“I once asked a bird,
how is it that you
fly in this gravity
of darkness? She
responded, ‘love
lifts me.’”

– Hafez

Narrator’s Note: My name is Samaneh (Sami) Tahbazof and for years I have been the keeper of my husband Siavash (Sia) and I’s family stories of the last 40+ years, pieces of which I have shared in snippets at family dinners, as perspective in counseling the family’s younger generations and even just reminiscing on quiet nights at home between just Sia and I.  And it was on one of those seemingly nondescript nights recalling a piece of Sia’s life when I realized our memory of the details had started to erode and the time had come to commit these stories to a format that could survive generations. 

This will be a journey for me to recall and attempt to capture all these emotions in writing, both the triumphs and the heartaches, but this will be a labor of love for the benefit of our family’s future generations to know who we were, where they came from and hopefully glean some life lessons to carry them forward in their own lives and for the benefit of anyone who cares to hear our story.  This first entry will be a summary of our life’s journey, with more detailed stories expanding on some of these experiences, and introducing others, to follow.

Sia was born in Tehran, Iran as the only son to his family that consisted of three sisters, a father who worked long hours as an engineer and a mother who was a homemaker. Hardship hit him early in life when his father—the family’s source of income—unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack when he was just 17 years old. The deep pain fueled an intense sense of responsibility as the only son to do all he could to succeed and someday be able to take care of his family. To that end, he left Iran in 1971 to study in the United States and received his B.S. in Civil Engineering from Oklahoma State University and thereafter, obtained his Masters in Geotechnical Engineering.

After he graduated, he went back to Iran and had a successful career as an engineer, providing for his family just as he intended to do as a teenager. However, any stability was quicky ripped away when uprisings started to take hold of the country. Ironically, it was during this uncertain time that I met Sia when I was an art student at Tehran University. I was the eldest of my family’s three daughters to my father who was a mechanical engineer and my mother the homemaker daughter of a doctor who was also a decorated army general. I was blessed with a comfortable upbringing and was fortunate to be able to pursue a passion of the arts, but my dreams quickly evaporated as the beginnings of what would become the Iranian Revolution took hold in the streets of Tehran.

As the full disintegration of the country we once knew took hold, Sia and I’s relationship blossomed. We became home for each other and created a sense of solace in our togetherness just when the future we had each imagined for ourselves had been robbed. After 2 years of dating in the most turbulent of times, we were married on what happened to be the first day of the Iran-Iraq war—a fitting distinction for our love story. Due to the implementation of martial law that prohibited any gatherings at night, our wedding ceremony was held at 10:30am amidst the backdrop of war. While most marriages start with hope and optimism for the future, ours was marked by the pinnacle of uncertainty as society around us descended deeper into turmoil. Nevertheless, we knew we had each other and that gave us the strength to push through the literal fog of war in what seemed like a foreign land in search of a better life together.

However, hope was hard to come by with the new hardline Islamic regime in Iran. They oppressed women, prohibited free-thinking, and would randomly harass, imprison, and torture the younger generation at will. I will never forget the terror of being held at gunpoint because police said my hijab was not being worn properly, or when two of Sia’s teenage cousins were arrested for possession of recently banned textbooks and jailed for many years. The stories of injustice were countless, but the damage wasn’t limited to just the individual experiences, it was the crippling effect on the entire society. There was a constant fear of who would be imprisoned or killed next for things as simple as laughing, reading, listening to music, dancing or holding hands.

Our hearts sank when Sia was summoned by the revolutionary court to be tried in place of his late father regarding land he had owned, and though nothing came of it, the immense pressure caused him a myriad of health problems. But it was the culmination of all these circumstances – the darkness, the bloodshed, the debilitating fear, helplessness, hopelessness, and even thoughts of suicide – which made life unbearable in Iran and we were forced to make the most difficult decision of our lives.