I truly wish I had never met you, not this way. It has been rough.
You can’t know this, but the first mental image I have of you is this: your two hands, clenched in fists – out of fear perhaps? Your hands, Elnaz, your wedding ring. You were not there when your husband, Javad, told me about seeing you like this, in a photograph after the crash. You see, the first time we met was a few weeks after you died.
I truly wish I had never met you. And that you were still living a happy life somewhere in this cold, beautiful city alongside the love of your life, holding your baby, perhaps.
Ever since we met, it’s as if I were piecing together fragments of memories of a friendship we never had. Now I’ve been to your home, I’ve sat next to your orchids, I’ve looked into your eyes, I’ve learned so much about you – all without ever actually meeting you.
I’ve been trying to fathom this one-sided friendship I’ve formed with you, but it has not been easy.
The first time I visited your home, I noticed your sneakers by the door. It was as if you’d never left. I saw your note on the wall. “Take your shoes off, please,” you wrote, as if to me. Of course, I obliged. But that note has been sitting on the wall since you left. It was a simple message, in your handwriting, to the cleaners who were going to come into your apartment one day in your absence. Now it looks like a message from beyond. Javad has framed that note.
We met too late. Many years too late. Do you know how many lunch breaks I took at the Alberta School of Business, during which I wished for a friend I could share my school experience with, someone who really understood what I was going through? Do you know how many days I sat outside the Tory Building, looking at the trees, feeling lost, wishing there was someone like you in my program?
I did my MBA at the business school several years before you and Javad started your PhDs there. Somehow in my head, the time difference doesn’t matter. I keep picturing us, sitting there together, having lunch.
And then I meet you, not only several years too late for a shared lunch, but also so late that I never got to see you alive. You must admit this is the strangest friendship!
Your husband Javad is now one of my good friends. We talk frequently. The pandemic made the world a very difficult kind of place. Being there for someone who is going through a loss has never been so hard. You died on Jan. 8, 2020, along with the rest of the passengers on flight PS752, so many of whom had U of A connections. About two months later, the whole world went into quarantine.
Still, we’re Iranian, and we remembered you on the 40th day after your death, then on the 100th day, then at six months and finally a year. Everyone got together outside of the Alberta Legislature Building to remember you on Jan. 8, 2021. It was a cold Edmonton night. Hundreds of little candles burned quietly in your memory – you would have liked the candles, Elnaz. Neither the pandemic nor the January weather could stop people from showing up.
You graduated in June, Elnaz! The university awarded you a posthumous degree. I watched that graduation online and pictured what it would have been like if you had put on a graduation cap and gown for a photo outside the Jubilee Auditorium. I pictured you throwing your cap in the air. I heard you laugh out loud, celebrating all your hard work. All the effort you put into getting admitted to the University of Alberta in the first place, all your sleepless nights.
I have come to know your sister, too. She lives so far away, in Iran. She misses you. I try to console her, but my words seem so empty. She never asked how I know you. It feels as though there is a general understanding amongst all of us who miss you. It doesn’t matter if we knew you before you were killed or not. The only thing that matters now is that we miss you.
I have cried for you, Elnaz. I have shouted your name at rallies to demand justice for you. And in all of this, I have made an image of you inside my head. Piecing together little fragments of memories and thoughts of the friendship we could have had.
It has been two years, Elnaz. I have come to know you and many others on that cursed flight. I often think about your hands. About your stolen wedding ring – it still hasn’t been returned to Javad. You’d be happy to know about all the amazing people who have stood by your husband in his fight for justice.
But I wish that we weren’t locked in this strange friendship. I wish I had never come to know you this way, that you were living a happy life somewhere in this city.
We might have passed by each other. Who knows? Maybe someday we would have met at an alumni event or through a common friend.
It did not have to be like this, Elnaz. For now, your memory stays alive in the hearts of many, and there has not been a moment when I felt our enthusiasm ebbing in our fight to find the truth about what happened to flight PS752, and to hold the responsible parties accountable.
But, my unseen friend, I wish I had never met you.
Pegah Salari, ’08 MBA, has lived in Edmonton since 2006, when she came to Canada as a student. She is an executive leader in wholesale distribution with Emco Corp. Pegah is a volunteer for the Association of Families of Flight PS752 and serves as a member-at-large on the Alumni Council at the University of Alberta.
Elnaz Nabiyi, ’20 PhD, earned her doctorate from the Faculty of Business posthumously. She was a smart and curious student and a keen advocate of educational development. The Dear Elnaz Corp., a non-profit organization with the mission to contribute to the educational advancement of those in need, created a graduate scholarship to commemorate her and the rest of the victims of Flight PS752.
| By Pegah Salari
Submitted by the University of Alberta’s Folio online magazine. The University of Alberta is a Troy Media Editorial Content Provider Partner.
© Troy Media
Troy Media is an editorial content provider to media outlets and its own hosted community news outlets across Canada.