My Farsi Boyfriend
My name is Michael Leigh Benèt. Years ago I worked as a nurse at
Group Health Central Hospital on Capitol Hill right here in sunny
Seattle. It was a very stressful job but it gave me innumerable
chances to see mankind at its best and worst every single day. I
got along well with my fellow employees, and as long as I didn't
disrespect the doctors, my managers, the patients or their
relatives, I could keep the paychecks rolling in.
In the three years I was there I met a few guys I was interested in dating. The first one was a dental assistant named David Lupine. David was tall and lanky, the kind of guy people called "string bean" or "tall drink of water." Because of his height, his pants never fit right. They were always too short. Those who got close to him called him "high waters." He didn't mind, though, because he was smart and always had a quick comeback.
David wasn't the type of guy who betrayed his gayness. You just couldn't tell. I thought he was kind of cute, but never told him because I wasn't sure what his position about that was. My gaydar wasn't fully developed as yet.
One day, a few of us were in the lunchroom and the subject about children came up. One worker said, "I don't have any now, but if I met a girl who'd give me five, I'd love her forever." David's response to that was, "Shut my mouth and gag me with a spoon! If that would happen to me I'd castrate myself on the spot!" I thought that was an odd comment, but I kept my thoughts to myself. The next time I saw him I did ask about it. He stated he didn't want kids and his boyfriend couldn't make him adopt any.
Boyfriend? He had a boyfriend? Wow, could've fooled me. He later explained it was his ex but they were contemplating getting back together. He also asked me to keep all this to myself because he wasn't out but he felt I could be trusted.
The second guy I was interested in was an ARNP, an advanced registered nurse practitioner. His name was Tony Wong. Being an ARNP placed his at just one step below a doctor but several steps higher than my pay grade. I got along well with Tony. He had a sense of humor that wavered between sarcastic and morose. The older nurses didn't care for his bedside manner at all, but he didn't care. The patients enjoyed his jocularity. He did bring smiles to the faces of those in pain or those hearing incredibly bad news for the first time.
Tony found out I was gay because I sometimes wore a pink triangle pin on my nursing scrubs. It was a tiny gold pin, not one so huge and obstructive that the managers would order you to take off. We had gotten into a conversation about the symbol of the pink triangle, Nazi Germany and their persecution of gay people, and it somehow became apparent that I wore the button not only as in solidarity but also in identity.
I'd asked Tony out one day but he refused. He stated he was continuing his studies and didn't have time to go out. He also said he feared it could lead to something so he thought it best to leave everything between us platonic. I didn't learn till later that he had an on again, off again boyfriend and was just trying not to hurt my feelings. Too late. Group Health (or Group Death as the natives called it) may be large, but it was like a small town, a gossip mill at best. If you had a secret, keep it to yourself and out of Group Death otherwise you may as well spell it out in huge letters in the cafeteria.
One day there was a new class of nurse recruits in the hospital. I was hanging an IV in one of the rooms when they walked past the door. Fresh out of school, the six students were being oriented to their new jobs by a manager. Minutes later, while I was writing some notes at the nursing station, the manager walked over with one of the students.
"Michael," she began, "I'd like you to meet someone."
I looked up. A male nurse in his early 20's with hair as black as midnight stretched his hand out to mine.
"My name is Shapour Shirazi," he said.
"I'm Michael Benèt," I responded, shaking his hand.
"He'll be shadowing you today," the manager explained.
Shadowing me? Well, this was unexpected. I hoped Shapour couldn't tell my hands were trembling. Yes. He was that gorgeous. It seemed like he was chiseled from a block of Asgard marble and brought to life. Okay. That's a little...extreme, but you get the picture. Have you ever had that feeling where you met someone and it seemed you got lightheaded, giddy and sweaty at the same time? Well, that was one of those times. Embarrassing, to say the least.
"I haven't oriented someone in a while, Shapour," I admitted to him, "so if you want you can do some quick rounds with me."
"Okay," he nodded lightly.
I showed Shapour where the nurses' lounge was as well as our med room, oxygen room, small central supply, fire extinguishers & exits, the disaster manual, and other items. He seemed very eager to learn. Asking very few questions, he was like a cool breeze following me around. A few of the staff members and patients did notice him and introduced themselves; I even think some of them blushed when he smiled at them.
After lunch, I showed him how the med dispensing machine worked. He was a pretty quick learner and it became obvious he was comfortable around me.
