By Shadi Ziaie
Pleasant Hill, California
The first time he saw her, he was struck by her poise and balance. Moving like a breeze through the crowd with red chiffon flowing over her skin, caressing her curves smoothly, she resembled a wild Azalea. He watched her dance with numerous men carelessly. Without knowing what her relationship to them might be he was surprised by his surge of envy mixed partly with traces of jealousy. She struck him as an elusive slippery fish swinging in the crowd, making eyes follow her. That made him even more mystified.
The second time he saw her he noticed her eyes. The depth almost drowned him and from then on every night he constructed Helia, this woman who would haunt his days and nights constantly until he would conquer her soul. His fantasies, his dreams, and many stories in his mind contained this alien. He would search for her every night and add bits and pieces to this mystery. Finally he overcame his ego and intimidation and through friends got a hold of her phone number. Sitting there paranoid, not knowing what he was going to say, he dialed her number. 1, 2, 3, 4 rings and a smooth voice on the answering machine.
Ramin was a man of many books and coffees. His philosophy revolved around generosity to strangers and escape from lovers. Attachments were the last of his likes and yet he loved many at once. His sanctuary was his room in which many sleepless nights of writing and drinking beer was spent. His answering machine was always overwhelmed with messages never returned, many of which were girls around the block inquiring on his state of being, concerned for his deep soul which he presented maskless on occasion when drunk. Sometimes he would even disconnect it and not let it ring for days where he would lock himself inside, drink, and listen to Chopin. His house was untidy and disorganized like the events that took place in his mind. Clothing all over the floor. Books scattered around. Papers in his crooked left handed writing on his desk and by his bed which had no sheets or pillow cases, only two comforters that were worn with use. The house always smelled of cigarettes. Sometimes he would sit and chain smoke for hours staring at the only poster on the wall: Ansel Adams' "Snow Covered Apple Orchard". This was the room he spent one year of his life in. The same period that Helia happened to him..
He left a brief message on her answering machine saying he called. Then he waited. Warmed up some left over spaghetti. Took a quick shower. Read a few pages of John Barth's "The End of the Road", one of the many unfinished books he had on hand. Smoked a cigarette. Ran to 7-11 and got some coffee. Paced his room. All in silence. All while he thought of Helia. He had come to a point where he thought about her every minute of every day. While shaving. While doing his laundry. While looking at himself in the mirror. While reading. While drinking. He passed every corner of the streets in hope of running into her.
Ramin had lost his father at the crucial age of seven. The only framed picture in his room was a black and white of the old man. Mr. Koohi was a drunk and his liver finally failed him. Ramin spent many hours of his adolescence recapping the events leading to his death. He remembered the last years of his fathers life. He died a frail man. Mrs. Koohi nursed him day and night and when he passed away she lost will too. Ramin was affected by all this. Subconsciously he believed that all who he loves would leave him eventually and that put a distance between him and every significant person that ever entered his state of mind. And yet he could not stay away from falling in love and being tortured by it.
It was the same with his mother and sister. He gave them grief with his way of life. Every Sunday morning Mrs. Koohi would leave long messages on Ramin's answering machine asking him to call her back and talk to her. Most of the time Ramin ignored the messages or they would get lost among the others and get erased. His sister, an accomplished young woman built the bridge between the mother and son. She would visit Ramin every now and then, forcing him to call their mother to say hello at least. Ramin ran away from them too, trying to be emotionally independent.
The phone was ringing. Ramin came to from his stupor and his heart began racing. "It must be Helia.", he thought. After 5 long rings that lasted a decade in his mind he picked up the receiver. The delay was not because he was far away from the phone. He was sitting right next to it for the past 3 hours. He just didn't know what to say or what reaction he would get from her. A thousand possibilities went through his mind before he answered it.
"Hi, it's Helia."
"Oh, hello, I just walked in. How are you?"
"Fine I suppose. Life does not agree with me but one must go on."
"Yes what choice does 'one' have? Let's make it a little better."
Later on when he hung up, dizzy from the conversation, he couldn't remember how it started and how they began philosophizing. He was sure he charmed her however. He talked to her about Eliot and Pound. About Charles Bukowski and how he died. About the neighbor who asked him to change her light bulb because she didn't know how. About music. About life. He philosophized everything to death. He knew right away what her taste was in conversation. After all he was a professional when it came to luring women. He promised her a bunch of books the next time he saw her which was the following Friday night. He didn't know how he would pass the next two days.
