As I see my dad smoking his cigarettes quickly one after another and the room filling with unbearable smoke, I imagine the dust mixed with the screams coming from a thousand directions on December 7th, 1988.
Rebuilding the stories I heard from people, mostly from my mom, I could see the grey sky slowly becoming black, bringing the cold wind that could harm no one. The surrounding pictures all around were black and white, but not the kind you find in your grandparents’ bags or wallets of smiling family members, but ones that had enormous amounts of pain in them.
It had been 40 minutes since the earthquake hit. Nothing was standing. People were running like deers do from lions, pushing each other, yelling and anticipating that another earthquake would come. Some were so shocked they didn’t even care what would come next, they were entering half-torn buildings and hoping to hear ‘help.’ Some already found the dead bodies of their loved ones, some wished they were dead.
My father Armen, a 14-year-old boy at the time, somehow made it out of school and ran to his friend’s house. He was a fast runner so he used his all energy to get as far from the voices and bodies as possible. Before reaching his family’s home, he remembered that his parents, both school teachers, were at school. He turned to run back to the school when a man shouted and told him to go home because his parents were there. Armen didn’t understand why they would be there, they were teaching classes that day, but he couldn’t be any happier that they were alive. He rushed home but found it empty and destroyed.
Khachatur and Arusyak Melkonyans had been living in Jrashen, a village in Lori province, Armenia, for more than 25 years. Khachatur was an Armenian literature and language teacher and Arusyak was a geometry and music teacher. They married in 1955 and raised three young boys – Hrayr, Arayik and Armen. By 1988 Hrayr and Arayik were married and living in Yerevan, only Armen had stayed to finish high school.
Armen ran back to the school where he knew his parents would be. While the teachers were trying to lead the students out of half destroyed schools, huge blocks of stone were falling. Armen was one of the students who lost his group. He could feel the stones diving on him, covering his whole body. And the small light that showed his front was all covered with dust. He understood he wouldn’t catch up with the students and teachers but he had to find a way out of that place. He wanted to move his body but he was stuck, unable to move. A horrible pain shook his body. He was so panicked he almost lost his breath, when somehow he saw a small light next to him. He rolled his body and managed to escape from the building before it was all gone.
Armen’s parents died in the school that day, along with many other teachers and students. Because of a poorly organized help system implemented by the USSR many died waiting for help under blocks of stones, and many couldn’t find the dead bodies of their loved ones. Armen’s brothers arrived the same day to bury their parents and care for Armen.
Armen moved to Yerevan to live with his oldest brother Hrayr and his family. He was a senior in high school whose brown- red hair was already turning white. He became very scrawny, started drinking and smoking. Before the earthquake he had met a girl from Yerevan, Anahit, who was visiting her grandparents’ house in Jrashen. Anahit had long wavy hair, beautiful brown eyes, and her smile was what fired a spark in Armen’s eyes. He fell in love and won her over days before she went back to the capital again.
After the earthquake he tried to find her and due to the help of their mutual friends, they started talking again, nurturing their love. They dated for more than 7 years. Anahit’s parents didn’t want her to marry Armen because he had nothing but a distorted house in the village. Despite this pressure, they married and moved back to the village to start over from a new page.
Hey dear Journal,
It’s a sad day again. I woke up and dad was already awake smoking his morning cigarette. As we had breakfast he told us some good stories from his childhood. How grandpa Khachatur beat him when he ran away from school , how gentle and caring grandma was with all the kids. He told us (me and Khachatur, my brother) how similar our characters were to theirs and how much we both reminded him of his parents. Dad never really talks about that day, I guess it was too hard or maybe too emotional. But me and my brother couldn’t help asking questions, which were always answered by mom. I know she’s the only person my dad tells everything to. He always says that only she stayed with him when he was all alone, and he would be no one without her.
Although he doesn’t talk much about his parents, he named both his children after them. And I know sometimes he sees us as them. And although his worst memories are connected with the village, he was the only one among his brothers, to decide to go back and rebuild their house. He is being criticized every single day, since he is still working on finishing the house. He is told to just move to Yerevan, to move on, to forget it all. And whether he stays to keep a connection between us and our grandparents or for him to feel close to them, I will never know. But I can’t help but feel connected to them in this place. When we went to visit their tombstones, I sat in front of my grandma’s stone and starting telling her about my grades, good and bad things. I don’t know if this connection came because people told me I looked exactly like her or if I just felt something inside, but I always cared about her opinion. With every decision I make, I think about her reaction, as if she’s really next to me. Sometimes I wish she was alive, but I can’t wish it more than my dad does. We ended the day with evening conversations and went to sleep. Dad was still smoking. He smoked the whole night. I wish I could be in his head. I wish I could understand his thoughts and his pain. But is that what I really want?
Arus Armen Melkonyan is a girl with endless energy and dreams. She loves to write, draw, sing and listen to stories from old times. Her biggest goal is to become a human rights activist and lawyer and make the world just a little bit better.