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.
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.
Bethesda, Maryland, Winter 1999
Posted by Gypsy at Heart at 8:09 AM