"Are you new to nursing?" I asked.
"Yes, sir." he answered. His accent, as well as the formality in his voice, betrayed his foreign upbringing.
"Gee, you're so formal," I remarked. "Where are you from?"
"Iran," he answered.
"Have you been here long?"
"I came to America five years ago."
"Your whole family?"
"Yes, sir. My parents, my sister and myself."
"You make me sound old, Shapour. 'Yes, sir'."
"That's okay. I'm just playing."
I continued showing him how to use the med dispenser by punching codes in it and double checking to make sure the right patient's meds were being accessed. (Central billing use to lecture us about this. It got tiring after a while).
"You're a good teacher, Mike," he smiled.
I nodded politely. If I could've bottled his smile and stuck it in a picture frame, it'd be hanging over my bed forever.
Unfortunately, Shapour didn't spend the entire shift with me as he still had some paperwork to do in the educator's office. Before we split up he did say goodbye and that he'd see me again the next day. I couldn't wait.
That night, I couldn't stop thinking about him. I spent a good chunk of time on the internet looking up Iran, its people and culture. It's so funny to look at someone that looks as sweet and innocent as Shapour, and then see his leaders banging their fists and condemning the western world with pure vitriol. The dichotomy is startling; real, but startling. Shapour didn't look like those angry politicians and clerics at all. Clean shaven, his raven hair was almost to shoulder length. If he did have a mean streak, I guess he kept it well hidden.
The next day at work things went pretty smoothly. Again, I was given the task of orienting Shapour. Yay! He wore a different uniform that day. I normally wear light blue scrubs. He also did the same, not maroon like the day before. What did that mean? I was hoping it meant he'd noticed my colors and followed suit.
At lunch, we sat together, just the two of us. I looked around briefly for fellow workers but I didn't see anyone I knew.
"I want to learn more about your country," he commented at the table.
"What do you want to learn?" I asked.
"Everything. How cars are made, where newspapers are printed, your museums...I want to see some western films. I saw a few in Europe but they were banned in Iran."
"You're very curious, huh?"
"Yes. You want to know a secret?"
"Your country is very open, no? You people have a lot of freedoms here. You can say what you want and do what you want."
"Well, within moderation. You speak English pretty well."
"My father's a businessman and did a lot of traveling. I'm not like the typical Persian boy who grew up in one small town. Iran has lots of restrictions, but my father was able to travel as a merchant to several European countries. I started learning English at a young age."
"Good for you."
"I saw a lot of things in Lisbon, Paris, and London. My eyes were open."
"Like what? What did you see?"
"Well, the way people lived…their openness. They were just free, not like they had a soldier looking over their shoulder all the time. You know what I mean?"
He suddenly reached over and touched my hand. I heart leaped.
"Yeah, I guess I do," I answered.
"I'll tell you more later," he promised.
Later, as I was walking out to the parking lot to go home after work, I heard someone calling my name.
Looking around, I saw Shapour walking quickly towards me.
"Hey Shapour," I greeted him. "What's up?"
"Are you busy this evening? Or right now?"
"Um, no, not really. I was gonna go home and change. I thought I might get some jogging in."
"Do you want company?"
Half an hour later, Shapour and I went jogging around a high school track near my house. The sun was on full blast. A few students were kicking a soccer ball around on the grassy field. A handful of joggers were also on the track
Because he wasn't prepared for jogging, Shapour had to wear one of my jogging shorts and t-shirts. They actually fit him well. I thought it'd swim on him considering he's a little bit smaller than me.
"You look nice in those," I told him. "Don't destroy 'em."
"I won't," he promised.
Minutes later, we took a break, sat in the bleachers and drank some water from our bottles.
"I learned some words in Farsi," I bragged.
"Oh, yeah? Like what?"
"Um...wow, your language is hard. Um...dastsuyi man pore màrmàhi ast."
"My toilet is full of eels?" Shapour laughed. I blushed.
"It's my first time,' I admitted. "I know as much about Farsi as I do rocket science."
"They want to take my head in Iran."
"What?" Did I just hear what I'd thought I heard?
"They want to take your head?"
"Yeah. They don't like people like me back home."
"What do you mean? What's special about you?"
"Do you want to talk back to your house?" he asked.
"Okay," I answered. "Let's go."
