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Thirteen, the gateway to the teenage years–in some cultures dreaded, in some the beginning of vitality, creativity and personal responsibility.

My thirteenth birthday party was my first birthday party in our dream house, as well as my first one after the Iranian revolution of 1979. At that time, Khomeini had not taken over the country, but his shadow lurked in every corner. We celebrated cautiously, knowing that the possibilities for the country ranged from a secular democracy to an Islamic dictatorship, the sham referendum still awaiting us about two weeks from my historic party.

I took pride in becoming older and getting closer to adulthood, a mysterious goal post I was aiming for. I might have played the piano, or not, but I am sure I had a great time among my friends, parents, brothers and sister and that there had been great food and cake. I do know that we didn’t talk politics, because no one could trust anyone at the time. Some higher military brass had already been publicly executed, and lower ones were being found on the streets

Only a week later, at the beginning of the Nowruz celebrations for the Persian New Year, many had burnt their compromising documents, anything having to do with the monarchy, in the bonfires, , which promised to give us energy for the new year and take away our illnesses and ill wills from the previous one. Unfortunately, the fires were not powerful enough to contain the blood lust which had already started and would take the lives of millions, including those killed in the Iran-Iraq war, prolonged artificially by Khomeini to solidfy his power and the thousands of people who fought his dictatorship. The ancient fires, apologetically though, would promise resistance and renewal every year, as authorities tried in vain to curb this pre-Islamic ritual every year.

Six months after that birthday party, I was woken up early in the morning to get on a flight to the United States. My parents, university professors, even though they had opposed the Shah’s tyranny, knew well about the consequences of mixing church and state and had applied for a visa right at the beginning fo the revolution. They packed everything in a room in our house hurriedly and on the pretense of leaving on medical leave for a year, boarded an empty 747 under the watchful gaze of the Hezbollah, who had at that time gained control over the country.

Among many vivid details of our trip was that I woke up that morning with blood in my underpants, something quite new to me. In the rush to leave the country, there wasn’t much talk about it, other than pads that were given to me, as my stomach continued to cramp on the flight. Many years later, as I counsel girls about celebrating this right of passage here, I think of the scared thirteen year old, who didn’t get to share this monumental event with her closest friends in Iran, and was facing complete uncertainty flying into a new country. Later on, I realized that for years I had left my heart locked in the room along with my earthly possessions. Much happened during my thirteenth birthday, much that deeply affected me; I don’t know if I can contain that year in a book, let alone a short essay, but perhaps I gave you a glimpse of my entrance into teenagehood.

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