Ramin had many women in his life. None of them were significant to him however. He didn't even remember most of their names. He lured them into his trap of philosophy and dept only to fill his gap of loneliness and then he would break them like china dolls and throw them among the other's that were collecting dust in the corner of his room. Women loved him. He was understanding of their needs for love and affection. He would listen to them attentively, telling them he understood everything they said and felt. But he was only patient enough for this game for a few months and would give it up and become the average man. This shocked the women around him and interested them even more in dissecting him. But by then he would pull the little tricks of not answering his phone and pretending to be busy with "other important matters" of his life. Helia was different however. He had no intentions of playing his usual games with her.
They met at a restaurant where Ramin's friend was having a birthday party. The casual everyday conversations took place and when they were too uncomfortable because they couldn't talk about what they wanted they decided to leave. The went to a club close by which was packed with eople, ordered drinks and stood close\ together watching the crowd. Ramin's heart was racing at the speed of light again. When the drink warmed him up a little he took Helia's hand in his and whispered in her ear, "Do you know what it means to think about someone every second of every day?" Helia turned to him with her faced flushed. "Helia, I want to have you in my life. Now that I have finally found you I don't want to lose you. I want to be with you. Things I would normally do alone, I want to do with you." "Ramin, these are sweet words but I know they won't last." "Yes, they will. I know myself. When I fall in love, I fall hard. I would never, as long as I live, think about leaving you. I'll prove it." These words just streamed out. Ramin didn't know where they came from but they were there, materializing as he went on. But in the months to come, as he got closer to Helia, he became looser in his actions. Words would still come but the action to prove them was nowhere to be found. Helia being a romantic believed him and blamed the inconsistency on his deep character and his need for freedom. She didn't mind as long as she was the only woman in his life. She had fallen for him.
Ramin was mostly faithful during the course of their relationship, give or take a night or two. The few nights he strayed here and there was not because he was interested in anyone or even found pleasure in the act. It was because he was curious, but most of all he wanted to ease his mind off of his love for Helia. Of course Helia would never find out until he wanted her to. That night when Helia walked in the club and saw Ramin dancing with Mina she couldn't believe her eyes. He had teased her before about Mina and how he appreciated her beauty but never did it even pass Helia's mind that she would walk in on them dancing hand in hand. Ramin didn't stop when he saw Helia. He felt guilt piercing through his guts but for him to appear like he was doing something wrong was impossible. His ego would not let him. It was only after he saw Helia's tears that he pushed Mina away and ran to her. But Helia was long gone before he got to where she was standing. That night he called Helia 11 times including the time that he dialed the wrong number. There was no answer. She had even disconnected her answering machine. Like a maniac he marched in his room, cursing himself and Mina. He didn't know why he had done it. He loved Helia but believed that she would leave him too if he showed his real feelings for her. He went through 2 packs of cigarettes and when dawn came he called her again. Still there was no answer.
In the months that followed, he called her several times every day. A hundred times he thought about going to her house but didn't. He spent days and nights drinking and writing in his diary trying to figure out a way to free himself from his prison of confusing emotions. He wanted Helia more than anything in his life but he couldn't get himself to go to her. He was paralyzed. He didn't leave his room for days at a time. Hunger became normal to him. He tried to eat as little as possible. Food was the furthest thing from his mind. He became weak and started hallucinating, seeing Helia a few times a day. It would elate him for the moment, but like a person who knows he's dreaming he would too know that it was all his imagination. He didn't answer his phone calls. It would torture him to think that the blank messages might have been Helia. But by this time he was used to torturing himself.
His sister was the one who found him sitting by the window smoking and talking to himself. She had to force the landlord to break the lock since Ramin wouldn't answer the door. She was shocked to see Ramin's appearance and knew right away that he needed a doctor's care. Ramin didn't resist. He went with her in her car. All through the long drive he was talking. Most of what he was saying didn't make sense. She could decipher "Helia" and constant "whys". She cried half of the way. He just kept looking out the front windshield not aware of his sister's presence.
Helia visited him several times during his stay at the mental hospital. When she was certain that he didn't recognize her at all she gave up.