BY PAUL CHADERJIAN
It wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. This wasn’t how it was scripted.
< #inhale >
I don’t know where you are and what you’re doing, but I imagine you two floating in slow motion in the middle of a vast, serene, white place full of clouds, hearing echoes of conversations from the wretched world far below.
Here, we are chattering simultaneously, posting, blogging, liking your photos, and it’s all reverberating through you and in you, even though it’s all meaningless, circular, and empty noise that mortals, like the ones you left behind, consider dialogue.
Our voices in this loud place run together, separate, sound foreign, fake, but they continue to sound. Perhaps there is music in your new place, in the background, a harp lessening your harsh transitions from the here and now to there, the eternal.
Here, we wish the clocks could turn back to a simpler time before Friday, to a time when you hadn’t died, hadn’t succumbed to fatal wounds, hadn’t been abruptly and violently taken from us, hadn’t gone missing.
Should we have tried to talk you out of the weekend trip to Georgia? Should we not have encouraged you to repatriate? Should I have told you to pursue medicine or real estate instead?
Now we’re talking, making noise, crying in front of our keyboards, hiding the emotional trauma, maybe drinking and eating.
There are drinks everywhere, food everywhere, but you know our thirst and hunger can never be quenched, our desires can never be fulfilled, and our curiosity never satisfied, while we are still here and not where you are.
In the air, in our heads and in ours mouths, we smell and taste staleness, the smell of sweaters after the rain, the smell of a shirt worn too many times at the gym.
Something rotten happened to us, but you know all that, you feel it, you are part of the collective, the whole, the holy, you are permanently etched in our souls and have become our guiding spirits.
You know all this.
< #exhale >
You were supposed to be here, you know. We were supposed to see each other in Yerevan in two weeks, sip coffee at Art Bridge, walk down Northern Avenue, have yogurt-barley “sbus” soup somewhere.
You were supposed to live out our DNA-programmed, collective dream of repatriating for more than just a few short months. You were supposed to be there so we would comfort each other in that foreign place, which was getting cozier because of your radiance, your love, passion and can-do attitude, your optimism and hope.
Your story, in pictures, on film, was epic. Diasporans, in love, marrying in the Homeland, finding jobs and moving — a premise worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.
It was Monte Melkonian-epic. He had given up the comforts of the West to fight injustice wherever Armenians were before independence and post independence. You gave up the job at Operation HOPE, helping out an underserved subculture. You gave up your job in that fancy Los Angeles high rise, and you moved to help the American University of Armenia tell her stories.
You last told me Armenia wasn’t the same as I remembered it, when I asked you how you were getting along.
I asked if you were staying fit and continuing to exercise and eating well.
“I go to a luxurious Gold’s gym every other day. It makes any gym I went to in the states look third world. It’s absolutely huge and amazing.”
We would tell each other and our compatriots in the remote corners of the world that it would be okay, that we were proof it was all working out.
But you are gone, and we are hurt, human and too feeble-minded to understand.
We held memorials and vigils for you, just to let it sink it that it’s all real, that it’s not an internet hoax, a nightmare we would wake up from.
We looked at each other, at faces, thin and cherubic, lengthy, generic, pronounced and unpronounced, and we wondered what others were thinking.
We walked around, lit candles, took poses, tried to contain the anger at God, tried not to curse too loud, become too loud and obnoxious in our grief, or … to be too alive. While, in the back of our minds, we longed for one more embrace, a hug, a kiss on her cheek, a pat on your back, warm, live bodies near us, close to us, energizing our soul with your radiance, your love, your optimism and hope.
Now you’re gone, returned to heaven like shooting stars, 21st century fedayees whose departure is your challenge for us to take action.
< #it’s okay to cry >
We are cordial, but we make it quick. “Thank you. SH*T. Goodbye. I’m sorry. GodD*MN this Fu^King world. It’s still a shock. Tragic… Fu^K.”
We get into our cars, sit there for a moment in the darkness, touch the steering wheel, put our hands on the passenger seat, wishing it had been us and not you. What was going through your mind in those last minutes? What promises did you leave unfulfilled? What destinies were unmade? How many children and children’s children vanished with you?
