November 24, 1978, yes long time ago. The Iran Air flight landed in New York's JFK, late, as usual, I'm sure, and I arrived into US. After getting my one suitcase I walked outside the double doors, right outside of Iran Air terminal. I was wearing my new leather jacket my friend had gotten me before I left Iran. It was barely warm enough for a late November night in the cold New York air. I put my hands in my pockets and took couple of deep breaths. It was cold and crisp.
Less than 24 hours earlier I had left Iran. My older sister's help me pack that one suitcase with couple of suits, socks, few shirts, and some personal items. No razor, I wasn't old enough, I was only 17. The night seemed long and painful. I didn't get much sleep and remember well that my older sister kept telling me that it was Dad's decision and there is no way I could back out, not now. I didn't want to go.
Our home was warm and full of love. I had no problems with my sisters and got along fine with my parents. I had plenty of friends and family who really loved me. There was nothing missing in my life. But my Father thought it would be a good idea to leave Iran. I think he kind of knew what was happening or going to happen.
So on a cold fall morning, very early, I left our house in a caravan of cars towards the airport. There was not one set of dry eyes in the group, nor in the airport, for that matter. Saying good bye, come to find out, is not easy.
I shook the hands, kissed the faces, hugged the loved ones and gave one of those final looks to those who were special, one, particularly to my cousin, Bahram. He and I grew up together. Neither having a brother, our closeness was no less than of two brothers. He begged me with his eyes not to go, but we both knew it had to be done. We both gave each other that bull shit line, "sure, you'll come to America soon too". Never happened.
Another one of those looks was for my older sister who was very close to me. Her look said, "you'll never come back". Well, she was right, at least for 20 years! I turned quickly and disappeared into the crowd. While wiping my tears, I heard this voice, "don't cry shipmate". I never forget that.
All of these scenes ran through my head and brought tears to my young eyes standing in the doorway of the terminal in JFK. I had accepted the fact that I was here. Tens of thousands of miles away from everything I loved, I was here.
After a night stay in a hotel in NY, paid by Iran Air, I caught a flight to Kansas City with couple of other kids, I spent a day with the brother of a girl whom I helped accompany and took a bus to Hays, Kansas. Yes, Hays, population 12,000, a very small town in the middle of Kansas with nothing for me but a school who had accepted my guardianship. Thomas More Prep High School became my home for the next year and half.
TMP was and is a Catholic School. Brother Mark came to pick me up early Monday morning from the bus station and drove me through the brick covered streets to the school. I remember the streets were covered by frost, which was very strange to me.
School was big and intimidating. I walked up the stairs, sat on a chair with my bag right next to me. It was very early in the morning and the kids were just waking up to come down for prayer and breakfast. They were giving me strange looks and receiving strange looks right back. They were all dressed up in suits and wearing ties. I didn't understand why. Few moments later the only Iranian student came to greet me. Kianoush, whom I thought was a girl, due to his name, turned out to be a guy and later on a pain in the ass, but for the first couple of weeks he was my eyes and ears.
The smells coming from the dining area down stairs were strange. I walked down with Kianoush and sat at a table with six other guys. Out of all the sausages, potatoes, and pancakes, which I had never seen, never mind eating, I could only stomach a carton of milk and hot tea with some toast.
Kianoush helped me get used to the school and it's six or seven million rules and regulations and I gradually made friends and learned everything.
Being pealed away from my family and so many familiar things at such early age was life altering. I have no idea what would have happened if I had stayed in Iran. I may remember my first few days in America, but I sure don't remember how hard it was. Maybe it wasn't that hard. Maybe at such early age I got molded into the society and the way of life here easy. Maybe it was a matter of survival for me to get along quickly and adjust. Maybe it was just me, whatever it was, 29 years later; I have mixed feelings about Thanksgiving. I still don't know if I should give thanks or not.
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