That truth lies at the heart of every misconception, misunderstanding and disruption that any relationship has ever had. When our way somehow coincides to a satisfactory degree with someone else's, the misconception is nullified, the misunderstanding is short-circuited and the possible disruption is rendered inconsequential. When our ways do not coincide however, and there is an unsatisfactory degree of differing points of view well then, we find ourselves at a point where we chip away, sometimes irreversibly, at the happily part of our ever after.


After happy Venice...

I will not say that it was easy for us to conduct a long distance relationship, because it wasn't - at all. Out of that first trip came several important realizations however of which, the most important one was that we wanted to give ourselves a chance at a relationship. All that came after hinged on this particular decision.

On a day almost to the end of the trip, I remember your father studying me and ruefully admitting, once I asked him to share what had been on his mind, that he thought I was going to be more difficult to handle than he had initially imagined. I draw attention to that comment, which on the surface sounds sexist but really wasn't, because I believe it to be the very first time that M truly saw beyond the surface of me, and into the scope of everything else that shaped who I was.

What that insight had given him was an awareness that I most certainly needed to be handled in a special way. Inherent to his statement was the assurance that he would be attempting to do so. For my part, I felt the same level of committed discovery towards him.

In the year and a half that followed, I went to Baku 5 times and your father met up with my family in Madrid and Sevilla for one memorable Christmas and New Years holiday. Then it was off to London, Istanbul and Paris between trips M made to DC. We racked up a lot of mileage within that short span of time. Our jet-setting love affair, outwardly so glamorous and romantic, began to seriously wear on me. I longed for the permanence of one place, one home and a joint life. None of that could be accomplished on a plane always headed somewhere but never with a concrete destination nor, could it be accomplished with a clock that ticked quicker whenever we planned for our time together.

December 2002, Paris

We'd just taken the Air France transfer bus from Orly to Charles de Gaulle Airport for our return trips to Baku and the US. I'd been looking outside my window to the cold gray landscape of a Parisian winter, and feeling as desolate within at the thought of yet another parting when suddenly, I had the most urgent need to put a stop to it all.

How much longer are we going to do this for?

What do you mean? Even though I knew M had perfectly understood my out of the blue question.

Are we going to get married? Or not?

But Milena, I always meant to marry you...

The thing is, I always knew that he had in fact always meant to marry me but, I'd come to the point where I needed the words to be said out loud... with the anchoring finality of their intent, voiced in a place outside of just our thoughts.

In a moment, the whole world changed in outlook for me. We wouldn't actually tie the many knots that legally and religiously bound us until September of 2003 but from that moment on, in a most real way, I was, for my purposes, married.

To you reading this sometime in our future, I'm sure it will seem like a neat finish to the whole apparent saga of our finding each other, getting together and becoming a couple. Never think it so.

Someday, hopefully, I will watch you fall seriously in love my son. The kind of serious that will perhaps put into your head the thought that the person you are serious about is the one you mean to forge a life together with. And when that happens to you, I should like you to remember that most unions, while never neat and complete all of the time, have a certain number of attributes that you should look for as clues to indicate their long-term viability.

First and foremost, there must be love of course. Love sustains through much and catapults us over many hurdles. Never underestimate how much more important love is than just plain like or lust. If in your combination of reasons love is not the primary motivator for your relationship then, I suggest you re-examine what you have.

Second, friendship seems like a de riguer attribute to mention and one would assume that it is also a given considering that one is in love but, that is not always the case. In friendship, we get over those other difficulties that love, because it is love and therefore somewhat blinding, cannot sustain. What precisely does that mean? Well, there will be days when the volume, if you could call it that, of your love lowers. Those are the days when for whatever reason, we feel less in charity, less there, less committed. And it is in that last word that friendship kicks in big time. Good friends are committed people. They fight to maintain the levels of the relationship even when there might be reasons to make us want to throw in the towel. Friendships, because they are based in love but also in mutual respect, consideration and effort, carry the standard of the committed relationship forward.

Third, you must assume that you will have off days in your married life. Days when you might go to bed upset or angry no matter how you wish that were not the case. We are human beings not characters in romance novels. At moments like these, I have one absolute conviction that coalesced in whatever place absolute truths coalesce: No matter the upset, I would never wish to wake up without your father by my side. This to say that if you cannot conceive of life without your partner, then this is a person you must not let go of.