Shapour and I were sitting on separate chairs in my living room. I was actually on the couch next to an unfinished jigsaw puzzle. We're both sipping beers. The news on TV was on but the volume was low.
"If I was to somehow end back up in Tehran right now I would be hanged."
"Why?" I wondered.
"I was born a Muslim but I switched."
"You switched? What do you mean? Switched religions?"
"Well, something like that. That's called apostasy. It's punishable by death according to the Koran."
"So you become a Christian?"
"I didn't become anything. I'm just a non-believer, I guess. Does that offend you?"
"Nah. You'd have to really go out of your way to offend me. After what we see all day at work?"
"It's really tough being an apostate in a country like mine's."
"They're pretty strict, huh?"
"Yeah. But not just that. I'm gay, too."
"Hmm. Double whammy."
"Yeah. They were looking for me."
"Who's looking for you?"
"Here in America?"
"No. Back home. It's not easy. I did bring some shame to my family and I've been trying to make amends. My father knew it was best to get me out of Iran. I was lucky. He couldn't just forget about me like so many fathers do and leave me to there to burn. People do that all the time to save face, but all that traveling around we did in Europe opened our eyes."
"So...everything's okay with your family?"
"Not the girls. My sister and mother still think it's an abomination - the gayness and apostasy. Needless to say, my relation with them is strained." He shrugs.
"Where do you live now?"
"I'm still with them, but everyone's so busy we hardly see each other. That's better for me."
"Wow. At least your father's on your side."
"Well, not exactly. He's hoping I'll come around."
"Back to being a Muslim?"
"Back to both. I'm his only son so the burden of lineage is upon me."
"Heavy load to bear, my friend."
Shapour raised his bottle.
"A toast to those who didn't make it out alive!"
"Hear ye!" I added. "And a toast to freedom and new friendships and togetherness!"
Suddenly, he got up, sat right next to me on the couch, and kissed me. It was long and meaningful and deep and absolutely unexpected.
Seconds later, he came up for air.
"Did you know about me?" I asked.
"You glow like a neon lamp," he noticed.
"I do? I do not!"
"Yeah. Read you like a book. I know you like me."
He kissed me again.
"Yeah," I admitted. "You're kinda cool for a Farsi."
The next few weeks with Shapour were like a dream come true. Appreciative of American culture and the diversity of Seattle artisans, we spent a lot of time going out to "out of the way" ethnic restaurants and visiting local museums like the EMP, Seattle Art and the Wing Luke in the International District. We also went to a few movies at some local art houses. Other times, we simply gave hours to chilling at the Ballard Locks and other points of interest. He was quite the conversationalist once he got used to you. I probably learned more about Iranian life in those few weeks than I ever could in a lifetime.
The initial meeting with his family didn't go as well, however. His father, Davood, was cordial and respectful. The same couldn't be said for his sister, Chalipa, or his mother, Mozhdeh. It's not that they were as cold as ice, but you could tell there was no love lost between us.
One day, Shapour surprised me by inviting me to a picnic. It was to be held at Sunset Gardens, a local park in Ballard. Located on the beach, it was a popular spot for sun bathers and picnickers alike. When I got there that Saturday, I was met not just by him, but his family as well. It was to be our first meeting.
Davood shook my hand, told me his name, and asked how I was doing.
"Fine," I answered.
"So you're Michael?" his sister asked.
"You must be Chalipa."
I extended my hand. Reluctantly, she shook it.
"Are you Mozhdeh?" I asked his mother.
"You're pronouncing it wrong," she corrected me. "It's Moe'sh'day."
"Sorry," I apologized to her. "It's not a word I'm used to."
"As well you shouldn't," she responded.
Oh boy, I thought. I could see where this was going.
"Chalipa brought some traditional Iranian dishes," Davood explained.
"I hope you like it," she added. "Took me all morning."
"Whatever you brought, it'd be an honor to enjoy it."
Chalipa rolled her eyes. She was young but flattery was obviously lost on her.
"One day I might open a Persian restaurant," she proudly asserted. "I've been told I make the best tabouli and gheimeh bademjan this side of Tehran."
"Good for you," I said.
Considering our differences, our meeting went rather well. I actually didn't think Shapour told his family about us, but considering how open he was, it was no secret. His sister and mother also clearly stated their position about his gayness and apostasy, but they also mentioned he'd be "back in the fold" once he met the right girl. Yeah. Good luck with that. Things continued going well with Shapour and me for the next few days till the ball dropped.
