Take Care of Yourself


Azar 12, 1389 / December 3, 2010

Neda was already a wreck, and she got worse after hearing the news. And as an external observer, I could see how this whole situation weighed on my girlfriend. Neda had become her focus, to a point Parvaneh barely took care of herself anymore. It was only about Neda.

Two weeks later, I took her on a date at the park near where Neda lived. I just wanted to see Parvaneh somewhere other than that house. It took a great deal of convincing for her to get out and meet with me.

I was sitting on a bench, thinking whether she would show up when she finally arrived, half an hour late. She sat beside me on the bench. Looking at her exhausted face, my heart sank. Parvaneh had always been a source of positivity for everyone. It was her genuine kindness, her devotion, and the warmth of her smile that had made me fall in love with her. I could not believe those same traits were destroying her now. The smile gone, the hope in her eyes evaporated, she looked like she simply had nothing left to give.

 “Any news?” I asked.

“Um, yeah.” she said, sounding distracted. “Neda’s gonna see this Dr. Derakhshan the day after tomorrow.”

I just nodded, taking a moment to swallow the frustration of hearing Neda’s name again. There was no Parvaneh left in there. “Do you still blame yourself?”

She didn’t answer. After a while, I turned to face her, only to find her biting on her nails, her eyes glistening. When she noticed my stare, she said, “You think we’re not guilty?”

“Neda needed to know,” I said.

“Yeah, but—”

“No buts, Parvaneh. If we’d waited any longer, then we would have had to blame ourselves. It’s a good thing that it happened.”

“You haven’t seen her. She has stopped talking. When I touch her, she screams. She has nightmares every night.”

“It’s hard, Parvaneh. She’s lost everything. We need to give her time and, frankly, some space.”

“But how long will it be like this?”

“Long. You need to be patient if you want Neda to be better.”

“We did wrong, Omid. We botched it.”

I rubbed my face, trying not to say what I really thought. I failed. “I don’t know why you talk like this. Look at yourself. For months now, your life has become Neda. You’ve done everything you could, and you still are. And even though I barely knew Neda, I did what I could because I knew how much she meant to you. Now, you come here and say we did wrong? I don’t know what else you want us to do for her.”

“Okay,” she shot. “I’m worried, okay? What if something happens to her? What if she stays this way forever?”

I put my hand on her thigh. “Don’t worry, Teacup. She won’t. I’ll help you in any way I can. But you must promise me you spend some time for yourself to recharge. Your mother called me yesterday.”

Perplexed, she furrowed her eyebrows. “What did she say?”

“She’s concerned about you. While you worry about Neda, everybody else is worried about you. Have you had a look in the mirror lately? Your eyes are puffy. You have dark circles.” I smiled to lighten the mood. “If you don’t do it for yourself, do it for me, who must see this long face every time. You want me to start having nightmares too?”

“Ah, shut up,” she said with good humor. “Are you calling me ugly now?”

I chuckled. “You’re anything but ugly. Teacup… Hey, look at me.”

She looked into my eyes.

Gently rubbing her thigh, I said, “If you want to help Neda, you can’t burn yourself out.”

She gave me a non-committal nod. “Okay.”

Suddenly, a third voice interrupted our conversation. “Good day.”

It was a green-clad Guidance Patrol officer, holding a radio. I felt a rush.

“Damn,” Parvaneh said under her breath as she compulsively fixed her headscarf, even though her hair was already decently covered.

I also immediately removed my hand from her lap, though my heart skipped a beat when I saw the officer’s gaze following my hand’s entire trajectory.

“Can I see your IDs, please?” he said with an unrelenting tone.

Parvaneh sighed, a mix of fear and irritation lacing her expression. “Officer, is it really nec—”

“IDs please,” the officer repeated, only slightly raising his voice, but giving it an edge of authority that left no room for protest. “How are you two related?”

“Um…” I started as I opened my wallet to give him my ID. I tried the line I usually used in a situation like this. “We’re planning to marry. Our parents know about our relationship, and they approve. You can call them.”

“So, you’re not related,” was all he got out of everything I said. “Do her parents know about the way you’re touching her?”