There's is a fourth and final thing I would have you keep in mind. Marriages are work. Sometimes hard work, sometimes easy work, but always work. Never take all the kindnesses for granted, never forego a kiss or a conversation. Never forget to say you are sorry when that acknowledgement is merited. Never forget to say things. Never think that it will all remain the same way forever. A partnership in stasis is a dead partnership. Think of that when you find you've settled into settling.

In these four observations, your father and I have based our first five years of marriage together. I have changed much from that person I was before that airport ride in Paris and I know that it has only been for the better of our common 'us'. I look at myself sometimes and think how much I've learned, been enriched and embellished by your Babi's presence in my life. Our love, friendship and mutual efforts have made it so that neither one of us has ever lost that belief that we cannot start the day without each other. There's an incredible guarantee built into this state of affairs. The guarantee that we shall continue trying always for us and for you.

To M, who will at some point read these words: Love you still, love you more janum. Blessed be the day Baba brought me to your home. Happy fifth wedding anniversary. They have been the best of times.

To you R, for whom these recollections and observations were truly meant: May you someday know the happiness and security I experience with your father daily. Besides a child to love the way I love you, I cannot think of a single wish I would want more for your future. God willing, you shall have it all.

At our marriage in Seville, Spain. September 2003

Part I of the story
here, Part II of this story here.


Dear all: Thank you for waiting patiently to the final part of this story. As you know, Hurricane Ike derailed much in terms of my intentions to complete the telling. Today, twelve days since it struck, we are still without power and though life in Houston is returning to normal, it seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time doing so. I'm just about the end of my tether here and have heartily wished it all back as it was before Ike. Work on the outside areas of our home have progressed well. It took two whole days and much tree cutting and pruning before the yard could be seen at all. Trash pickup has resumed - Thank God, and now we have at least been spared having to see the towering wall of our tree debris so sorrily piled outside the house. I have missed visiting you all at your blogs and hope that soon I shall get back into the groove of knowing how you are all getting along. Thank you again for your continued well wishes and birthday congratulations. They have so cheered my hot Houston days. Be well,



After the Storm

The morning after in our backyard

Houston, Tuesday September 16th, 2008

It takes so little to disrupt the flow of daily life. I think we have a tendency to consider only the major occurrences as existence disruptors, a sudden death, ill health, these kinds of events. And of course they do, they disrupt everything in one fell swoop but the small things? They too can unbalance life in a major way. They start out like little dominoes all lined up until one falls. And that’s all it takes sometimes… one little domino falling in a certain way…

We came through Ike in great shape. I’ll tell you that right off the bat so you won’t wonder any longer. The structure of our home suffered no damage and that was great luck considering the number of trees we have on our property. The day after Ike hit, we ventured out on the car. Curiosity prompting us to weave through the downed trunks and torn branches that chaotically redrew the landscape of our once manicured neighborhood. We didn’t have to go far to see the caved-in roofs of houses, the massive oaks several meters tall that had sliced through ceilings like so much butter under a knife. There were such a large number of homes in similar or worse shape that, I marveled yet again at how unscathed our own property was by comparison.

The night of the hurricane, we watched the news almost until midnight. Anderson Cooper waited in front of the CNN cameras for the windows of skyscrapers in downtown Houston to start shattering. In Galveston we saw the wind do its hurricane-best to suck all it could into the violent sea. There came a point however when the subtle shift from spectator to participant overtook us, when the hissing of the air grew very loud and the branches outside our windows swayed in such frenzied patterns that we had no desire to watch what was happening to others because, those others were ourselves.

Lying together, my husband and I cocooned our son until uneasy sleep extinguished the adrenaline rush of the previous hours. While waiting for Ike to arrive, we had exhausted ourselves beyond what our bodies could sustain and so we slept until the electricity went, taking away the coolness of our home, eliminating that final padding of machine made sound so that all the dissonance that was Ike in its fury, could take center stage.

