Thursday, May 13, 2010

Garen and Heartache

by Karine Armen

Can heartache cause death? Yes, I can say yes. Here is the story of a short life because of pain and lack of life skills.

In September of 1958 a healthy boy was born in an Armenian family in Tehran. His parents were very happy and proud and named him Armen. He had big brown eyes and blond hair like golden wheat.
After two years his sister was born. Armen’s father loved to spend time with his kids. He also loved to spend time with his brother’s kids who lived in the same building as an extended family. I have so many nice memories of my uncle and my cousin, Armen.
On Fridays my uncle took us to the zoo or to the park. He took our pictures. We posed in front of the cages. I have a black and white photo sitting on a baby elephant. I still vividly remember that day. The elephant’s sharp hair was scratching my legs. I was very scared but I posed smiling. My uncle always treated us to ice cream. We loved listening to his stories. He was a good story teller. He had many tails from Ukraine and Armenia.
Armen was a bright and active child. One day when he was not feeling good his parents took him to doctor. After several tests the sky fell. Armen was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of four. Why, why an innocent child had cancer? He ate healthy food.
Everybody felt the family’s pain. The rich neighbor offered help to take Armen to Germany for treatment. My uncle and his wife felt helpless, frustrated yet hopeful. The whole family went to the airport. The international airport in Tehran was a fun place that my uncle took us to watch the take off and landing of the airplanes. I loved the pilots’ and hostess’s costumes. But this trip to the airport was not for fun. I was only 5 and to young to understand.
After the surgery in Germany they returned home. Armen died shortly after. All the kids were asking where he was. My oldest cousin who was six years old at the time said, “He is in the sky with angels.” We were looking at the clouds and searching for him. I wanted to see Armen’s dark and beautiful eyes. How disappointed I got not seeing him in the clouds.
Armen’s father’s hair turned gray within a month. He lost his belief in God. How can God be just and take away his innocent child?
After two years they had a new boy. He was born on my birthday. I was so excited to see him when they brought him home. He did not have a name yet, should they name him Armen? Perhaps they were afraid of Armen’s faith or they wanted to honor each child separately and keep Armen’s memories alive. Finally, they decided to name him Garen which matched my name (Karine/Garineh and Garen).
Garen had dark brown eyes and blond hair too. His parents adored him but Armen’s photos were everywhere. My uncle kept a small portrait of Armen in his shirts’ left pocket close to his heart.
Few years later another sister was born. There were three kids in my uncle’s family but they always remembered and talked about Armen.

In1979 Iran went through a revolution and many changes took place. I was already in the United States. I was homesick and worried about my family during the revolution. Finally, after being away for four years, I visited them in the summer of 1981. Garen was 16. He was tall and had big muscles. Both my dad and my uncle had been weight lifters when they were younger and had received gold medals. Garen also worked out under the supervision of his father.
My parents lived on the first floor and my uncle’s family lived on the third floor. We went up and down the stairs to each other’s apartments to visit, eat and play. That summer I spent time with my uncle’s family.
I returned to Washington, D.C. and continued my education. After receiving my Bachelor’s degree I left my husband and moved to Glendale. I started a new life with difficulty but I enjoyed being around my brother and other cousin’s who were already in the Los Angeles area.
I was able to return home in November of 1989 after being away from my family for a long time. How much I had missed my parents’ home. I took many pictures of the three story building where my extended family lived. Garen was more handsome and had an athletic body. He had participated in weight lifting championships. His father was very proud of him.
In 1987 Garen’s oldest sister moved to Los Angeles and in 1995 his youngest sister moved to Canada. Garen lived with his parents and worked with his dad in his tire store. He was content even though he did not socialize. His family was the core of his life.
Garen grew up in a traditional family yet he helped his mom with cooking and house chores. He always smiled and enjoyed spending time with his parents. In 1993 when I visited them again my mom had already died and my father was living with my youngest brother in the first floor apartment. My oldest brother and his family were in the second floor. My uncle, his wife and Garen were in the third floor.
Few years after that Garen’s mother went to visit a friend and had a heart attack and died. It was a sudden death at Christmas. We were all shocked.
Now Garen was left only with his father. They sold the old house and moved. Every body had to move. My dad moved in with my brother and his family. My youngest brother had moved to Los Angeles. The three story building was sold and demolished by the new buyer. He built a new apartment building.
I saw the new place being built when I visited my family in December of 2003. I surprised them with my visit. There were lots of changes. My strong athlete father was frail and living with his son. My uncle did not look as strong as before. It was December 25 and Garen’s mother’s one year death anniversary. I attended the memorial. After the church service we had lunch at my brother’s home. I took pictures of everybody. I love the documentary aspect of photography. I took a picture of Garen and his dad. That was the last time I saw them.

