I have lived my life believing that friendships gain their values with time and that new ones can’t measure up to the old. Then again, life has just taught this “old dog a new lesson”.
My novel, Sky of Red Poppies, took form because of a profound, though unusual, friendship. Fictional as some parts are, it is based on a true story. Even its title came out of a poem that the protagonist and I had shared four decades ago, “. . . I sacrifice on your path, one sky of red poppies . . .” and the cover stems from my old painting with the same title.
Over the years of life in Chicago, with two jobs and three children, my participation in the Iranian’s literary circles was limited to the annual poetry nights, and/or events of huge presences such as Shamlou, Pezeshkzad, Behbahabi and Amirshahi. Now ten years later, it was a writer’s dream of returning to Chicago to introduce my new book. One could say I worked that entire week, however, this time “work” had a whole new meaning. What had once been a luxury was now considered hard work and sometimes I had to tear myself away from book discussions just so I could visit old friends.
It was just before my book signing party that I saw Simin for the first time in over a decade. A close friend of the hosts, she had offered her guidance and would oversee some of my book events. Thirty years of Chicago life and now I return to know this lady!
When day after day she took time off her own busy schedule to organize all the events concerning Sky of Red Poppies, I told myself it was mainly because she was a close friend of my hosts. The Serrys had done everything they could to make sure the trip was the success that it turned out to be. I knew they had asked their good friend to help, and going as far back as they did, she would not turn them down.
Grateful to benefit from a kindness that had nothing to do with me, I left Chicago with deep appreciation, if not awe, and returned home with a treasure of good memories. Little did I know that while roaming “Cloud Nine” a new friendship had begun. But why so late?
I want to blame the distance between our houses, or our diverse social circles and the fact that we both lived the busy lives of young working mothers. But nothing explains why in all those years she remained a distant silhouette. The only way to justify this is to assume that a serious character such as Simin couldn’t imagine having anything in common with a funny face like me and vice versa.
After my return, Simin and I exchanged a few brief notes, me thanking her, she reminding me of connections I should make. Last week, when she flew in for the MESA annual conference, I was delighted to see her again. She had sent me a note about the annual event, instructing me to attend and I in return had urged her to do the same.
One glance at the list of speakers and I figured Simin would be too preoccupied with the meeting to socialize. Still, it would be nice to see her friendly smile and familiar face here and there. I imagined she might stop by the book exhibit to visit, or that we could spend a lunch break together. What I could not anticipate was that by now my novel and I are so close to her heart that she would once again sacrifice all to make sure my presentation was successful.
After registration, we each took a program and marked the panel discussions we hoped to hear. How strange it was to compare notes and find out we had both marked the same pages!
I won’t even try to justify the unbelievable bond we share and will never be able to thank this wonderful friend for such devotion. Though I had seen her forty-five years ago during our school days in Mashad - still remember her light complexion under a beret hat – seeing her in Chicago all those years ago I did not remember her name. Strange that it would take a book to tie us together.
Many questions twirl in my head. Is this because she knew the protagonist in my novel? Is it Mashad that makes her feel so close to me? Is it “One Sky” of memories that ties the two of us? No. I have finally come to the conclusion that when you meet true friends, the length of time you’ve known them becomes immaterial.
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