The Genius Failed Twelfth Grade

by Mohammad Yadegari

It was June 1962. Three years had passed since I had moved to Tehran in accordance with my father’s plan to move the family gradually from Iraq to Iran. Whereas women in Iraq wore heavy veils in public, many of them covering their faces and avoiding talking to anyone who namahram (Any man not permitted to see a woman without her chador), females in Tehran oozed sex appeal and loved to be the center of attention.

I did not attend school in Tehran as often as I should have. At first, I found the material and teachers boring. The students seemed aloof and stood around striking poses, trying to look like American movie stars. Combing their hair constantly, the boys tried to look like James Dean or Elvis Presley.

I passed the tenth grade without studying or even attending class on many of the school days. Eleventh grade was a bit more difficult but no big problem. All I wanted was a passing grade. In twelfth grade, I began to encounter some difficulties. No problem again. I enrolled in a school that did not set high standards. But, still, I hit a wall. I failed. It was hard for me to understand why. I had been told that I was smart. I knew I was smart. I had been well read. Even in those years that I pursued carnal pleasures, I still read hundreds of books. Reading was my hobby. I was even writing, translating, and publishing articles while still in high school. How could I fail twelfth grade?

The day I learned that I had failed twelfth grade, my father was visiting. According to his plan to move his businesses out of Iraq, he took periodic trips to keep tabs on his places of business in Karaj, Iran. As soon as I entered the public bath and greeted him, I leaned against the counter behind which tea, coffee, and sweets were being served. He was sitting in a comfortable chair puffing on his Kent cigarette. He asked me if I passed. I ignored his question. He repeated it. I mumbled in Arabic (because strangers were around) that I failed. But my nerves were too frayed and my voice was too weak and stuck in the abyss of my throat to articulate the startling truth.

He repeated again, “Did you pass?” I informed him softly that I had failed. I looked at him indirectly. His eyes were piercing. His silence was louder than screams. His disappointment was overwhelming. “YOU, MOHAMMAD, FAILED?” he exclaimed in disbelief, emphasizing and accenting every word. While this seemed a rebuke, and while I was embarrassed to face him, I sensed something more. I sensed his high expectations. Never before had he expressed such confidence in me. My father was always too busy to tell me he loved me. And now, here, expressing his disappointment in my failure, he told me what every child wishes to hear, “I love you, son.”

""Mohammad Yadegari, an Iranian born in Iraq, moved to the United States in 1964. He studied at SUNYA and NYU and then taught mathematics and history in both high school and college. “The Genius Failed Twelfth Grade” is from his recently completed cultural memoir, A TALE OF THREE CITIES.

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