Sharon is a dear friend of my husband David. They go back over 30 years to when David was finishing college and volunteered at the Santa Barbara County jail. He was in a unit where he and the staff there interviewed new arrestees and wrote reports recommending either release or continued incarceration. Sharon was his boss, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed working in criminal law. In fact, it was in large part this experience working there with Sharon that inspired him to become a criminal defense attorney.
I remember meeting Sheila very clearly – or at least I think I do. It was the first day of school at Hills Road Sixth Form College in Cambridge. I was 16 going on 17 and my family had just moved to England from Quebec, Canada so were all trying hard to settle into our new life. I didn’t know what to wear to my first day at school, so I followed a rule that I have had much trouble shedding over the years – when in doubt, overdress! I was very into burgundy at that time, so I wore a full burgundy skirt with burgundy tights and 3-inch pumps, a white frilly blouse and a burgundy v-neck vest over the blouse. I am not sure what look I was going for but no one else was dressed anything like this at Hills Road that day.
A writer is nothing without a reader. I understand that for many writers the process of putting the stories inside them into words can be a wonderfully enriching and satisfying experience in itself, but the more I write, the more I have come to feel that the process of writing is a creative dance that requires a partner – reading, just as a heartfelt song needs to be heard and an exquisite painting needs to be seen.
Seventy-three years ago today, my mother was born. Twenty-two years ago today, she died. She had been battling with leukemia for 5 years and decided she was done fighting. She didn’t want to leave us, but when it was time for her to go, she left us all with a grace that I can only hope to emulate when it’s my time. She had a good life, traveling around the world, experiencing many different cultures and languages, finding a devoted life partner in Dad, and raising a family. She was 18 when she left Iran to study English In England – a bold move for a Persian girl in the 1960s. There she met Dad, they married and then moved to India, where the both studied yoga and enjoyed myriad adventures together, including the birth of their first child – me! Then they moved to Scotland, my Dad’s country and one Mum soon came to love deeply. There, she gave birth Roshan and then Alan, and then for most of the rest of her life, in Scotland, then Canada and finally England, she devoted herself to looking after her family, which she did with strength, love and grace – and no end of delicious food.
I have been friends with Fiona since I was 17 years old. We had just moved back to the UK from Canada and I was in French class wondering how I was going to fit back into a French class in the UK after 4 years in Quebec. The French teacher at Hills Road Sixth Form College wasn’t sure either; he seemed concerned I might have trouble keeping up. However, as I sat in class listening to other students struggling to put basic sentences together, I realized that my four years in Quebec had stood me in good stead back in Europe. I was now worried about getting bored. But then, a voice from across the classroom uttered words I will never forget: “J’étais piquée par une méduse.” I sat up in my seat to get a better look at the girl who had been stung by a jellyfish. She was slim with a brown bob, and in her jeans and sandals had a slightly hippy vibe. I immediately wanted to meet her.
On Fridays our son Theo has karate class. He usually gets picked up and driven there but today he called me complaining that because of a heat advisory all the kids were in the library and it was too noisy for him to read while he waited for pick up. Because I am over the moon that my child has discovered the joys of reading, I appreciated his argument and agreed to pick him up. Thinking I might also see his friend Cortez in the library, I grabbed a cute plastic ring I’d decided to give away and headed off to school.
I think it’s great that our son Theo has had friendships over the years with girls as well as boys. In 3rd grade, he actually spent most of his time with girls, making rubber-band bracelets, playing fairy games and falling out with each other at least once a week! But now that he’s a 5th grader, he spends most of his time in the company of boys discussing video games, making up fantasy tag-like games and leaping around the school yard learning new Parkour moves with his buddies. However, there is one girl he has consistently considered a friend since kindergarten, even though they don’t play together at school. Cortez is the daughter of Eric (see May 4), who has also been a close friend since kindergarten. Their friendship has grown in part because we have stayed friends over the years and have organized activities together like hiking, visiting museums, cycling and swimming, and we’ve sent the kids to the same camps most summer breaks. But Theo and Cortez have their own unique relationship that is based on a certain level of comfort together and a lot of silliness.