It was January 10. Iran was celebrating Bahman 22 - Victory of the Iranian Revolution. Shapour decided to come to work that day dressed in cultural clothing. Over his typical scrubs he wore a green ankle-length cotton tunic called a qaba. Fastened at the waist with green ties, it almost looked like a long scrub top. He complemented his attire with matching cloth shoes and Dervish cap. The cap is basically a pointed rimless cloth cap with inscriptions on it. He was generally complimented on his attire. One employee, however, did take offense to it.
Joe Rizzo worked for several years as a transport aid at Group Health. He'd been disciplined a few times for wheeling elderly patients on gurneys too quickly, dropping patients off on the wrong floor from the recovery rooms, or telling the patients his personal problems. It was well known, especially since he spoke about it all the time, that he couldn't keep a girlfriend, often had problems with his landlord, was a heavy drinker and smoker, and never finished community college courses because of fights with the professors. From what is known about him, he did a two year stint in the army after high school, was dishonorably discharged, and spent the next couple of years after that sailing from job to job till he ended up at Group Health.
The other employees thought that Joe was just slow, but no one told him that to his face because he was six feet tall, weighed around 220 lbs, and was as strong as a wrestler. He did have a few friends looking out for him, though, and that's what got him saved from being fired.
On the day Shapour came to work in traditional attire, a lot of folks commented positively on his looks. The only holdout was Joe. When Shapour walked past him, Joe would whisper something anti-Muslim or something about terrorism or camel jockeys under his breath. Shapour told me about it a few times but I just shrugged it off as the rants of an insecure loser.
I was in the supply closet looking for some generic aspirins, stool softeners and diabetic needles that day. I'd kept the door propped open because the heat in the tiny room was a little stifling. Joe knew I was good friends with Shapour, but he didn't know we were actually lovers. As I was filling my little cart, Joe came by.
"Hey Michael," he started. "How's it going?"
"Can't complain," I answered, continuing my supply quest.
"This country's going to the dogs, huh?" he wondered.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"All these foreigners? Taking our jobs and women?"
Oh, oh. I knew where this type of dialogue was headed, so I thought it best to ignore it. Joe kept on, though.
"You know how many years I gave to this country? In the army?" he queried
"Two years, Joe." I was a little irritated already. "That's common knowledge."
"That's right. I'm a true blue born and bred American."
He points the small American flag tattooed on his left arm.
"See that? These colors don't run."
"Looks good, Joe."
"I know you're friends with that new nurse, Ayatollah or whatever his name is, but we gotta do for ourselves in this country, you know? We gotta take care of our own."
I placed all the medical items in my cart, closed the supply room door, and turned to Joe.
"Listen Joseph," I told him, "if you have a problem with Shapour, just talk to him. You'll see he's not that bad. And he's not looking for a handout."
"I got his name stamped on the bottom of my jack boots."
"That's the worst fucking thing I've ever heard coming out of your mouth, Joe!"
"Sorry, dude. That's how I feel."
"You wanna stand right here in front of me spewing this shit?"
I was so heated I probably had steam blowing from my ears.
"Geez," he apologized. "Didn't know you felt that way."
Just then, Shapour came walking towards us from down the hall. Joe took a quick glance at him then took off.
"Something wrong?" Shapour asked, studying my expression intently.
"No," I answered, finally calming down. "It's okay. A lot of characters in Group Health."
"I've been getting compliments about my outfit."
I looked him in his eyes. It was the most meaningful thing to do at the time.
"I love you," I said. He smiled.
"I love you, too." he smiled, patting my arm. "Where did that come from?"
"You make me whole," I admitted. "You just do. Oh, by the way, they squeezed my arm and got another shift out of me."
"Tonight. Somebody called in sick."
"I thought tonight we'd look at a Farsi movie."
Shapour was crestfallen. I didn't know he had something planned.
"Being that today is your country's holiday," I offered, "I didn't think you'd mind. I thought you'd be hanging out with your family anyway."
"Yeah, that's true," he admitted. "Some friends of theirs are coming over."
"Sounds like a party. I wish I could go."
"All the same. They're hardcore mosque dwellers. They're not as western as us. It was probably best if you didn't come."
"If I didn't...?"
"They're not that understanding."
"Sounds like you want to hide me."
"Well, not hide you, but..."
