“My friend passed away two weeks ago. I’m here to clear my head,” I tell her. Hal, a pastor, was one of the first friends I’d made after moving to Phoenix a year and a half ago with my fiancé. He had helped us through some tough times.
She’s curious about where my accent is from. I tell her I was born in Iran. “But I have lived here longer than I have lived there,” I quickly add.
It’s a cool, sunny November morning. As she’s making my coffee, the woman spots the book I’m carrying in my hand, The Ministry of Guidance Invites You to Not Stay, by Hooman Majd. She asks me what it’s about. I tell her it was written by an Iranian immigrant who had left Iran when he was eight months old. When he turned fifty, he decided to go looking for his grandmother’s house halfway around the world, hoping to find his roots. He found the area, the familiar scents, the leftover mud walls. But he couldn’t find the actual house.
His story is not much different from mine, I say. Several years ago, I visited the neighborhood where my family used to live in Tehran. For the first time in more than two decades, I walked our old block, looking for the home I had grown up in. But it wasn’t there anymore.
The Book of Life is one big visual representation of everything we have come to associate with the holiday: “dark” Mexican folk art, sugar skulls, papel picado in every color, and altars adorned with seven-day candles, orange marigolds, and pan dulce. The movie is bright and visually stunning, despite being about death—and the same could be said about Día de los Muertos.
When I walk to the corner liquor store with my sunglasses on and hoodie pulled up, hoping to be left alone, neighbors still yell out, “It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” I smile politely, nod. Always polite.
I stood on this same street four years ago, a few days before Mother’s Day. It was early in the morning, around 3 a.m., and I was on the phone with a steely 911 operator, wondering why she was being so cold to me. I realize now it was probably better that way, but in those moments I hated her. I remember saying, “This doesn’t feel real. This feels like a movie. Is this real?” There was silence on the other end of the line.
My dad, however, had a strict "no pets" policy. Caring for a cat would cost too much money, he said. He and my mom already struggled to afford food. For days, my parents fought over the kitten while I held out hope I could have this one little, good thing in a house that all too often felt devoid of good things.