M found me shining my flashlight out the windows of our master bedroom, captivated by the train wreck that was unfolding. “Move away from the windows!” And I minded his warning only to see him ignore it himself. It was hard not to watch. I daresay you would not have been able to move away either. Nature in a passion commands an audience, and we obliged her by staying. For the rest of the night in between short sleeps, we kept vigil around the rooms of our home to better take in the tableaus that Ike had set. It was gleeful destruction; a damaging hand that fell determinedly, intent on leaving its mark before the morning could come, all leaden and pale, to show what the darkness had hidden. About a third of our trees had fallen in patterns that had wrecked every inch of our half acre yard but that like dominos set in just a certain way, had mercifully, incredibly, spared us.

My husband is doing me the enormous favor of posting this from his workplace. As yet, I have no Internet access from our home. For that reason, I include neither photographs nor links here but will add them later when I can. When you all read this, it will already be the 17th of September. Today is the birthday of my beloved cousin Ayleen (Féliz Cumple mi niña), my good friend Ron's - Happy Birthday Ron! and MINE! Yes, I turn 39 having survived my first hurricane. May it be the last one I have to ever experience… I mean the hurricane, not the 39. I’d stay 39 forever if I could.

Until next I post, I trust you all find yourselves well and before I go, I’d like to say thank you to my fellow bloggers and friends Nona, Thomas, Ron, Michel, Who’s B, Dr. Jay, Chesca, Barb, Andy, Robyn and Dori. Also to Beverly who is not yet a blogger, though we mean to rectify that. Thank you guys for thinking about me and mine. Finally, to Dr. Joseph Stirt, whom you will find at bookofjoe, a most sincere thank you for single-handedly keeping my blog statistics growing at a gigantic pace EVEN without my posting a thing. I owe you much Joe…

Goodnight from here in Houston.



Anniversary Surprise

Photo of Ike by Coreburn

Friday, 8:42 pm, Houston


Outside, I can hear the wind beginning to blow harder. Everything here has been secured to the degree we could keep it as stationary as possible. I've been glued to the television for the past few hours even though I had said I wouldn't. It is impossible to stop watching the images all our local stations transmit. About 90% of our neighborhood has remained here in Houston. On this street in particular, all but one family heeded the stay at home recommendations from our local authorities. There is bumper to bumper traffic out on the 1-10 freeway which is about 5 minutes away from my home. I worry about those people stuck in their cars, not moving at all, not going anywhere, at the mercy of these winds. The electricity might go sometime during the night and so I write this brief update thanking all of you who have written to me. I will answer your e-mails individually when I can. Thank you for worrying and for caring enough to let me know. I appreciate your prayers and concerns for me and mine. For the moment, we ride out the beginnings of this storm.


So there's a hurricane coming to Houston and authorities here keep telling us to "hunker down" in situ. I know, I know, I could have said in place rather than in situ but, hunker down is the kind of Texan expression that could use some Latin class, and so here you have me doing my shoe-shining bit. But I digress...

Anyway, a hurricane is coming and we are staying. There's something very macho about staying don't you think? That or, something very stupid. As it happens it is neither. We're just following instructions given by those who supposedly know better (I'm really hoping they do). The thing to remember is that we are safer staying home where projectile-like flying objects may smash against the sturdier home structure, than we would be if we were stuck in a flimsy car out on Houston's highways.

Our neighborhood thankfully is not in one of the zip codes that have been told to evacuate. Though we're in Harris County proper, our home is on higher ground and not prone to flooding. We've done some preparing however. I have tons of candles and batteries, flashlights, water and ice. Yesterday we filled up the gas tanks of both our cars just in case and, I did give in to the madness that reigns at times like these, by joining those who were buying the kinds of non-perishables I'd never otherwise buy.

Chili for example. I now have twelve cans of Chili bought at Costco even though I have never even tasted canned Chili before but, it is a non-perishable item and therefore, in case the electricity should fail, and all my lovely frozen foodstuffs - the cornish hens and the organic quails, the shrimps and scallops, the beautiful leg of lamb and the 4lbs of filet mignon all end up rotting then, the chili will help us to survive. Not in style perhaps but whoever said surviving had to be done any other way than just the plain ole surviving way?