In May of 2009 my uncle died from complications of old age at 84. Garen was left alone. He did not know what to do with his life. He had no socializing skills. He was like a fish out of water. He got severely depressed. My brother took him to a psychiatrist. I started calling Garen more often. I gave him ideas of joining the sport club, going to the movies, and taking English classes. His voice sounded better after our long conversations.

Last summer he sounded much better. His sister from Canada had visited him and helped him to get a passport. He was optimistic about the future. I liked the tone of his voice; I could hear the energy and hope.
Then during the winter he felt depressed again. I called my brother on January 5th for the Armenian Christmas. When I found out that Garen was not there and he had stayed home all alone I got worried and upset. Garen told me that he had a cold and did not want to go out. He did not like cold weather. He was thinking of moving to Los Angeles. I encouraged him to travel and meet me in Armenia next summer. He liked the idea but wanted to know if my brother was going to travel so he could go with him. He was afraid of doing things alone.
On April 1st I called Garen to make sure he would spend the Easter with my brother and not to stay home by himself. He sounded good but he did not say he wanted to go there. He talked about the weather. He said, “It is cold again. How is the weather in Los Angeles?” That night I could not sleep. I called another cousin and encouraged her to call Garen and visit him. I said, “Kids have energy and their energy is contageous. Garen needs energy. Why don’t you take your kids there? You can call now for Easter.” She got inspired to call.
Saturday morning I called my brother for Easter and his son’s birthday. The phone rang for a long time. I got worried. They were supposed to be home enjoying the traditional Easter dinner. Finally, my sister-in-law answered the phone and said, “I cannot talk now, please call back in 10 minutes. Something bad has happened.” My heart felt to my stomach. “What do you mean? To whom?” I asked. “To Garen, please give me 10 minutes.” she replied. I hung up the phone and started praying, “Please God, let it be good.”
That was the hardest 10 minutes I have ever had. What could have happened? Finally, I called back. “Please, get to the point, how is Garen?” And I heard the worst, “Garen has died.”
Oh, my God! He had died just few hours after I had talked to him. He had a heart attack at the age of 45. The way they found his body was tragic too. My brother went to see why Garen had not gone to their home for the birthday on Friday. He heard the TV but Garen did not open the door. My brother went to the hospital where Garen had been few days before to receive IV. But he was not there. So my brother had to enter the home with a police officer.

It was Saturday, the day before Easter. I was in charge of spreading the sad news. I did not know what to do. When I called Garen’s uncle, here in Los Angeles, his body trembled. He could not believe it. Then we had to find the way to tell the sisters here and in Canada. I called the sister’s friend to see if she can help me with telling the bad news. We all went there to be with her. Garen’s sister was feeling guilty for leaving his brother alone.
Everybody was angry that Garen sacrificed his life for his parents. He did not live life fully. The only remedy I could think of was Garen was an angel. He came to serve his purpose, to fill Armen’s place. Maybe his parents had prayed for a baby boy and God answered their prayer. I think Garen had a beautiful soul going from this world fast. What if he had a stroke or cancer and needed long therapy and care. He did not want to cause problem for others.

Yes, Garen died from heartache. He did not know how to live alone. Life skills are more important than academic skills. That is my message to my students and my friends. Learn the skills to enjoy life. Live life fully!