Vagrant Journalism

Published pieces from the past, the present and of the potential future.

8 December 2005: How I Came to Be

Posted by Christina on March 1, 2009

Christmas 1989

Christmas 1989

A stint of class-only pieces has been going on for some time, at this point, and will continue for several months. This was at the peak of my lesson learning and oh the lessons I learned. I was made to explore all kinds of forms New Journalism could take, including the personal essay. The final for my Personal Essays class was to write about an unforgettable experience we had in our lives. While I couldn’t really think of anything I could safely herald as the most memorable experience I had had up until that point, there was a story related to me and centrally focused on me that I could write about. I wrote the story of how and why I was born and though unconventional, it was still considered a personal essay.

How I Came To Be

In the 1980’s, the world was in a panic state of upheaval. Chaos and disorder reined the globe. Harmony was abandoned while yin and yang were laughed at. Balance was shaken and monotony was stirred. Reason trembled in the shadows of impulsive actions and fancy-fleeting moments, but that’s just my opinion.

The babies of the post-war era free thinkers were now ruling the world. Women turned their living rooms into workout havens and while Jane Fonda’s aerobics videos encouraged them to “go for the burn” they danced their afternoons away in legs streaked with neon colored tights. George Michael was fast becoming a world-renown gay sex symbol and rose to stardom with Wham! while some of his British brethren tied the knot across the pond bringing the likes of Princess Diana into the vulnerability and limelight of lies, rumor and speculation known as the media. Music Television exploded with The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” as a somewhat ironic yet poignant statement to a foreshadowing of the silent war between radio and MTV in the decades to come. Steven Spielberg showcased a large part of the San Fernando Valley and how cute Drew Barrymore’s nose was and always will be in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial while the Valley produced a language all on its own, linguistically a geographical phenomenon. Dan Aykroyd awkwardly sings “We Are the World” with the rest of the Jackson Five and Madonna lies to us all, telling us she knows what it’s like to be a virgin. It was all about the bangs, the teased hair, the shoulder pads, pastel colored blazers with rolled up sleeves, jelly shoes, legwarmers, Miami Vice and CHiPs.

I have two older brothers who have always seemed to be younger than their actual ages. My oldest brother is Carl who is a good 15 years older than I am and Craig, my other brother, is about 11 years my senior. In 1985, Carl slept on Pac-Man bed covers while Craig sported the ones clad in a Pink Panther print. Both were involved with The Indian Guides with my dad, a byproduct of the YMCA’s parent-child programs, and sports inside and outside of school. Carl was going to Chaminade Preparatory School in the San Fernando Valley where he was a star wrestler and played football with the little leaguers at our nearby park. Craig had unknowingly strayed away from the good little Armenian boy persona and instead of attending the private Armenian school, Marie Manoogian in the San Fernando Valley, attended Faith Baptist instead. On his Saturdays he played soccer with the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) at the nearby park where Carl played football.

It was strange to think of my mother has a minivan totting, mom-taxi power house when neither one of my brothers had their drivers’ licenses. With both going to different schools plus all their extracurricular activities, I look back on that part of her life amazed. She juggled the role of the always available mom with the workaholic mom, raising her family, taking care of her elderly mother, being a wife and having dinner ready every night. Throwing another wrench in the mix would seem to cause more harm than good but somehow as life halted with the change, a quick adjustment came with it.

When my mom finally became pregnant after a year of trying, it seemed like the whole world not only knew, but swelled with excitement. My father’s first cousin, Margaret, took my mom out to lunch. Later, she would collaborate with my mother’s best friend Ester and our family’s cousin, Houry to have a surprise baby shower for a woman already visibly waddling around the house with the extra weight. It was probably a rainy day in mid-September when Craig was called to the principal’s office and Carl heard over the loudspeakers in his class, “Carl Nersesian, you now have a baby sister.”

*          *          *

In the typical California musk of a late afternoon, a 1971 model Ford Stationwagon tears through Interstate 5 going northbound towards Pacoima. The Osbourne Street exit today meant only one thing for Len-fish ‘n’ chips. Finally at the calm of a red light on some surface street, the left turn signals a green light and he starts to inch forward when a couple of self-proclaimed hot shot kids run a red light, clipping the right front fender of this majestic family caravan.

Slightly frazzled yet completely unfazed, my father steps out of the dented car with a camera, ready to shoot some evidence that will allow the insurance company to accurately award him the damages to his vehicle. My father is a man of forever taking precautions. He was currently at his longest standing job at Lockheed working overtime, particularly that day, on a top secret project he can’t tell his children about to this very day. It was always, all about precautions and this day was no different. Apparently though, “self-proclaimed hot shot” wasn’t the right word for these kids. They were more like irrationally impulsive, blundering idiots.