You should have seen the checkout lines! As long as the supermarket was long and people shopping like mad up and down the aisles. There was an older gentleman who looked like he'd seen more than most. There he was standing with a whole load of wine bottles in his cart. No food, no ice, no candles, no batteries. Just wine bottles. He stood there staring everyone down with an obviously practiced "I don't give a fig what y'all think" look. Can't say I question his sanity. If my roof starts blowing off, I'd like to be in a high state of inebriation myself.

The skies have just begun to darken now. Not because of the storm but because night is beginning to fall. Tomorrow the television tells us the winds will pick up around noon time. It goes without saying that this is not the kind of anniversary weather I had envisioned for myself and M but things seldom go as we envision them going. For all that, I feel very much in a bit of a cocoon here. A nice, safe little place. With my husband and my kid close to me. That is something I wanted to have, this sense of closeness.

For tomorrow I'd planned the final installment of how I met, fell in love and married M but I hope you won't hold me to to that promise if I don't post. As to the hurricane, I'll update as possible.



Because someday you might ask how your father and I fell in love - Part II

Where our lives next picked up was a place of indecision and hope for me. I had been given an ultimatum by your father and I understood that this was a chance I either had to take or, allow to pass me by.

Milena, I won't ask this for a third time.
Will you take a chance on me, on us? Will you come?

That evening I sat on my bed with the phone cradled to my ear contemplating everything that stood between me and the possible consequences attached to his quietly worded question.

11 months had passed since we had first gone out to dinner and discovered that we got along famously. 8 months since my mother had clapped eyes on M, and sat me down that very same night she ever met him to say something fateful, and which I scoffed at even as it scared me to death:

Milena, you might not see it right now but that man, he is the one for you.

I wonder how sometimes life stares us in the face, places all the chips in order, opens all the doors one ever hopes to be able to walk through and when all those motions are oiled and running smoothly, what do we do? Do we play them? Do we walk through them? Do we follow the neatly laid out road? No. We doubt, we halt and we retreat. Why is that? Fate had handed me the one card I almost returned.

You have to understand that I'm not a gambler by nature and even so, for me, EVERYTHING is about the instinct - which in a way is a form of gambling isn't it? By the fourth month of knowing your father, I knew these things: He was solid, dependable, true, capable of loving me and I, capable of loving him back. The part where I got stuck really was the distance issue. He lived in Baku and I in DC. In those four months, he had traveled out three times to Washington for business and to see me. They were sweet but short those windows of getting to know each other. They were enough for me to glean what I have stated before. What they were not enough for, was to satisfy my craving for a sense of permanence; a sensation of being in the same place at the same time together with someone. I mean, look at it...

You see what I mean?

I couldn't call and say let's go out for breakfast tomorrow for example or, how about a movie tonight? If something had to be discussed that was serious or important we had to schedule phone time because my day was his night and my night was his day. My frustration with the distance grew exponentially to how much I was liking M. And so I made a decision. I let your father go. It was a perfect moment for that. Nothing had happened that could not be reversed. Our affections were at a point where one could say that they were engaged but not to a degree that would tear either one of us if we said goodbye to each other and that, is why I chose that particular moment to break it off.

I did it well. I hurt no feelings and I was upfront about my reasons. In everything I strive for honesty and this was one time when I excelled at it. What did your father say? He seemed disappointed. Upon hearing me tell him that we should stop, he looked like he wanted to tell me that we should have given it more time, but in the end, he gave in gracefully to my wishes. One final thing he did say to me that I remember almost word for word:

Should you ever find yourself in a position where you wish to try again, would you let me know?

Sure sure, I replied but I really held no hope that this would ever come to pass because M was a catch and surely he would move on quicker than I ever would. Or so I thought and for that moment in time, this chapter of our relationship felt like it had folded in on itself.

But it really hadn't. For the next half of the year we both dated other people. I knew this from information your disappointed mamani (M's mother) shared with me. And also because your father began to call me once again. Once or twice a month or so on average. What we accomplished through those conversations was keep ourselves in each other's lives. Except for that first awkward call, there was never anything difficult about our sharing information. That part flowed as smoothly as before. And because I no longer had any expectations but that of friendship between us, my frustration with the distance completely disappeared.

In retrospect, we took up again from where I had cut things off. I didn't realize then that this time, I was letting time, take its time.