When my mother died, she told my father to get married again. She knew that Dad needed to share his life with a partner who would adore him and be adored in return. That was the kind of relationship Mum and Dad had, and they both thrived in it. After Mum died, Dad was gutted, but he managed to keep up a full life, writing, teaching and traveling and met women who he liked and who were interested in him. But it wasn’t until he met Jacqui that he found someone with whom he could settle down and begin a new partnership.
Dad met Jacqui at a conference in Hong Kong about 20 years ago, where she was assigned the role of looking after him. They hit it off right away and began a relationship that connected Dad’s world in Cambridge, England and Jacqui’s in Hong Kong. They were married in Cambridge, and since then have lived in both China and the UK. When they first met, Jacqui taught technical English to science and technology students at a university in Hong Kong, and Dad was working as an independent scholar specializing in English as a world language. Since he could be based anywhere, he moved to Hong Kong for a few years to live with Jacqui. Though Chinese was not one of the several languages he knows well, he greatly enjoyed his life there learning more about China, Hong Kong and the richness of language in that part of the world. David and I visited them there in 2002, a memorable trip not only because David proposed to me there, but also because it was great to see Dad so happy in his new life with Jacqui.
A few years on, Dad and Jacqui moved back to Cambridge, where they live now. The move was a big adjustment for Jacqui, as she had given up an academic position in Hong Kong and was now an independent scholar living in the UK. As Dad has become older and more dependent, Jacqui has arranged her days so that she is both a loving and caring wife to him while at the same challenging herself intellectually and socially as an official tour guide in Cambridge, touring in English, Madarin and Cantonese. Over the years, geography has prevented Jacqui and me from getting to know each other well, but I know she is a kind and thoughtful woman who cares deeply for Dad, and I have appreciated her keeping me up-to-date with how Dad is doing over the years. What’s more, I know that Mum would have approved of Dad’s choice for a partner for the rest of his life. Strangely enough, I can even imagine the two women sitting together in the flats in Cambridge drinking tea and chatting about their experiences living in a culture so different from their own.
Jacqui has been in Dad’s life for about 20 years now. I haven’t had the opportunity to tell her how glad I am that Dad went to that conference in Hong Kong many years ago. Today I sent her a ring that I bought in boutique at the 798 Art Zone, a contemporary arts district in Beijing when we visited in 2008. It’s an elegant and interesting enameled ring, but I have hardly worn over the years. I hope that Jacqui likes its simple, contemporary design, and when she wears it she will be reminded that thousands of miles away in LA, I am appreciating her and her deep, generous love for my father.
Almost a decade ago to this exact minute, I gave birth to a little boy. After a 36-hour labor, a little fellow with a mop of dark brown hair, a big nose and a frown (my child, all right!) finally pushed his way into our world, and my life has not been the same since. I had already lived a lot of years before Theo came along – almost 39 to be exact – but since his arrival, I have experienced emotions with an intensity I couldn’t even imagine before becoming a mother: the knowledge that I would do absolutely anything to prevent someone from hurting this little person, the powerful melting love I feel when he cuddles up beside me, the bursting sense of pride when he masters the pogo stick, passes another karate test or a figures out a new function on his computer, and the maddening frustration when he refuses to do his homework/go to bed/brush his teeth for the 100th time this week.
There’s a gorgeous hiking trail close to here north of Pasadena called the Gabrielino Trail. One of the trail heads is at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains behind the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and from there, it winds its way back and forth for three or four miles across a stream that trickles through the Arroyo Seco Canyon. The trail, lush with native California oaks and other deciduous trees offers hikers rare shade on hot summer days. When I lived in Pasadena, over 15 years ago now, I hiked the trail regularly with a good friend, Lee, who has since moved East. In recent years, I have rarely been able to carve out the 3 or 4 hours needed to do the trail justice. But, today was Labor Day and our son Theo was off school, so he and I joined forces with his friend Samuel and his mother, Mi Sook, and set off on a morning hike. We started off at 9am when it the sun was still low behind the hills and the temperature was still bearably in the 70s.