Saturday, August 22, 2009


Yesterday, my sister sent me a photo of the house in Los Angeles where, in 1914, my father was born. It's so remodeled now that it doesn't even look like a house that could be that old. It's in a less-than-beautiful part of downtown L.A., of course. I think there wasn't much else to L.A. back then, other than downtown, so of course that's where it is.

This crazy boring now-stucco house really got to me. Because, first, I started wondering how many houses I've lived in that have had babies born in them. Then I started thinking about how comparatively sterile new houses are. No one (I'm not counting hippie kids) is born in a house built after, say 1950. But on the east coast there are houses that are 300 years old! Lots of time for babies to be born. It's weird that now almost all the births are concentrated in hospitals, whereas just a hundred years ago birth and life and death happened everywhere.

The houses I grew up in were built in the 50s and 60s, which means (in my newly formed opinion) that they were cold, inhuman places unblessed by the miracle of birth.

Anyway, I'm also thinking about my dad a lot because in six months I'll be how old he was when I was born. So when he was exactly my age now (and it's my birthday in two days) he already knew I potentially existed.

Okay, which brings up a whole host of other weirdnesses for me to think about, concerning the bizarre circumstances of my birth. Which I probably can't blog about, but suffice to say that I need to ask my mom a lot of questions about how stressed (or not, he was a singularly relaxed guy; I'm nothing like him) he was about her pregnancy.

There was a lot going on, and then on top of everything they were poor and he had just lost his job and they already had four children, one of whom was disabled. I was an utter, complete surprise. And then the birth was really difficult and my mom and I were, apparently (but I'm not sure how much to trust this information) very close to death. My dad came home at 6 am, woke up my 12 year old sister, and started crying. He told her all about how we almost died, but then, when she asked what my name was, he couldn't remember it.

Hey, I just thought of something -- that would've been a complete disaster if I'd been born at home. Maybe I should rethink the sterile 60s houses thing.

Okay, and now I should probably end here, but I keep thinking about what a strange and awful night that must've been for my parents. While my dad was home traumatizing his eldest daughter before the rest of his children awoke, my mom was at the hospital forcing herself to stay awake until sunrise, under some weird belief that if she allowed herself to fall asleep before daybreak, she would never wake up. (See, this is why it's hard to trust the "almost died" thing, although I guess she was in the midst of PTSD.)

Jesus Christ, I just looked up the condition online and yes, um, we both almost died. Plus she was still in big danger for a few hours after I was born, so note to self, don't diss my mom's intuition. But what we had (which I won't name here, because some people I know are hoping to become pregnant at some point) only affects .5% of births, and is much more easily monitored and treated now. Plus it all worked out fine for my mom and me.

It feels both neat and strange to be almost my dad's age when I knew him. I know the next eight years are going to be "wow, I'm now my dad's age when (insert childhood memory here) happened." Makes me feel a completely imaginary kinship toward him -- I mean, obviously I feel a real kinship toward him, but what does our age concordance have to do with anything? His era and life were so different from mine, I doubt finally being his age helps me imagine him accurately.

I hate blogging about something so serious, but perhaps it's obvious anyway, and it's so long ago and abstract -- but it strikes me, still, that the night I was born he grieved for me, and that after that I've lived almost my whole life grieving for him.

I guess we both had hard jobs.

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