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Five Things You Need for an Emotional Meltdown

by RICK ZAND

09 Dec 2010 21:295 Comments
arush-ben-shelemo-tar-player-persian-jewish-1846.jpg[ fiction ] In Montreal, she sprained her ankle walking on high platform shoes, the summer night alive on St. Catherine's, crowds of tourists, punks stretched out on sidewalks begging change, their dogs subdued but not without a threatening demeanor with spiked collars and jutting jaws. We'd eaten at the Blue Nile, an Ethiopian venue replete with mirror fountains and desertscape frescos, and it was the first she'd tried raw kitfa. We'd shared Elephant beer, but neither of us was drunk. Still, when she fell off the curb, I couldn't react quickly enough to break her fall. She couldn't get up, and it took me ten minutes to hail a taxi. We went to the hospital, an eerie, poorly lit venue managed by a sickly doctor who looked to be self-medicated and painfully resentful of non-French-speaking tourists and dark Persian women like Parisa. Me, just an average blend of something Mediterranean, Italian, maybe, or Lebanese. Something olive-skinned that you couldn't quite put your finger on, but easily American nonetheless.

Dr. Lugubrious finished the last bite of his sandwich, then clumsily wrapped her foot in an ace bandage, and Parisa winced as I protested his rough touch. I rented crutches from the pharmacy near our hotel, and she hobbled around for the rest of the weekend, not complaining much, but unable to really enjoy the port, its cobblestone streets difficult to negotiate. So instead we retreated to a Middle Eastern restaurant where we coped with chewy kabobs, battled at backgammon and chain-smoked.

Parisa had insisted I drive down to Boston from Montpelier (three-plus hours), pick her up after work, then drive her to Montreal (passing through Montpelier, then another two and a half hours), then repeat it all in reverse order to get her home at the end of the weekend. This, instead of her driving halfway. I agreed in order to please her, mindless of the kind of psychology it established in terms of realistic expectations. Because now, I had to go all the way in everything.

Four months later I was alone. And in Iran.

Arari spun the car out of control en route to Yazd, fishtailing in the dirt off the highway, the oncoming truck he tried to race in order to pass the slow-moving rig ahead of us blaring his horn, my cigarette lost somewhere in the back seat as centrifugal force sent me to one end, my head tucked in the well between seats, my feet desperately flailing. The Khodro -- Iran's awful national car -- settled quietly in the dirt, its engine dead. Arari looked back with an apologetic smile, his white hair pressed to one side of his head.

"Nistam khoob," I told him, hoping that meant it wasn't good. He'd nearly killed us.

It took five minutes before the engine turned over, and only when we started moving did we feel the thump of two flat tires. It would now be night before we had the tires fixed and arrived in Yazd.

Finally, I awoke in Yazd, in the pleated desert of central Iran, the bajars rising like Seussian chimneys from all across the old village. I lay on a mattress likening a futon to a feather bed. Dust had dried into my nostrils. Arari was already sweeping around me, his frame permanently bent, his toothless grin welcoming me back to the landscape of the desperately alive. When I last saw Parisa, two months prior, the pain still hobbled her foot, and it seems the sprain outlasted our relationship. Now, I was in her country, and she in mine. There should be something ironic or meaningful in this, but there is not. This was a journey of forgetting, not realizing. This was not a time for reflection or insight; this was obliteration, taking ownership of a place that wasn't mine, in order to relieve the disappointment that it was indeed something of hers, and something that even from Boston, she inhabited.

Arari and I departed for Chak Chak, a Zoroastrian fire temple hidden in the desert mountains. I packed a bottle of water, the depleted kilo of pistachios I'd picked up on the streets of Shiraz, and a pack of acerbic Iranian cigarettes. I'd tried the hookah one night under an ink-black Yazd sky, but the smoke was so light I couldn't feel it in my lungs. I needed something strong. I needed to create a pain to drown out the pain of everything else.

Five things one should never do when leaving a marriage:

1. Fall in love with a woman in another city
2. Jump right into playing a role in her family, two kids and all
3. Leave your job
4. Leave your residence
5. Move to that other city

I accomplished all of these in roughly eight weeks.

The road to Chak Chak was painted onto a flat, pale, never-ending desert that surrounded it from every direction. In some parts of Iran, it's like driving through southern New Mexico. You sense Albuquerque just around the corner. Here, it was different. No bushes dotted the landscape, no hills, nothing to denote that primordial life could break through the cracked, barren surface; just shards of sunlight splintering against the windshield. Only a lone motorcycle sped along the tepid road in front of us, a large burlap bundle tied to the rear. Through the villages on the way, a group of boys on motorbikes held onto the tailgates of speeding trucks, a stunt that appeared as stupid as it was dangerous, a combination not uncommon on the streets of Iran, where sometimes a family of four rides nestled together, blazing between rows of cars. Arari shoved in a tape of The Eagles Greatest Hits. I asked him to turn it off, but he misunderstood and instead increased the volume.