Why did you leave us?
Do we leave the vigil and go home, retire to our room? Do we make one more stop? Do we start the engine and drive until there’s no more road ahead – drive nonstop to a nondescript location to get away, find people who didn’t know you, our pain, the unfathomable? Is there anyone in those three thousand people who have seen us and known our faces who don’t know, who aren’t hurting as much, who are not confused, angry at God, speechless?
< #banality or destiny >
I’m sitting here tonight, wondering if these words are being spoken in vain, if these words are a drama I’m playing to myself for myself. I’m wondering if these words are just another way to convince myself that there is more past this tragic lifetime, if there are reasons, if there can hope for joy.
Or are these words just nonsense, typed alone onto a screen, another form of teasing our minds, distracting from our most personal loss, or indulging in our narcissism. Perhaps words written are even more alienating than words not spoken, not read, not thought. Are we connecting here or disconnecting?
I can only remember your mission to connect us all in the information age. You were connecting us while you were alive, and now your deaths are, VIRAL, playing out on the same social media networks you used to share our stories, our cause and the rebirth of the Armenian Dream.
You were living the rebirth of our nation, the revolution, the renaissance you likened to the Zartonk of yesteryear, our intellectual rebirth during the Age of Enlightenment.
We had plotted and penned the iZartonk via Google docs a few years ago, and we were going to motivate, activate and connect every son and daughter of the Diaspora with the Homeland via the information superhighway.
You and I wrote: “Armenians in the Age of Enlightenment gave birth to young enlightened thinkers, selfless teachers, and the fearless Fedayees.” You were that young enlightened thinker, that selfless teacher and that fearless iFedayee.
In the pages of Haytoug, we promoted the idea a new generation of Armenians, armed with their laptops, cell and smart phones could be and are now a new breed of freedom fighters, waging an informational struggle for freedom from their people’s established norms — norms which are staid and are slowly suffocating, if not killing a new generation of young Armenians in the Homeland and our far-reaching diasporas.
< #revival >
But in our world here, who has time to connect for enlightenment? Who has the luxury to ponder about that new place where you and Sose are – that white, heavenly place with the harps? Most of us, especially the Millennials, are going about trying to accumulate more fame and wealth, and our reality is carved by a media that in itself is in the business to draw and retain your attention to make money.
Facts are skewed, reality blurred, but we accept it like sheep in a flock, following their leader, following the herder. We follow because we know nothing else to do, nothing more to want than the prizes of our collective mindset, the gold medal, the Oscar, the public office, the fame, the Pulitzer, the Nobel prize and sainthood.
In this wild and frantic race to attainment, we forget life is going by, love is being wasted and smiles are being used for material gain. Our creativity is used for commerce, relationships are used for advancement, and our joy is equated to success and position.
That wasn’t your way. You knew this was a time for a revival, using the new weapons of modern civilization –the communications tools that every citizen of the world either has access to or knows someone with access.
You knew that these tools – cameras, keyboards, editing software, iPad and iPods, FlipCams and iPhones – and creativity could lead to a deeper connection between individuals, communities, diasporas and the Homeland, a connection rooted in the convictions that our ancient nation would be whole again, and all this could happen through the iZartonk.
< #reality TV >
But in this world, the very same world where you must go the speed limit or get run over, we are left with a bundle of raw emotions and indiscernible thoughts.
People we know died from a Genocide, the Spitak earthquake, the Karapagh Independence War. People died from jet planes crashing into skyscrapers, shooters walking into schools and opening fire, from terrorists bombing a marathon.
Not from a car crash in Georgia. Not swerving out of the way of a speeding bus heading to Baku.
Fear of our mortality has set in, so will we continue celebrating money and celebrity. Because those are sexier, better, prettier, more fun and somehow blessed and at the top of the game.
Or will we look in the mirror and remember what you preached in your short three decades?
< #reflection >
It’s time to wash my face, and I look up and have to force myself to recognize the man I’m looking at. I stand there alone, my mind feeling alone and lonely amidst family and friends, searching for answers, in the shopping malls, the grocery stores, the bars, the internet and in churches, on the highway, at the gyms, at the bookstores.