"What? So you're embarrassed to be seen with me in front of your people?"
"Is that what I said? They wouldn't understand."
"You make it sound like my fault!"
"It's our holiday! These people are traditional!"
"Yeah. I get it. Lock Michael in the closet till this whole shebang is over."
"Oh, this is ridiculous!"
"Now I see what you think about me!"
Shapour turns to leave.
"Where are you going?" I ask. He waves me off.
"You sound impossible," he responds. "I'm letting you cool off."
"Oh, shit. I'm sorry, Shapour."
"Yeah. Me, too."
I watched as he walked down the hall and out of site. Damn it! I lost my temper and blew up on the only man I loved. Note to self: learn to keep your anger in check. The next few days were also trying days between us because of a few things that happened to him.
In the first incident, he discovered a sticker of a burning World Trade Center on his locker in the employee lounge. It was a bitch to take off because its adhesive was unusually strong. Unfortunately, he had no one to blame and no one stepped forward to accept responsibility.
The next day, someone used a permanent marker to draw a few symbols on the plastic bag he kept his lunch in down in the employee lounge's refrigerator. It was a drawing of a crescent moon and star, symbols prevalent in the Muslim world. Next to it was another drawing of an equal sign and the devil. Again, no one took responsibility. Shapour did suspect it was Joe because of a brief encounter they had the next day.
Shapour was coming out of a patient's room reading a clipboard. He accidentally tripped and fell over a short metal cart that was suddenly thrust in front of him at the room's entrance. Looking up from the floor, he realized it was Joe and got up to confront him.
"You did that on purpose!" he shouted.
"You need to look where you're going!" Joe shot back.
"Just come out and say it, Joe. You don't want me here, right?"
"I don't care where you Arabs work."
"I'm not an Arab. I'm Persian."
"Same difference. A raghead's a raghead."
"I'm gonna report this."
Joe, suddenly turning as serious as a drill sergeant, walked straight up to Shapour.
"Do whatever you want to me in here," he promised, "but just remember: outside is a whole different world."
Shapour watched as Joe stormed off in a huff. That evening, Shapour told me about his non-fateful encounter with Joe. He explained he was reluctant to report him because, from his experience, the majority never took the side of the lesser man. I reassured him America was a different kettle of fish but he explained old habits are hard to break.
The next night, after getting home late from another double shift, I jumped right into the arms of my anxious couch. Always there, always comforting, nary a bad word was emitted by it. It was the best, non-accusatory friend a tired body could have. Suddenly, the phone rang. I looked at the caller ID. It was Shapour. I answered it right away
"Shapour," I began. "What's up?"
"I'm in the emergency room," he uttered weakly.
"In the ER? Working? Tonight?"
"No. I got jumped this evening."
"You did? By who? What happened?"
"Can you come to Harborview?"
"Yeah. Sure. Are you hurt?"
Harborview Medical Center was only a ten minute drive away from my apartment. So, quickly gathering my keys, I dashed out of the house and headed towards the giant hospital.
There were several people, mostly indigent it seemed, sleeping in the ER's waiting room. I walked straight over to the receptionist.
"Hi," I greeted her. "I'm looking for Shapour Shirazi. He just called me from here a few minutes ago."
"Is he a patient?"
She looked through her ledger then finally saw his name.
"He's in berth 4."
"Thanks. Where's that?"
She pointed towards a pair of double doors.
"Thanks," I said then promptly exited the room.
It only took a few seconds to find berth 4. I wished I didn't. Sliding back the curtains, my stomach got filled with lumps. Shapour, lying on a narrow ER bed, had an IV in his left arm, a monitor on his right index finger, and bruises on his forehead, cheek and chin.
"Shapour!" I shouted, running to give him a hug.
"Hey Mike," he greeted me with a kiss.
"I guess your country isn't as tolerant as it seems."
"Who did this? Are you in pain?"
"I'm just sore right now. I'll be fine, though. Just a little shaken up."
"I'm so sorry," I affirmed. I felt so helpless.
"It was Joe Rizzo."
"He jumped you? That motherfucker!"
"He never liked me. Always gave me bad vibes."
"Did you call the police?"
"Yeah. I gave them a statement earlier when my family was here."
"Are they still here?"
"Nah. They got tired when they saw I'd be okay. Plus, you know, they have to work in the morning."
"I'm sorry for doubting you, Shapour. I should've taken the threats more seriously."