I handed him my card. “What way? It was nothing. We didn’t even make skin contact.”

“Officer, please,” Parvaneh pleaded, the fear in her expression now more prominent than anything else. “Can you forgive us this time?”

“I asked for your ID, ma’am. This is the third time. I’m not going to ask again.”

“Officer, I can’t get arrested,” Parvaneh said in a half-whimper, completely oblivious to my signals for her to stop arguing. “My friend is waiting for me at home. She’s sick.”

“You’re not under arrest,” the officer said, everything about his tone betraying his words. “You’re going to be, if you don’t present your ID right now.”

“Parvaneh,” I whispered. “Just give him your ID.”

“No,” she insisted. “That’s what happened last time. They kept my ID as collateral until I went with them to the station, then they held me for twelve hours to take that stupid class. I’m not falling for that again.”

The man clicked his tongue. “Okay, ma’am, I’m going to ask you to follow me to that car.” He pointed at one of those dreaded white-and-green vans belonging to the Guidance Patrol that had suddenly appeared just outside the park.

“Oh, no,” Parvaneh exclaimed, her voice crumbling. “Please, officer, I’m sorry.” She hastily opened her purse and produced her ID. “Here. My friend really needs me. I’m not making this up. She can’t be alone.”

Snatching it from her hand, the officer maintained, “Ma’am, this is not a request. One way or another, you’re coming with us.”

Parvaneh burst into tears.

“Officer,” I tried. “She’s not in a good place right now. She already gave you her ID. Could you please forgive her this one time?”

Completely ignoring me, the man grabbed at Parvaneh. “Come on, let’s go.”

Parvaneh squirmed away, weeping. “Officer, please don’t do this.” He went for her waist when her voice erupted, “Stop touching me!”

Aggravated, he took her arm and yanked it toward himself, making her fly off the bench and land on her face. She screamed, but the ruthless officer grabbed the back of her manto, dragging her over the pavement as he said, “Seems like you don’t understand human language.”

“My head!” Parvaneh shouted. “What the hell are you doing? Let go of—”

Her voice was cut abruptly, and it took me a second to realize he was dragging her by the collar, blocking her windpipe.

“Hey!” I called out as I rushed to them and forced the officer’s hand away from my suffocating girlfriend, in response to which I received a strike to the cheekbone with the butt of his radio, sending me sprawling on the ground.

“Stay out of this,” he commanded while holstering the radio.

“What the hell, man,” I squawked as I scrambled up. “Just let her go.”

Parvaneh gasped, then coughed for a few seconds before she called in a hoarse cry, “Help! He’s killing me!” She tried to crawl away, but he grabbed her again, this time from under her shoulders.

She was bleeding from her nose and her bottom lip, but even that didn’t sway the man. “Stop making a scene,” he said, dragging her away as she tried to squirm out of his grasp. “It won’t save you. Every second you resist, you make it worse. So, stop playing the victim and get on your feet.”

“Playing the victim?” Parvaneh said, tears mixed into the blood on her face. “What is wrong with you? I’m hurt.”

“Parvaneh,” I pleaded, my legs wobbling as I imagined the worst happening to the woman I loved. “Let’s just go to the station. I’ll come with you.”

“Omid, you don’t understand,” she cried. “If I show my face there again, I’ll get jail time. And this savage has no right to treat me like this! I did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong!”

“Who did you call savage?” Murder set in the officer’s eyes. “I’ll show you savage,” he muttered as he pulled out his baton and struck her twice in the back, the harsh sound reverberating in my ears, together with her blood-curdling cry of pain that had already gathered a small crowd. “Get up!”

She curled into herself and covered her head as he raised his baton to hit her again when I lost all restraint and shouted, “Hands off,” as I pushed him back, unable to watch my girlfriend be brutalized anymore. “I put one hand on her lap. How’s that worse than what you’re doing to her? Would you do the same if it were your sister or your mother? Get the hell away from her and get me your superior!”

A few of the spectators said furtive words of agreement.

The officer pointed his baton at me and yelled, “You’re treading dangerous grounds, boy. Don’t be a hero. Right now, you haven’t committed a criminal offense, but that can change.”