Almost a year later from when we had originally met, you have me once again on the phone with your father, listening to him tell me in that way of his that there would be no other chance, no more phone calls if I said no to his invitation to fly somewhere to see him. The implications were clear that he wanted us to get together to see if there could be an us. I told him I'd give him an answer the next day, that I had to think some things through. We hung up.

The first person I spoke to after that was my mother because in truth my decision was made and I only needed that final push.

Mami, M has invited me to Venice. He wants us to meet there away from Baku and DC. Just the two of us to see if...


And there it was. The final push. To Venice I went.

I remember that right before I left my friend Jimmy, who'd once been married to a Venetian girl and lived in that city with her for a number of years, that he said to me: "Ay Milena! You'll come back in love. Venice is magical and you'll see what I mean once you get there."

He was right. Look. We took cheesy photos of ourselves the day after we arrived. That is quiet happiness you see on our faces. I can feel the hopefulness across the span of time that radiates from these yellowed photos.

And that hopefulness only grew during the next 8 days we spent together...


How we married is coming up next. I shall time it to coincide with Friday provided Hurricaine Ike doesn't blow us away because Friday, is our fifth wedding anniversary and, I think it only fitting that the end of this story should mark that day. Until then, be well all of you and thank you for all the kind words you always give me.



Because someday you might ask how your father and I met - Part I

Bethesda, Maryland, Winter 1999

I had been noticing the man who would someday become my father-in-law come running down the street for a couple of days now. Almost always he would be late in trying to catch the bus and so that was the reason for his early morning sprint. I myself, had decided to stop taking the car downtown to work. It was just too much of a hassle, what with the traffic and the cost of the parking, to continue insisting on driving into DC every day. And so there you had me, standing at the bus stop at around 7:15 am one cold morning when I saw my Baba for the very first time.

He had a briefcase in his hands from which papers were falling out. A coat whose one arm he filled while the other dangled empty as he tried to put it on. His hat had nearly slid off and, though I can't remember anymore if he had shirt buttons undone, the thought of them would complete this picture nicely, and so I'll throw in an undone button for good measure. Then as now, I thought the same thing: adorable. Every maternal instinct I had in me wanted to rise up to the challenge of tidying up this man whom I didn't know but that would someday, as yet unbeknownst to me, become so instrumental to my future happiness.

It took a few repeats of this same early day routine before I began to do my cheerleading bit. Depending on where the bus was from my vantage point, I'd hurry him up or slow him down via gestures. That was how we began the knowing, by helping each other. I could tell... let me amend this actually because tell is not a strong enough word, I could intuit because every instinct in me practically screamed it, that Baba was one of the good eggs of this world.

Have you ever seen someone whose goodness is painted on their faces and never doubted it for a second? Well that's Baba for you. He's painted goodness from the inside out, and one never doubts with him. That statement was as true then as it is now. And so from the helping each other to catch the bus, we progressed to polite good mornings and kind smiles and I suppose that it must have been me who initiated our first conversation because after all, I am who I am and that is Ms. Curiosity, which is to say that what happened next is that I basically picked my father-in-law up at a bus stop. When he tells the same story however, it is he who takes the credit for any picking up but, in my heart of hearts, I know the truth of who found whom.

Baba and I at his home in Bethesda, Maryland

Soon we progressed to talking because we were both into the same kinds of interests. Reading, poetry, chatting up strangers. It turns out that he had translated E.M. Forster's A Passage to India into Farsi. The whole book! And published it. He'd taught Persian studies at Cambridge in England, Berkley in California and when I met him, he'd been teaching at George Washington University in DC. To say I was beyond impressed with what that mind of his retained and the experiences he had lived through is putting it mildly. In those initial stages I learned a lot about his family in Iran and abroad. His wife and his grown up children. We became friends.

One day, he told me he'd been speaking often of me to his wife and that she wanted to invite me for dinner at their house. Would I come? Absolutely I would, I said. And that is how I met Maman too. For the next couple of months, while the three of us became better friends because we had been friends from the start, I never realized that they had been conducting a subtle but very thorough interview. Like good parents, they'd been vying for the interests of their as yet unmarried son and deciding whether I was worthy enough to be introduced to him. Persian style, they match-made for us.

