It is the summer of 1979. I’m on route to Norway to visit my fiancé. On the flight I meet a young woman from Boston, engaged to an Iranian man. He is waiting for his soon-to-be bride in Copenhagen where they will continue on to Tehran for a traditional wedding. I am surprised to hear that her family will not be attending.
“Not worth the risk,” she says, “My parents are Yale graduates. Let’s just say they have a lot of opinions and aren’t afraid to share them. It will be much better if they wait until after the wedding.”
She is full of excitement, convinced that her love will defy all foreseeable barriers…language, culture, country, and a new role as wife and hopefully soon, a mother.
Five years later, I stare out the window through the falling snow at the castle across the fjord. The sky, the earth, everything is perfectly white. Heaven and hell masked by icy stillness.
On the sofa, an assortment of colored yarn and needles lie in a heap. I have graduated to knitting washcloths. A scratchy woolen washrag that no one will use, even though I weave dozens a day.
Our apartment, in the center of Oslo is big and barnlike, filled with Tunisian carpets, fine china and 18th century antiques. Beautiful things handed down from branches of his family tree. They are his. All his.
After a few years, our children speak without an accent. Born of this land, no one would guess they have an American mother who has become needy and sad. My husband, my only lifeline, has returned to his place of birth and is thriving. I am not faring as well…the culture so deep and regimented that I feel unable to breath. I am like a potted plant that needs more earth to expand…more sunlight…more touch.
I spend my days alone with the children, who seem unaware their mother is imperfect. Each day I dress the girls in woolen suits and take them outdoors to play. Through meters of fresh snow I push the pram to the park, the bag of knitting in the basket below. Brushing away the snow from a bench, I watch the girls move mounds of white from swing and slide. They pause only for a quick change of gloves or clean diaper. Snow suits on. Snow suits off. Repeat. A deepening well of solitude consumes me.
When my husband returns from work, I follow him around the apartment, eager for the sound of his voice. But he is too tired to speak English, shaking his head in frustration.
I weep, deep dragging uncontrollable sobs. He does nothing to comfort, as he does not understand this pitiful sad sack that I’ve become. Every evening he repeats the same mantra. We live in a beautiful country and have two healthy kids. There is a car at your disposal. Any woman should be happy to have all of this. I tell him I am grateful, but that somehow I’ve lost myself. I can’t remember when I last smiled or laughed hard. The woman he fell in love with is gone. I have become like my silly washcloths, with no meaning or purpose in life. My declaration of loneliness only makes him draw further away, leaving me in exile.
Once more, my eyes rest on the pink castle across the fjord, the endless falling snow. My voice shakes in apology. I turn to look at him. In the florescent light there is something in his face. He averts my stare, but not before I see the contempt in his eyes. Immense anger directed at the very person he sculpted to fit his world.
At this moment I ask to go home. To my surprise, he’s prepared for this conversation. Pack your bags anytime, but the kids are Norwegian citizens and their U.S. passports are no longer available.
The next day I drag the pram to the American Embassy and stand in a long queue. It’s snowing hard and the air is so cold it hurts to inhale. After a few hours I am escorted into an office where a middle-aged woman wearing a blue suit with a jeweled American flag pendant informs me they are unable to reissue passports without my husband’s signature.
“Hadn’t you thought about this scenario when giving birth on foreign soil?” She asked.
No, I can honestly say it never crossed my mind.
Today, some thirty-six years later, I recall that plane ride with the beautiful Bostonian woman full of hope and dizzy in love. I remember how she covered her head, barring only her eyes before our arrival in Copenhagen; the way she justified being accompanied by a bodyguard as a sign that her husband loved her. I had the distinct impression she found the prospect of protection invigorating, actually somewhat of a luxury.
I can still hear her giggle when she described their modest house in Tehran. Her husband’s wealth reserved for their lavish bedroom, a place free of restraint that only they would see. I pray she is okay.