Two young men then came roving towards my dad like bats tearing out of a drug induced hell. It’s not a sucker-punch hitting my dad square in the face because he can see the fist sailing through the air, it just hurts like one. The other knocks the camera out of his hands and as my dad watches this piece of machinery fall to pieces on the hot asphalt floor, an insufferable shot of pain goes through the area just above his kidney to the left of his spinal chord. Still standing, he spins around to face his attacker, only to be assailed by an equally harrowing shot of pain pierce through his flesh and sear through to the stomach near a main artery. The pain mutes a frantic young girl who bounces out of the boys’ back seat, screaming for the two young men to get back in the car. As they turn to face her, my dad sees his own wound for the first time, gurgling with the dark, burgundy color of fresh blood. Looking back at his assailants in disbelief, he sees the culprit. A long screwdriver is stained and dripping with that same burgundy, streaking down to the fist holding it in a tight grasp.

Even their nervously skidding vehicle was muted by a blurry sense of the present and foreboding feeling of a quickly nearing death.

Crippling waves of pain are running through his entire body. His face already sore and swollen from the punch, he stumbles to the drivers’ seat of the family Wagon and burns rubber to the nearest gas station about a mile away. Holding his stomach the whole way there, he parks, he manages to his feet and reaches a payphone to call the paramedics, then his wife. As the paramedics arrive and take him to Valley Presbyterian Hospital, no one notices the opened and spilled bag of money strewn over the front of the car from the impact. About one thousand dollars worth of coins competed with my father’s blood from his wounds and spurted out in all different directions.

It’s amazing what a new lease on life can do to a man whose mid-life crisis sat in the family garage in the form of a diamond-blue ragtop, a 1966 model Ford Thunderbird.

*          *          *

During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the Nersesian family appeared to be in a bit of a slump. Things were financially bad because of the recession and my father had just been released from his job, laid off to make room for a new batch of fresh and hot-blooded mechanical engineers. My mom, a registered nurse at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, nearly worked twice as many shifts. She had initially wanted six children, but that was fancy thinking in her room back in Beirut as a young girl. It was that same vision that included details about her wedding dress and unveiling herself at the end of the church aisle in front of Paul Newman or Alain Delon. Now at the end of the 20th century in America, she had trimmed that down to four. With the recession, though, she was content with the two boys she had. My parents started to build upon what they thought would be a permanent family census.

When things picked up, my mom wanted another child. The thought had come to her in brief spurts of more fancy thinking, but she’d bring it up with my father only to hear her suggestion shot down. My grandmother who lived with us-and still does to this day-advised her daughter to just lay off, in a sense. Nevertheless, my mom kept prodding around at work for information. Doctor Dudley Danoff, a urology specialist at the hospital, had become a close friend to my mother. He had told her about how he just performed a reverse vasectomy on a 60-year-old member of Moroccan royalty and said he could do it. She mentioned it to my father as he continued to riddle her reasoning with “no’s.”

One night my father came home late from work. At this point there was an unspoken regiment that he followed, always arriving home around the same time. My mother asked him where he had been and my father’s heart floated in air as he told her about a black 1936 Ford truck someone had out for sale along his ride home. He came home late several times and mentioned this black Ford several times. He seemed renewed every time he talked about it.

My mother decided to surprise him. She collected Carl and Craig, the three of them pooled money together and had enough to get this car for my dad. She wanted to secretly buy it for him and surprise him but knew better. There are always doubts behind large investments that had specks of uncertainties, like surprises. So she gave the four-thousand dollars to my dad and he made a bee-line to his toy store.

Being born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, my dad designed our house to have a basement, accustomed to these truly underground havens most houses on the east coast had. Even so, in true California spirit, he morphed his idea for a basement into a hybrid basement-garage. It was essentially the first floor of our house with the kitchen, living room and bedrooms on the second floor. One cold evening, my mother sat in the living room resting her feet and watching TV. Below her she could hear my father and brothers clambering away at this new treasure. They were rebuilding an engine for the car. The clambering stopped and my mom heard an engine roar. She smiled inside, knowing how much smiling inside and out her husband had been doing for the past couple days.

It was time to test her out. My dad took the drivers seat and backed out of our driveway. His drive was exhilarating. He was instantly in 1958 on Woodward Avenue and Michigan was sporting some bright color of the current season. The windows were down and my dad’s jet black hair, perfectly greased into his signature, miniature pompadour, stood perfectly still. His 250-air conditioning system-two windows down at 50-miles-per-hour- tore senses from sights and smells through his entire body. The sound of the roaring engine, the feel of the wheel, the freedom of the lack of seatbelts cars from the 1930’s didn’t yet require, the smell of seats and that factory 250-air conditioning system were overwhelming him with an intensely heightened sense of nostalgia.