"There's no way you could've known."
About two hours later, he was discharged. Instead of going to his own home he decided to come back to my place with me. I made him some tea. Within minutes, we were both fast asleep.
I took off from work the next day to take care of my paramour. We were sitting in a nook of my kitchen when he started talking about his days, mostly bad, in Tehran.
"I was bullied a lot," he admitted. "The other guys picked on me mercilessly. I couldn't wait to travel to Europe with my father. All they did was make life hell for me back home anyway."
"I'm surprised you weren't suicidal."
"Of course I was! Those people…they're like simpletons, stuck in the dark ages. Made me rue the day I was born. You know what it's like to have no support? I ask you - how much hate can one man endure in his lifetime?"
"I guess ignorance is universal."
"You know what?" I suggested, "We shouldn't live in fear. There are a couple of schools not far from here that teach self defense."
"I'm not a violent person."
"Neither am I. It couldn't hurt to check 'em out."
"You know, I studied capoiera in Tehran."
"It's martial arts but it combines dancing with it. Very interesting."
"Were you good?"
"I never kept up with it because we moved a lot."
"Well, maybe you can pick it up again in the U.S."
A few days later, after scouting different fighting institutions in the Seattle area, we began taking lessons in Tae Kwon Do from a dojang, a Korean martial arts school, in Greenlake. In a relatively short time I felt stronger, more alert, and invincible. Besides learning how to kick and punch well, it also introduced us to meditation and discipline. The fighters on TV and kung fu movies sure made sparring look easy. In real life, though, that was a different story. We never learned how to walk on tree limbs or go flying through the air with swords. The instructor, a 6th degree black belt champion fighter, was as charming as a brick wall. Still, you had to overlook his overbearing ways to see what the light at the end of the tunnel was - gaining courage and strength to deal with your enemies.
In the meantime, Joe had been fired from work after spending a weekend in jail for assaulting Shapour. Still between jobs, Joe used to just walk around aimlessly in the city daring random pedestrians to engage him in a fight. He did have a few friends at the local Army & Navy store that helped him out with food and money, but even they knew that their buddy had a few screws lose.
Late one evening, he was lying in wait for Shapour who was walking home from work with his backpack slung across his right shoulder. As he neared his house, Joe suddenly stepped in front of him from the bushes.
"You remember me?" he asked Shapour rhetorically.
"Aren't you supposed to be in jail?"
"Why? I didn't do anything to you."
"You jumped me!"
"That wasn't me."
"What? You're crazy."
Insulted, Joe rushes Shapour and pushes him backwards. The gentleman from Iran stumbles but doesn't fall; nevertheless, his backpack hits the ground.
"Stop it!" he shouts.
"Stop it!" Joe shouts back in a feminine way, mocking him with limp wrists.
Shapour starts crossing the street to get away but Joe gets in his way. Besides the two of them, there is no one else on the desolate street, and Joe intended to make the most of this opportunity.
"You still have your job, don't you?" he asked.
"What?" Shapour questioned him, puzzled.
"I can't find gainful employment because of you!"
"You're the one who attacked me, asshole! It's your own damn fault!"
Shapour should have run away from Joe, but somehow he felt that it'd be futile. Not only that, the unstable ex-employee could have a gun and be stupid enough to use it. It was best, he thought, to just try to reason with him.
"I don't want any trouble," he insisted. "I just want to go home. Is that okay?"
Joe suddenly pulled a police baton out of his back pocket and held it up for Shapour to see.
"What are you gonna do?" Shapour asked. "You're losing it!"
Joe took a swing at him but missed when Shapour dodged it.
"Stand still, fag boy!" he shouted, swinging at him again but missing.
Suddenly, a patrol car came driving up casually. Joe, taking a quick glance at it, turned and ran off in the dark. The car pulled up alongside Shapour. The police officer winded his window down.
"Is everything okay?" he asked the Iranian.
"Yeah. I'm fine."
"Were you two fighting?"
"No. He's...he works where I work. Just fooling around in the street, that's all."
"You live around here?"
Shapour pointed up the block.
"Right over there."
"Well, you just take it easy, okay?"
When the squad car left, Shapour picked up his backpack and continued on home.