Now, we’re all looking. Now, we’ve lost our equilibrium. We’ve lost our peace. We aren’t able to sleep. Our minds are racing, searching for the reason, the meaning, the right words, trying to play a role in a movie we had written about our lives, but the director has left the building, the studio has closed up shop, its stock worth junk.
We’re left with images of what could have been, you at your peak, your post-mortem roles of our heroes, fighting all odds and finding love, moving to the homeland, creating a niche.
We are left with a bunch of words on paper, a screenplay that will never materialize, and a lot of regrets. We’re left searching, hoping, wanting, but knowing the role we have always wanted may never come, a role you as renegades of pop culture, didn’t play.
< #how could it be >
We had plans in two weeks. Art Bridge. Sbus. CivilNet. We were going to plot the continuation of the manifesto we co-wrote. How would we tell Armenia’s stories to anyone who wanted to hear now that all three of us were in the Homeland.
Maral Habeshian introduced you to me when I moved to LA from Yerevan to fill the pages and airwaves of Armenian media — the glue we knew held and will hold our culture together in the information age.
She said you were eager, smart, talented, studying at UCLA and you were willing to help out. You already had a part time job at Asbarez but you wanted to do so much more. We plotted and talked about how you should cover an upcoming UCLA Armenian Studies conference on Musa Dagh.
We met for the first time at Conrad’s on Central. You had fries. Vincent Lima joined us, and we spoke at length about what media could and should do for our community. You shared my vision; I shared yours. We were instant friends.
When you introduced me to Sose, I could see why you were in love with her. She was everything you were and more. I copyedited the blog you launched for her, so she would review restaurants and write about food.
You asked me if taking her to Club 33 at Disneyland would be a big enough surprise for her birthday, and you saved for months to celebrate her and propose to her the way she deserved.
She was your muse and ours.
< #asbarez >
Ara Khachatourian, the man at the helm of this news-hungry beast of a Fresno-born Asbarez newspaper, the captain of our ship, put us to work together, and we wrote about the hidden Armenians, dance groups, the Telethon and Congresswoman Jackie Speier, and years passed.
Your instant messages prompting me to pen another column, and then another, and so we filled the pages of this paper, chronicled our history together, reported fact, contemplated identity, continued to stare at the Mountain that beckoned you and millions over the centuries.
You took on a pen name, Vartan Dudukjian, and came to my defense when readers argued with my thinking and essays on the pages of this paper. I liked Vartan. He was my defense, my back, my own Mark Geragos.
You and Liana Aghajanian joined me on the set of Horizon TV to talk about media. We took our show on the road and talked to teens about pursuing careers like ours, becoming citizen journalists, conscripted Lara Garibian into advocacy, and told our stories to one another and global audiences.
You quoted from Raffi’s novel, The Fool: “While the prudent stand and ponder, the fool has already crossed the river.” Those words were your auto-signature, but you lived by them while we pondered in our safe rat-race, in our mansions, wanting, desiring, racing in our fancy cars, or fancying other people’s oceans, beaches and rainbows from my 38th floor penthouse in Hawaii.
< #final #30 >
The last time I saw you was at PBS Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day. You kept updating me on how many people were watching the Armenia Fund Telethon online. You told me about the viral messages via your social media campaign for the pan-Armenian Thanksgiving Day tradition that you’d become a part of and were promoting on multiple platforms and social media.
Your last words to me came via Facebook on April 22. It was 1:56 AM, and you said, “Are you coming to Armenia?”
I typed, “The plan is to be there by end of May. Waiting to work out details with Salpi.” I asked how life was.
You said, “Life is good. We’ve got an a conference at AUA today. Organizing my first press conference.”
I said, “that’s great. You’ll do great as usual.”
Tonight, I’m adding these words to my last email to you: I’m coming, Allen. I’m coming. We’re coming. We’re all crossing the rivers and oceans and coming.
And three apples fell from heaven: one for Allen, one for Sose, and one for every mourner and iFedayee.
< #end end end >