In 1958 my dad has one of his most infamous love affairs with a 1936 black Ford truck. Sadly, he sold it sometime later and never realized the intense void grow within him. At this very moment, that void had been entirely fulfilled. Good times from the past were brought right up to the present. In this quintessential moment of elated euphoria, his need for delivering reciprocity kicked in. He felt a dire necessity to return that same fulfillment to his wife. So much in his life made him realize that, as the cliché maxim goes, life was too short. He had been caught up on what life required of him for so long that he had lost sight of what really mattered. He realized he was not invincible and as epiphanic as Rene Descartes, realized it was possible to obtain and relive so accurately a piece of life that had once passed and gone. He wanted to enjoy life with another child.

Exhaling through the air with mentality giving him a new lease on life, my dad ascended the stairs to the living room. He found my brothers and talked with them for a short while. Afterwards, he presented himself and his sons to my mother, who was still watching TV.

“Betty, the boys and I have a present for you.”

He proceeded to explain to her how he felt, how he wanted to make her feel the same way and how he wanted another baby. He wanted the reverse vasectomy.

From the look on her face my dad knew he had achieved his need to deliver reciprocity. He loved her because she loved him. He was happy because she was happy. The next day at work, my mom proceeded to make the appointment with Dr. Danoff. She called my father to make sure one more time. He was as certain as can be and his appointment was not penciled in, it was inked in for the following week. When that next week finally came, my mother sat and slept on a bed of needles. My father was in his mid-40’s and any procedure under the knife was dangerous. My mother would never forgive herself if anything had happened to him and would have felt a damaging, internal responsibility. Turns out, everything went fine.

*          *          *

As a baby from the 1980’s I knew very little of what that magical decade’s pop culture provided for its latter years. I was, however, intensely interested in what it had to offer. Always too little for my older brothers to bother with me, I always had a sense of wanting to know, wanting to experience those grown-up things with them. I was obviously physically and mentally unable to grasp anything at their level, being a small infant for a large part of their lives growing up. I don’t remember Carl’s prom date coming over, I don’t remember Craig asking to borrow the car for his prom and I don’t remember when either one of them got their licenses, got their first cars or when they were legally able to drain all the money from their savings accounts.

My mother was 41-years-old when she had me which made my father 45-years-old. The story of how I came to be seems more of a fable to me than anything else. There came a time when I finally did ask, I don’t remember in what context but I realized that my brothers were a significant number of years older than me and eventually I was all alone, experiencing life without them around. Carl’s final act of defiance led him to buy a small boat that looked better than it ran. He kept it docked at Marina del Ray and lived on this boat for a few years before getting married. A few years later Craig decided his only way out of the house would be an overly dramatic job change. Since dormitories or college never gave him an excuse to relocate, he shipped himself up to Pleasanton, California, a city as quaint and dull as Irvine, just within a 45-minute drive of San Francisco. So I asked, essentially, from whence I sprang and should have probably used wording like that to match this fictional story that sounded like it should have been from King Arthur, Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table in Camelot.

My mom had always wanted a girl but taking into consideration her past as a youth, was definitely destined to produce two boys. Older than her only brother and growing up lacking the luxuries of what the Beirut, Lebanon of the 1950’s and 1960’s offered to the rich, she made-do with what she had. Her joys came in what most little boys would do, what her father encouraged her to do and what a backyard had to offer. She climbed trees, scraped her knees on the way down, played in the dirt with her father, picked fruits and ate them from the stems, came home with dirty fingernails and was pretty unladylike.

Now, 40-years-old and four months pregnant with her third child, my mom nervously sat at her obstetrician-gynecologist’s office waiting for her amniocentesis. She was suddenly more scared than excited about her pregnancy. After all that had happened, what if something had happened to the baby? What is something might happen to her? The dread overcame her mere suspicions until she heard she was going to have a normal, healthy baby girl. She welcomed the tears of joy than ran along her face.

The day I was born, my mom had her own fan club in tow in the hospital lobby. Suddenly, sitting up in her bed holding her new baby girl, our family’s three, most angelic and saintly women walked in. My grandmother and her two sisters strolled in, one after another, one more elderly than the other and came to the foot of the bed. They prayed thanks and coddled my mother with her new baby. For the first time, my mother’s tears trickled down and I felt them, dripping down one by one onto my own face.


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