The temple is located in the desert, through barren flatlands of the Dasht-e Lut and surrounded by mountains cut sharp and steep against a perfect blue sky. We finally arrived at one of these mountainsides. We met up with a pilgrim woman from Austria and her husband, a thin, anemic-looking man who chose to sleep in their van, parked at the bottom. They'd driven all through India, now Iran, and soon Pakistan. She followed me up, as Arari stayed back with the car. It was an amazing site, and striking in its peacefulness, miles into desert obscurity -- just the sound of wind, the rustle of eucalyptus trees, and the fading voice of Arari on his cell phone. The Austrian woman and I then follow a winding trail to a set of brass doors secured by a large padlock. Carved into each door was a splendid image of Zoroaster. A man stood next to the door -- the gatekeeper -- and for a small tip he unlocked the doors and ushered us in. He then instructed us to remove our shoes and adopt a white head covering that fit like the rim of a chef's hat. After, he led us into the cave where the fire torch burned as it had probably for many centuries, although the guidebook wasn't that specific. Water dripped off the rocky ceiling into a pair of plastic buckets, and a small garden overhead featured a knotty tree trunk. Through a decorative grating lay a spectacular view of the mountains and desert valley.

After the fire temple, Arari took me to the Towers of Silence (Dakhmeh-ye Zartoshtiyun), where up until thirty some years ago the Zoroastrians left their dead for the birds to pick away at. A concept that drew me to the religion -- I relished the idea of, once I'm gone, my body being laid on a desert hill in an open stone tower while vultures picked my bones clean -- actually, quite economical once you think it through. However, the site is more likely to find avid motorcyclists now than Zoroastrian priests performing funeral rituals, as was the case when we arrived.

Five things you need for an emotional meltdown:

1. A quiet room in the world's most ancient town
2. Three packs/Iranian cigarettes
3. A stack of Taftoon peeled from the nearest stone oven
4. Four bottles of contraband wine, if available. If not, any alcohol, or better yet -- opium.
5. An iPod with Radiohead The Bends/ Wilco Yankee Hotel Foxtrot/ The Decemberists A Crane Wife/ Azam Ali

Five things to do:

1. Avoid human contact
2. Avoid human contact
3. Avoid human contact
4. Avoid human contact
5. Avoid human contact at all costs

Now, take one weekend in Yazd. Don't leave your room. Let it rip.

Freud must have created psychoanalysis to provide a profession for middle-aged Jewish women for the sake of salvaging the wounded egos of men like myself, which is precisely why I found Shoshanna, a compassionate Jewess who offered a pathetically painful smile whenever I dropped the word "Fuck," an obscenity that hung in the air just for a moment, before disintegrating like the ashen trail of a dying star.

My emotional meltdown had outlasted a weekend. It had, in fact, continued for a number of weeks after I returned home to Boston. That is, until I found Shoshanna, angel of psychoanalytic praxis. For the first time since it all started, someone asked me what was wrong. This was easy: Living is painful. I'm manic, lethargic, distracted, preoccupied. Our culture fosters ADD, drawing us in from all sides so that we can't focus on anything very long. I'm a product of postmodernism, born from an ongoing cultural panic attack perpetrated by world economics, fast food, CNN, never-ending product trends, technology, and the constant pressure to produce and consume. My life has been ripped apart in every way imaginable. And there's no Yazd, no Zoroastrian fire temple. Nothing with the unusual permanence of that crusted desert floor. There is only the familiar. And it's the familiar that inflicts pain so precisely.

I gazed into the water churning beneath the Harvard Bridge. Slow moving boats accessorized the Charles, white sails slapping against a soft blue sky. I pitched my line over the rail. It formed an arc in the wind, the weights at the hook gently pulling down to the water's surface. Water always changes, its flow constant and undisciplined as it inexhaustibly redefines shape. Water hides life beneath its sloshing skin, well in its depths, and fishing is to reach down into its dark recesses and pull out something hopeful and alive. Desperately I drag my line up and down the bridge, guiding it through the lapping, sonorous stream.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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5 Comments

Cousin Rick,you mentioned the magic word,Opium aka Afioun aka Taryaq.The cure and antidote to all maladies.
A loaf of bread,a jug of wine a fair maiden and a lool of Taryaq

Siamak Zand / December 11, 2010 2:01 AM

I always dream of a room in Yashd. And cigarettes, and I want to be alone. With music from a kiosk. And opium would be alone make perfect.
I think. Maybe that makes the mind healthy.

hanne wagner / December 11, 2010 8:31 AM

What gorgeous writing.

Anonymous / December 11, 2010 3:39 PM

You've nailed it in the head, uplifting your life for someone you've known for only eight weeks is reckless. The willingness to do so maybe a sign of deeper issues.

Anonymous / December 14, 2010 1:05 AM

Beautiful story. Wishing you a life of peace...achieved with love. Enhanced with a loaf of bread and a jug of wine. Until then, there is always sisterly love!

Big Sis / December 16, 2010 2:06 AM