Youth is Wasted on the Young
Feeling nothing but relief, I watched my father leave our house for the last time. At four years old, I turned to my mother and said, “Mommy, don’t cry . . . just don’t think about it”. Maybe it was at that moment that I learned to lock up anything bad in a tight box. I would, in later years, discover that the little steel box was packed tightly with all sorts of “bad things”.
My mother would quickly pack up our things, sell our house and we move us in with my grandparents. For the next two years I lived a “normal” life; whatever “normal” is. My grandparents lived in a grand home with six bedrooms nestled in the San Gabriel Mountains. I could invite my friends over to swim in the pool and bask in the sun. I was happy. It was just me and my Mom and I could curl up in bed with her and feel safe. Sleeping alone was always a fearful thing for me and I can never remember not being afraid when the lights went off at night. My mother began to see that there was something wrong with me. I became fearful of men – all men. When she took me for a new pair of shoes I cried and accused the shoe salesman of hurting me. I became hysterical while the stunned shoe salesman proclaimed his innocence. My mother took me to the local swimming pool for swimming lessons and when I saw the teacher was a man, I refused to get in the water. Crying profusely my mother put me in another class with a female teacher and I happily jumped into the water. My mother would decide that day that I would get some therapy. For the next 18 months I would spend one hour a week drawing pictures and playing with toys with a nice lady I thought was a babysitter. The therapist told my mother that something had happened to me that they can’t be sure of. That I had suffered a trauma but that it was as far as they could get me at this age and ended the sessions with a warning that one day my fear of men might flip to an insatiable desire. I think my mother put that warning in the steel box.
Once I started school full time, my mother got a job and we moved to a place of our own. I didn’t want to leave the privileged life my grandparents provided to go and live in a small house with no swimming pool. Suddenly I felt poor. I put up a proper stink, which my mother ignored and we started a new life in a bad neighborhood in a house I that was constantly too hot. The little window air conditioner chugged out cool air fighting to keep up with its demands.
We lived in a part of town that was so full of ethnic Armenians that my mother referred to it as the, “Armenian Ghetto”. I was a blonde little girl in a sea of black hair. I soon discovered that a fair haired half Armenian was a novelty and I found a place in the rough and tumble of my new neighborhood. When I would go outside to play the small gangs of Armenian boys would watch me from across the street. Each day they would move a little closer to my house until they finally invited me to play their street games and I quickly became a part of this strange neighborhood with its new smells, fruit vendors and foreign languages bellowing from mothers calling their children home for dinner.
Eventually, I would spend a few weeks each summer at Armenian Camp further solidifying my ethnic identity. I learned some Armenian words to impress my new friends when I returned home. My life was pretty good in those days. It was full of friends from the private school my mother sent me to, ballet lessons, horseback riding and vacations at my grandparent’s beach house in San Clemente. Not bad for a little half breed living in the ghetto.
School was nothing but fun. I never missed a day of school and looked forward to each morning going off to meet my friends. At school I gravitated to the black kids. I felt scorn for the white kids who prodded me with questions about my father and made it clear that I would never quite fit in. My black friends never judged me and there was the safety of an unspoken understanding. With them I fit in and felt safe. They were my comrades. I loved them like sisters. We would take turns having sleep over’s and going from my home to theirs was perfectly comfortable. They would provide a hedge from the critical eyes I felt were always watching me. In many ways, I know now, that I owe each of those girls a debt for their love and protection which they gave me unconditionally.
I would have my first male teacher in the Fifth grade. I started missing school. It became increasingly intolerable for me to be there. My mother sent me to another psychologist that year. Wading through the problems, they decided that my real problem was that I was bored in school and would benefit from skipping a grade. I would go from the 5th grade to Junior High School and the 7th grade the following year. I might have been “bored” as they said, but it was more than likely that I was starting to have a problem with my 5th grade male teacher. But I wasn’t the only one. Another girl in my class was going home with stomach aches 2-3 times a week. Her parents went to the Principal of the school and the male teacher was replaced. I never found out why but I pretty sure why. I knew what the problem was, but it went into the little steel box as I looked towards Junior High School.
It would be the 7th grade that the problems started in earnest. Not with school. My school work continued to be easy and rewarding. I enjoyed school and the confidence it gave me. My report card was full of A’s and I continued to receive rave reviews from my teachers. The only negative for me was leaving my friends from the 5th grade behind. We still attended the same school but elementary school students and Junior High student were not allowed to mix. I no longer had their protection and it would prove to be a little piece in my downfall. Coupled with the fact that I felt the need to be the defender of the defenseless; and there were a lot of bullies, and some measure of jealousy from my new peers, it would prove to once again, put me on the outside looking in.
Maybe it was why I began to turn to my street friends in the Armenian Ghetto. But they were not small children anymore. The little boys I played street games with were now 16-17 years old and they had moved up to real gangs. They were used as couriers for their older brothers. But they were my old friends and it was easy to continue to move in their circle. I was turned on by their apparent power. I secretly enjoyed the fear they instilled in the neighborhood. They were avenging angels to me and soon it would be one that would grab my attention above all others.
Krikor came from war torn Lebanon. His earliest memories were of bombs and snipers – long days hiding in his home listening to the destruction outside. His family would soon find a way to evacuate their home and move to America. Despite being in a free country he had nothing but disdain for Americans and especially Armenian Americans. He was paranoid and angry. He lived with his own ghosts that would shadow him to his new country. I was drawn to the shared darkness. The source was different but I could identify with the dark clouds that surrounded him. I had them too. We became inseparable for the next four years despite the heroic efforts by both families to keep us apart. We were Romeo and Juliet . . . Bonnie and Clyde . . . and I loved it.
I wanted to share his life. He sold drugs and used them. I wanted to do it too. At first he resisted, but eventually he gave in to my persistence.
Eve is 27 years old. She graduated from High School a physically healthy 15 year old; yet Eve was damaged despite her outward appearance. All the signs where there. . . Eve spent the next 12 years in a hell of her own making. Gravitating to anything that would get her out of her own head and into an alternate reality, her favorite tool to get there was a syringe. Today she is diabetic but living her second chance.
The Starting Gate
It’s hard for me to turn back and look at my life. My experiences, as painful as they may be to relive, may serve some purpose to those of you who are contemplating taking that same trip. Or maybe you are already on the train wishing you had never gotten on. Trust me, it’s easier to jump off the train and deal with lesser injuries than to ride it out until the end. Because when that train hits the wall your life will be unrecognizable to you. You may not even survive. But if you do, it will take you years to find yourself again.
I am dedicating this Blog to fellow travelers and those who love them. There are things I learned along the way. Had I known them, I might have suffered less damage. Heed my words if you dare. Maybe seeing my failures; and foolishness, can help you save your own life.
My life has made me like a Rat in a Maze. Thus my Blog Title. I plan to share my travels with you not just as a cathartic exercise, but in hope that I might help someone out there. Stay Tuned.