It goes without saying that I passed muster because you know I married your father in the end but, up until that that point, I had only seen photos of a good looking man playing tennis here, sitting with family there, smiling a smile that was reminiscent of Baba in some ways but so very different in others. I thought him attractive but nothing more then. Besides, he lived in far off Azerbaijan working for a British company there, and he was as out of my sphere of thought in terms of a potential mate, that I never quite realized that my soon to be in-laws had developed ulterior motives in their efforts to befriend me. So it was with utter surprise that I came to dinner at their home one evening to find M seated next to me at the table.

A photo of M on a trip to Italy

This was he, I thought. He looked nice. Handsome and well put together. He was taller than me which is always a nice but not terribly difficult achievement considering I'm only 5 feet and 1 and 3/4 inches (I do stress the three quarters since it puts me almost at 5'2"). I also won't lie and say I remember everything about that evening, because I don't. I don't remember what M wore or what I wore, I don't remember how the conversation went or whether there were any types of glances or subtexts going on between Baba and Maman while we chatted and ate. What I do remember is that whenever I tried to engage M in conversation, and I tried hard, he would answer without looking at me directly. I found this annoying in the extreme. I like to look at people directly when they speak to me, give them my undivided attention and, I just find it unsettling when someone doesn't give me the same courtesy back. I could tell it wasn't natural shyness either that was prompting the disconnect.

For all that we had a pleasant evening, there was something off that night. I couldn't quite credit this quiet man who never met my eye as the offspring of his always engaging and animated parents. I do remember going to sleep feeling slightly disappointed and cross. Like something had passed me by that shouldn't have, something I'd missed seeing which I should have seen. The next day however, I'd forgotten all about him. There was work and life to occupy my time and so I found it truly surprising when 3 days later he called.



Hello. This is M____ J____ again.

Oh. Hello.

Listen, I want to come right out and apologise to you for the other evening. I know we didn't get a chance to speak much you and I.

I'll say... (though I only thought this and never spoke it out loud).

You see, on the day I met you I chipped my left front tooth quite badly and so I had a big gaping hole there and that is the reason why I kept mostly quiet and speaking from the side of my mouth when you addressed me. Sorry about that. In any case, I went to my dentist here yesterday and I've had it fixed, so I was wondering if you should like to go out to dinner with me tonight?

I was simply charmed. He'd been embarrassed! Well imagine that... It wasn't something I'd done... I did go out to dinner with him of course, this story would not have continued if I hadn't. But how that went along will be fodder for Part II of how you came to be.


The March

It is only now that I'm trying to recapture the details that I begin to notice the holes in this part of my story. There is much that is lost to the gossamer of time. Entire months in my life that were swallowed up by the routine of those days, no matter that we lived under the shadow of a dictator. In spite of everything awful that was going on around us, life still went on. That is the way it always unfolds doesn't it? Life in spite of everything...

So be it. It makes sense that I should tell it this way. After all, the me of this narrative was that other girl, the one I no longer am, and her memories have a distant hold in this future.


My parents stood there, dressed all in white. White sneakers, white t-shirts, white pants and white handkerchiefs held in their sun-burnt hands. Your mother and I have thought this over carefully. We have decided that we must go. It will be dangerous yes, but we cannot just stay here and sit safe in our home when we know that others are putting themselves out there. If everybody were to do that, then nobody would be protesting. No one would be marching. Nothing would change. Everyone must do their part and this, is the part that we can all do. You girls can stay here or, come with us. All in all it should be reasonably safe. There will be thousands of people no matter that they always make it out to be like we were only ten cats out on the streets...

I felt frightened and excited. I wanted so much to be a part of this march. I too wanted to be dressed in white. To stand next to my parents waving my otherwise ineffectual kerchief. I say otherwise because alone, it would have served no purpose in shielding me but in this instance, the symbolism of my own waving would be compounded by all the others who'd be waving theirs too. A multitude of Panamanians, more than 100,000 strong, holding in their hands the recognized standard of peaceful protesting. Noriega and his government would not be able to shut that up. They, would not be able to close us off from the world who watched from the relative distance of their living rooms televisions, being told of our unified stand via the foreign reporters in our midst.