“And she has?” I squeaked, pointing at Parvaneh, whose blood had now spattered on her clothes and the pavement. “Come on man! Have an ounce of humanity.”

Another male officer, accompanied by two women in black chadors walked toward us. As they approached, the savage regarded me. “Watch your words very carefully in front of the lieutenant.” He laid a derisive look at Parvaneh as he gave her a gentle kick with the side of his boot. “And you better give up playing the martyr soon because things are about to get worse for you.”

Parvaneh was too busy crying to respond, and it ate at me that I couldn’t comfort her. I felt useless.

The man the savage officer had referred to as lieutenant glanced at me, then Parvaneh, then the brute himself. “What’s the commotion about?”

What a stupid question. Didn’t the blood speak for itself?

“Infringement of social norms,” the officer iterated, “unlawful relationship, hijab infringement”—he shot a hand at Parvaneh, whose headscarf was now sprawled somewhere near her feet—“assaulting an officer. It just keeps piling up.”

“Put on your scarf,” one of the female officers snapped at Parvaneh. “What’s this indecency?”

“Are you kidding me?” Parvaneh cried as she sat up, leaning on one trembling arm, the tendons on the side of her neck taut. “I was wearing it when he dragged me off the bench. Of course, it fell off.”

“He’s not dragging you now, is he?” the woman pressed. “So, how about you cover your hair instead of talking back to me?”

“You’re all insane.” Parvaneh snatched her headscarf from the pavement and put it back on, her big hair, now out of array, making the scarf look like a balloon over her head.

“Has a big mouth on her, that one,” the officer said.

I ignored him, addressing the lieutenant instead. “Sir, we were just sitting here talking when your colleague came here and started abusing us.”

“Don’t try and twist the story,” the savage retorted. “I only asked for your ID, and she refused to comply and started making a scene.”

“Oh my god,” Parvaneh said in a fatigued, exasperated cry. “I gave you my ID. All I said was I can’t go to jail. And you don’t even try to listen to me. My friend is home sick. I’m her only caregiver. Have some humanity for God’s sake!”

“She’s right,” I said, my own voice breaking. “She only came here to give me updates and was going back. Please have mercy. I’ll give you any guarantees you want, but this woman can’t be away from her sick friend.”

The lieutenant studied my eyes for another moment, then said simply, “Wait here,” before he pulled his male colleague aside and started talking to him.

Parvaneh was surrounded by the two female officers, who were trying to coerce her into getting on her feet. I kept them in the corner of my eye to make sure they wouldn’t get physical like their male colleague.

After some time, the lieutenant came to me and pressed his hand against my back to ask me to move away from the others. Once we were out of earshot, he said, “So, you two are planning to get married?”

I nodded, trying my best to keep my composure by blocking out the raging argument brewing behind me between Parvaneh and the female officers.

“And my colleague said your parents know. Can you call your parents?”

“Mine or hers?”

He glanced back at Parvaneh, then said impassively, “Call hers.”

I dialed Parvaneh’s mom’s number and handed my cellphone to him. After a few rings, her mom answered.

“Hello, ma’am. My name’s Lieutenant Fakhri. We have here a…”—he raised my ID to read my name off it—“Omid Bakhshi with us, who claims to be your daughter’s fiancé. Do you know this person? Right… No cause for worry. We just caught them amid an obscene act in the park.” My eyes went backwards so hard I rolled them. I hoped Parvaneh’s mom would be smart enough not to believe that blatant misrepresentation of what really happened. “We’ll contact you if any arrests are made.”

He then disconnected the call and handed the phone back to me.

“Obscene?” I exclaimed. “What we did was nothing bad.”

“I don’t know what you did,” Fakhri said, “and frankly, I don’t care. But assaulting a police officer? Calling him names? Trying to attract attention and disturb public order? Those can get you in serious trouble. When a police officer asks for your ID, you provide it. If your fiancée was more cooperative, she would be in a much better shape right now.”

“So what if she wasn’t, Lieutenant? Does it give your colleague the right to bloody her like he did? To choke her? And for what? Because we were sitting in the park together? Is this how you want to send people to heaven?”