The next day, I was having coffee with Shapour in a cozy little cafe in Capitol Hill a few blocks away from Group Health. Something was bothering him. I asked, but he didn't want to tell me. We'd started spending less time taking Tae Kwon Do lessons because it was a little expensive and just made us sore. Also, it's particular emphasis on leg exercises just seemed especially tiring. Eventually, Shapour did tell me about his meeting with Joe the night before
"You know why I don't run to the police?" he asked. "It's because they can't hold my hand forever. I've gotta stand up for myself, don't I?"
"Doesn't seem like Joe's letting up any time soon."
"Maybe we should've kept on with the Tae Kwon Do lessons."
"Maybe we should just buy guns."
"I'm just joking," I smiled. "My body just aches from all that kicking. Maybe I'll get a shiatsu deep muscle massage."
Shapour reached across the table and rubbed my face.
"I'm not running scared anymore," he explained.
"You don't have to prove anything to me," I told him.
"Yeah. I know."
Two day later, Shapour ran into Joe Rizzo in his neighborhood again. They didn't meet each other as Shapour had successfully avoided him. Still, tired of being everyone' punching bag, he continued his Tae Kwon Do lessons.
For the next few weeks I watched as he became more and more toned. The ripples in his arms and legs were becoming more pronounced. I was titillated and scared at the same time. His muscles were a joy to feel, but I feared if I crossed him he could break me in half like a twig. We still hanged out and went to the movies as usual, and he slept in my house a few times. We were as close as we have ever been but something was still troubling him. One night, he decided to put an end to the bullying once and for all.
He was walking home from work, his trusty backpack slung around his shoulder as usual. The street was eerily quiet. Just a few hundred yards to his house and he'd be home free. Suddenly, Joe jumped out from the nearby bushes with his baton in hand. He charged Shapour. Instinctively, Shapour sidestepped him, entangled Joe's legs with his own legs, and knocked him to the ground.
"You've been practicing," Joe admitted. "I'm still gonna fuck you up!"
Getting up, he charged at him again.
Shapour swung and delivered a roundhouse kick to his chest. He went flying backwards and landed 'thud!' on the sidewalk.
"You motherfucker!" Joe yelled.
Getting up, he threw the baton at Shapour. It missed and landed deep in the hedges.
They started sparring with each other. Joe was large but he was surprisingly fast. Shapour blocked most of his punches. One punch did lucky and find its mark to his chin. He staggered backwards. His gums and bottom lip started bleeding.
Joe lunged at him again. Shapour quickly sidestepped, kicked his knees, and knocked him to the ground. Then, flipping him over on his abdomen, he locked his tattooed arms behind his back and sat on his shoulder.
"Get off me!" Joe shouted, his lips bleeding from scraping the sidewalk.
Shapour applied more pressure on Joe's locked arms. He screamed.
"You're breaking my arms!" he shouted, tears forming in his eyes.
"That's what you get!" Shapour reasoned. "I can take this further if you want!"
"I'm...I'm sorry, Shapour!"
Shapour twisted his arms again. He screamed. The pain was excruciating.
"I just want peace, you got that?" Shapour barked. "I didn't do anything to you! You failed in life but want to blame other people for it. Did I make you get fired? Did I kick you out of the army? Everything that happened to you - it was all your fault. Are you gonna man up and take responsibility or just keep jumping out of the bushes like a weak fucking predator? If you can't make up your mind, I'll be more than fucking happy to do it for you!"
"No! No!" Joe shouted. "I can't take no more."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I'm sorry…I'm sorry."
Shapour, still stinging from the brazen assault, finally let go. Joe started sobbing, a pathetic sight, lying prone in the middle of the street. Shapour shook his head, picked up his backpack, and walked away.
I saw Shapour for a few weeks after that. The stressors of working, and the incidents of bullying, had taken their toll. He said he'd needed some time to himself so we had a trial separation. At that time, his father secured a well paying job in Spokane and, as much as he didn't want to, Shapour went there with his family.
Those few months with Shapour were some of the best times I've had in my life. I learned a lot from him and I'm sure he learned a lot from me. I would've liked to have visited his country with him, but I knew that was an impossibility. Their regime hadn't changed. Their government's anti-western rhetoric hadn't changed one bit. The last time I checked, everything was the same as it ever was. Shapour informed me that people went on living their lives as usual. Outsiders like myself and him weren't welcome. And yes, I feel sorry for those stuck in a world where they aren't free to express themselves - state-sponsored persecution is a bitch - but at least it's something Shapour would never have to endure ever again as long as he stayed in America.