There was a part of me that wished the scenario were different. That longed for a confrontation where I too could hold something with more substance in my hands. Something that could hurt and maim back those who would try and hurt us. That would frighten the men in Noriega's armies in the same way they were able to frighten us. Put them to the run like they were capable of putting us to the run. But we had no recourse to tangible weapons and I didn't have the strength to throw a rock effectually. Rocks were the weapons of choice for the students anyway. The daily bread of all the angry and fired up young men who lived then. A generation who missed many months of what should have been uninterrupted study time, to throw those rocks at great personal risk for the same reason that we waved our handkerchiefs, because they needed to make a stand.

Alexandra and I went. And my parents were right. There were so many of us. I could feel the power of the multitude more now because we were participants rather than spectators. It felt so invincible this marching together. There were moments when we held hands with utter strangers and that whole line about the brotherhood of the moment? Well it felt real. As we walked, we chanted mocking slogans about those who said they held power in our names, stating the truth for what it was: they were Noriega's puppets, scum and riffraff, and we wanted them all gone. Bold and drunk in the safety of our numbers and the roars of our refrains, the mood remained buoyant, the air festive despite knowledge of the murders, the jailings and the atrocities we kept track off in our heads.

Not the heat, the tiredness or our thirst, could diminish the enthusiasm. That is the peculiar dynamic of crowds. Sensations get magnified, the many feel as one. And in this case, we felt we presented a formidable challenge to the status quo. In that moment I, like so many others, believed that toppling Noriega and his cadre would be possible this way. We were showing the world how mighty we were even without the metal of guns in our hands. It really felt like that until the wave of whispered warnings made its way to us in our section of the crowd.

Behind us, where we couldn't see and from the side where we couldn't spy them, the military was preparing to fire into the marchers. Voices started yelling - Run! But I felt my mother and father trying to steady us as others with them attempted to countermand the incipient panic. Hold the line! Hold the line! People will get trampled unless we hold the line!

It was of no use. The press of that many bodies was already propelling us forward, shoving hard and there was nothing to do but run or be run over... In what felt like only seconds I lost track of my father and Alexandra. They were lost to my mother and I in the hysteria of the suddenly stampeding throngs. I was so dismayed, I never noticed how my mother moved us towards the edges of the column of runners. Many others were also trying to break away from the central mass, losing themselves into the side streets. Around us, we could hear shots and people screaming.

Sheer coincidence put us at this point a couple of blocks from where my father had his lawyer's office. An old 3 story building to which my mother had a key for the entrance lobby. A bit further back, we'd seen the young soldier begin to chase us. He caught up just as we shut the ornamental gate. Like us, he stood there heaving from the exertion. Garbed in the dreaded uniform of Noriega's paramilitary police, he was nothing more than a hunter who watched us while we watched him. I could tell he was stoned out of his head. Like many in the army were wont to do in those days, he'd taken drugs before being sent out to attack the protesters. The better to find the courage to hurt and kill.

My mother was so high on the adrenaline and outrage of the moment that I could tell she was working herself up to confront him. Probably berate him about what a disgrace to his country he was. As if he would have cared anything for her browbeating, standing there, wielding what power he thought he owned because he held a machine gun in his hands. Only the thought of what she might incite him to do to us, specifically me, kept her quiet in the end. This is perhaps the reason we finally made our way home that afternoon, frightened but unhurt. That and sheer luck. After another heartbeat of staring tensely at each other, someone else caught his attention and just like that, he was gone. Off to try and shoot some other protester before he called it a day.

Listen to an audio version of this post

For Jennifer, Melissa and Ron who challenged me to develop one of the stories in this post a little more.



So the husband and the kid are watching The Deep, that would be the 1977 movie with Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte. Remember the famous wet t-shirt scene? Quite frankly, it's a racy film for a not quite there yet four year old, but M. wants to watch it and so he adlibs the action into G-rated fare for R's benefit.

Jacqui's character is now lying on the bed looking all golden and beautiful. She has the air of a woman who wants to be kissed. Nolte is a yummylicious God, all shirtless and leaning over her. He looks like he's going to oblige...

R: What are they doing?

M: He's looking at her nose hairs.

R: Oohhh...

From the tone of R's voice, I could tell of course that this explanation made perfect sense.