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The Saint

Pirooz M. Kalayeh


My mom's really obsessed with my shoes. The first thing she says when I come home is, "shoes!" like I'm in combat and it would be my life if I walked on the carpet. I don't know what to say when she does this. I've considered screaming "grenade" or "fire in the hole" like they do in those cheesy war movies she watches, but she would just shout her other favorite, "respect!" and all you could do is take them off, because you didn't want her following you around.

Sometimes I imagined what it would be like to have the President over, or better yet, John Wayne. He sits down in the family room with those cowboy suedes mumbling about the OK Corral, when my mom creeps up behind him, and shouts, "shoes!"

"Now, hold on there, pretty lady–


You better believe John Wayne's on his butt pulling them off, and if he's not she'd pull out all the stops, following "respect" with her "Hurry, Eh!"

"Hold your britches ma'am."

"No. Hurry, eh!"

I think "Eh" is pretty common among all Iranian women. They say it when they want to overemphasize a point like "take the trash, eh?" or "get to work, eh!" It's posed as a question, when the situation is light, but if you done some serious wrong, you are surrounded in a whirlwind of "Eh": "How can you, eh! You are Karazee, eh! Eh!"

I have had several whirlwind situations:

At 3, Pulled out a turd from my diaper and started playing with it

7, Started a fire with a piece of charcoal

12, Ran away from home on my BMX. Got to McD's.

15, Beat up my brother's best friend, Michael Foster

16 and a half, Drove into a parked car after I got my wisdom teeth out

18, Caught in the act with Erin Kirby

Yeah, she was pretty weird about physical stuff. Whenever I had a girl over, she would pull me aside to make sure we weren't going to kiss or anything.

"Houssein, be good."

"What are you talking about?"

"You have to be example."

"Mom, stop."

"I am serious, eh! I saw she put her leg on you. Is not right. Do not let her put her leg."

"You're crazy."

"Respect, boy. If it happen, I am going to say some-ting."

And she would. She would walk over like she was Mary Poppins, and say, "in dis house, please respect and do not put your leg like that."

It would make me so mad, that I usually tried to shove her out of the room. She would scream, "What are you doing, eh?" and push me back. Then we would shout and shove each other until Erin or whomever would announce that they were leaving.

"See what you did," I'd shout.

"I didn't do anything."

Then when I got back from dropping Erin off, my mom would try and make nice with reassurances, "Is good."

"What are you talking about?"

"She was not good."


"She was bad. She sleep on you. Houssein, girl don't do dat when de mahder is dere. Is not respect."

I didn't know how I could confront her. The moment I thought I was making progress with her, she'd switch gears and deny whatever resolution we had come to.

"Mom, remember how we talked about you not saying Erin is bad. That that hurts my feelings and is not very nice, and you said you weren't going to do it anymore."

"I never say that."

"Mom, you promised–"

"I never say that."

"That's a lie mom."

"Houssein, stop. I never lie ever in my life."

The lying was the worst. It killed me. She would make up the strangest things to get her way. I remember when I was going to have one of my rock buddies spend the night. She was dead set against it.

"No, Houssein."

"Why not?"

"He will make the sheet dirty."


"The sheet will get dirty."

I tried to placate her craziness.

"Okay, mom, I'll get the sheets cleaned."

"No, Houssein. Ahtish [my father] is not here. Is not right to have a strange man in the house."

"Mom, you've known Sonny for years. He's not a stranger."

"Eh, Houssein."

Then she got quiet.

"What is it? Are you scared? Is that what it is?"

Yes-yes. I am scare-d.

I stopped arguing after that. I didn't like to see my mom scared. She got enough of that from my dad. He would threaten with a raised eyebrow that could turn into a hand, and then I would be between them, taking a blow, while she cried.

I decided not to press her and let it go. I called up Sonny and told him that my mom was crazy. He understood. He said he would spend the night elsewhere, and that was the end of it, or at least I thought – a week later Sonny's dad, or the Doctor as I nicknamed him, called up with a proposition:

"Houssein, I have a proposition. You and Sonny will come with me to the Smoky Mountains."