He scoffed. “I’m not trying to send anyone to heaven. I’m a law enforcement officer, and my job is to ensure the law is observed. I know you folks love to pretend Iran is hell on earth, but anywhere you go around the world, a police officer’s job is to enforce the law.”

“Except nowhere else in the world it’s a crime to hold hands or show a bit of your hair.”

“Every country has rules you need to follow. We’re living in an Islamic country, and these are our rules. You go to another country, you get to do anything you want. You go to your home where we don’t see you, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t bring these obscenities to public places.”

He took another glance at Parvaneh and said, “Is she really a caregiver or is that a made-up story too?”

“It’s not.” I struggled with the lump in my throat and the tears that threatened to burst out of my eyes. “She just came to the park to take a break.”

He nodded. “All right, listen. I have a sister who takes care of my sick father, so I know the strain it can cause for them. So, I can turn a blind eye to your fiancé’s unacceptable behavior toward my colleagues. In any other circumstances, I would send her to Vozara, and she would spend at least a week there before she’d even get to stand in front of a judge. But for the respect I have for my sister, I’m going to let you two walk this time. I know you two are getting married, but there are better ways to get to know each other than breaking the law.”


“In your homes, supervised. That’s what our country’s norms dictate. Do I have your word?”

“Yes,” I capitulated, wondering if the man was really this disconnected from the reality of our country, or he was pushing this dated agenda to justify his job in the Guidance Patrol: a force officially known as the morality police, yet so deprived of any sense of morality.

Parvaneh’s screams and cries for help soared again. This time, the two female officers were hoisting her from the ground, one having taken under her shoulders, the other trying to grab her legs. “Stop resisting, you whore!” one of them said. “What’s wrong with you?”

I ran to her rescue, but Fakhri grabbed me and pulled me back. Instead, he himself went to the women and said, “Wait. Put her down.”

Once they obeyed, Fakhri pointed at me. “I talked to our friend here. He’s more reasonable and less emotional. He promised to abide by the law from now on.” He towered over Parvaneh, who gave him a resentful look through red eyes. “Miss. Do you promise to adhere to our social norms in public, so we don’t end up in a situation like this again?”

This brought Parvaneh’s tears back. “Promise what? I did nothing wrong. My god, what do you want from me? For what sin was I born in this god-forsaken country? This is exactly why people hate your lot.”

“Enough!” Fakhri barked. “Miss, I would watch your words very carefully if you don’t want to receive security charges.”

My stomach churned at hearing the words, security charges. I knew Parvaneh was hurt and infuriated, and she could say something that could get her in a world of trouble. I begged the universe she wouldn’t.

“I want to help you,” the lieutenant pressed on, “but you don’t seem to want to be helped. Let me ask you one last time. Do you promise you won’t repeat your today’s actions?”

“Parvaneh, please,” I pleaded.

“Yes,” she finally said, “I promise. Whatever. Just stop abusing me.”

“Okay, folks,” Fakhri announced. “We’re done here.” He turned to face me. “And you two get the hell out of this park now. I don’t want to see you around here again.”

“Should we give back their IDs?” the other officer asked.

“Yes,” Fakhri said. “Did you write down her information?”


The lieutenant gave back my card, and the officer tossed Parvaneh’s onto the pile of her belongings, which had scattered next to her purse on the ground during the struggle.

Parvaneh’s hands visibly shook. Her manto was covered in dust, spattered with blood, and the parts of her face that were not bloodied, were pale.

My heart still beat relentlessly. It had not been our first encounter with the Guidance Patrol, but it was the first time I genuinely thought something horrible was going to happen. Never in my wildest thoughts had I imagined someone as kind and agreeable as Parvaneh would elicit this much aggression from an officer.

Once they left, I helped her collect her things and put them back in her purse.

“I should have stayed home,” Parvaneh mumbled, her tone detached.

Looking at her beautiful face, now covered in a mix of blood, tears, and sweat, I cursed myself for having pulled her out of the safety of Neda’s home and exposed her to such brutality. My attempt at making my angel’s stressful day a little brighter had failed miserably, and right now, I couldn’t even hold her in her moment of need—not under the watchful eyes of the morality police.