"What for?"

"You need a break from music."

I knew it was more than that, but I agreed. The Doctor had been a voice of reason these past couple years since my father and I stopped talking. I guess you could say I was adopted. His eldest son had skipped out on him like I had done my dad, and I guess this was his way to make right with the past. I think. Whatever it was, I wasn't entirely opposed. I knew he was probably the only sane Iranian man I had ever met. He hadn't threatened to kill his wife, or send Sonny to military school, or get mad if you called him an asshole, or worry about shoes or respect like my parents. In fact, he was a psychiatrist, and a good one from what I heard, and I figured a one on one with the guy would do me some good and give me a break from mom, who was at that moment listening on the other line.

"Mom, I got it."


"I got it."


"When do we leave?"

We left the next morning. The doctor had gotten a case of diet sodas (he was an addict) and a carton of smokes and we took off for Tennessee. We weren't even an hour into the trip before he asked me to re-tell what happened with my mom:

"…Then I stopped trying to get through to her. She said she was scared, or whatever, so I stopped."

I looked at the Doctor from the backseat. He chewed on his smoke, took a sip of his Diet Pepsi, and then said, "You have to tell her she's a bitch."


"Tell her she's a bitch."

I looked over at Sonny he had a shit-eating-grin on his face.

"Uh..I don't know if I can do that."

"You call her and ask her how she can treat the saint's son like that."

"What do you mean?"

Apparently, my mother had called the Doctor to let him know how much she appreciated him for trying to get my dad and I on good terms. She had called him a saint, and the Doctor reasoned that to treat the saint's son, not a stranger, with such disrespect as to say he would dirty the sheets, was the real faux pas, and if I called her out, she would stop her lying.

"Houssein, you are always complaining about your Fa-der. He is always the bad guy, but your mother is not innocent either."

He was right. I mean, how many times did I let her slide, when I wouldn't let my dad off for the smallest thing.

"You call her and tell her," he said.

I drank about eight diet sodas thinking about it on our way back.

I've said worse, I thought. It just wasn't point blank. They were more like asides–a "bitch" sideways to walls or closed doors. This would be the same. Just to her face. I could do it. It would be tough, but I could do it.

My mom was already on the front porch. She watched to make sure I took off my shoes then followed me inside. I think she knew I had something to say.

"Did you have good time?" she asked.

"It was okay," I paused and took a sip of the diet soda still in my hands. "Mom, can I ask you something?"

"What?" she asked, with an eyebrow arched higher than the other.

"Did you say Dr. Parveesh was a saint?"


"Are you sure you didn't call him a saint?"

"No, I never say that."

"Mom, you're lying. He told me you called him that."

"Houssein, I never lie."

"You're lying right now."


"Mom, do you want me to call Dr. Parveesh and ask him?"


"So, you called him a saint then?"

"Houssein, eh!"

"Mom, you said he was a saint, right? Mom, if you're not going to tell me the truth– Mom, tell me, if you lied!"


I tried to see her eyes, but she had her head down.

"Did you call him a saint?"


"So you lied?"

"No, Houssein–"

"Mom, you just told me you called him a saint. You lied, right?"



"Okay, I lie."

"So, you're admitting that you lied?"


I took a sip of soda.

"Why did you lie?"


"No, mom. I'm not going to take this anymore. You lied to me. You can't ever say you never lie again. That whole thing with Sonny, the dirty sheets, all lies–"

"The sheets get dir-tee–"

I wasn't letting her back in.

"No, Mom. You lied and you're a–"


"You're a bitch, mom. You're a bitch! Everything you say is a lie to me. You're always trying to make up something so you can get your way. But you can't do that anymore. This is the end of it! You're a bitch!"

She lifted her head. Her eyes looked small, pinched.

I tried to say bitch again, but it was gone. I walked upstairs to my bedroom and closed the door. I looked at the empty soda can in my hands. I started to smile.

Tomorrow, I wear my shoes inside.

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