A New Challenger Emerges (Edited)
Pages 5-9, edited
I'm no stranger to vulnerability. I probably overshare, actually. So, this section will be a breeze. It's the one where I give you a bit of backstory about how I got to this point, how I got to be a person writing a book.
I suppose we should start from the beginning…
I don't know the weather forecast of that day but it was some sort of night in Philadelphia at Temple Hospital on September 27th, 1985. Let's also assume that it was some cross-section of supernatural energies and the Ghostbusters were having a busy night. Lightning strikes and all of that. I like the drama of it all.
I was in my mother's womb being hilarious and decided it was time to bless the world with my existence. I did a spin move in the womb and it was time to be born. Doves flew out of my mother's hole of destiny and I emerged on a glowing cloud as if this was what all of existence was waiting for. And I arrived just on time. I was due on the 28th and as I tend to do, I showed up just on time at 11:59 pm.
I've never liked being too early. If you show up too early then the host isn't ready for you and now on top of getting ready they've gotta entertain earlier than expected. Not a fan of doing that to someone. I used to show up late to things but I later figured out that it was a subconscious power game that I was playing. But baby me knew to show up just on time.
I’ve always had this Kramer from Seinfeld fantasy of walking in late and the whole party turns to me and is like "HEYYYYY IT'S THIS GUYYY!" and applause breaks out just because it's me. In fact, I wanted people to not think I'd show up at all and be excited that I made the effort to be there. It worked a bit when I was younger. Adults don't care as much. Everyone just wants to go home. So, now I just show up on time whenever I can.
Anyway, I promptly arrived in Philadelphia at 11:59 pm on September 27th, 1985 and my parents named me Christian Adam Rivera, sealing my fate at that moment to never be a religious person since rebellion is in my veins. A tale of grand irony filled with old men asking me "oh? Are you Jewish?" and finding great joy in it every time. I used to hate it but now find it endearing that such a simple thing brings someone joy. You're welcome, old men.
Either way, there's an unconscious story behind my name. It's not that my parents secretly wanted me to be Swedish. But you see, in the mid-80s, baby boomers and the silent generation realized that they should probably be around their children, after realizing Gen X just wasn't working out. The streets were lined with abandoned children doing strip mall karate on each other, stabbing stop signs, and pranking each other at every turn. Gangs of kids on bikes would knock over liquor stores and push grannies over in the parking lot. It was madness, I think. I wasn't there.
Parents came home in the 80s from their free love sex dungeons and Woodstock drug fests to find their teenagers didn't stay in front the of TV the whole time politely raising themselves. So, they tried again with this new batch of Cabbage Patch Kids (Millennials) and this time made sure to read one parenting book (Dr. Spock), joined the first religion they could find (usually from some guy on TV), and started creating educational programming instead of whatever Charlie Brown was providing.
Making an entire generation of academic scholars was the ticket to cleaning up these streets! These baby geniuses will someday catch an international digital criminal named Carmen Sandiego by knowing the capital of Zimbabwe and everything will be fine, is what I assume the thought process was. They won't grow up with a hero complex looking to create a rapture in order to save the world from it in order to solidify a sense of purpose. No, sir. No, ma'am.
I'm just saying that I think a pattern that fits is that my parents named me Christian because of the timing of a mass religious saving of parents in the 80s to repent for their own debauchery. At least that's what I think happened. I don’t really know.
The realities of everyone's experience are way more complex and nuanced than I could ever account for with my wonderfully dumb brain. Judgment really only happens when there is insufficient information and frankly, I was a baby in the 80s, so I don't really know beyond what I can read or am told. And I was told that F is for Frog a lot of times. So, grain of salt here.
But there are some dots to connect and I'm sure we'll talk about it some more. Or not. We'll see if I remember to bring it up.
And no, no, no, this isn't some atheistic tomb about how my parents' generational habit of giving away their children to cults impacted me (again exaggerated for the hahas or just expressing repressed anger). But it's gonna come up.
My parents never gave me away to a cult but they were trying to figure out their religious place, which involved me shuffling around to different churches and Jesus-laden play therapy sessions. And while I didn't get it at the time, I am ultimately grateful for the inconsistency of not knowing where we stood because I could now ask more questions, and asking questions is what I naturally do well.
But with instability and a lot of questions come with spending a long time being an angry atheist rebelling against my parents, the contradicting claims of goodness I ran into rampantly in the Catholicism I was surrounded by, and anger with my own inability to just give in to whatever institution my parents felt I needed to keep me safe and gave me the best chance of fitting in. I thrashed at everything.
An important note also is that my parents are both from Puerto Rico and while technically part of America, it still is different enough to bring with it the immigrant mentality. Much of which came with the desire to have us all fit in to have a better life opportunity. My younger siblings and I didn't learn Spanish to be more “Americanized,” which made it a challenge to connect with extended family, who didn't speak English, and also to fully relate to my friends who didn't eat arroz con pollo. I had one foot in and out of both worlds.
So that’s what was a bit confusing. As a kid, you spend some time trying to figure out who we are as a family. Do we have money? Are we poor? Do we get free stuff? Do we work for stuff? What kind of situation are we in? And whatever you perceive that to be kinda sticks with you. It most definitely stuck with me.
So, genetically I’m Spanish but culturally I grew up in a low-income caucasian neighborhood in Northeast Philadelphia. Read the Wikipedia page on “white trash” and you’ll learn everything you need to know about that experience. And my reaction to that upbringing was wanting to get as far away from that as possible because, as we’ve established, I can be pretty judgy.
This is the origin story of my learning how to be a chameleon.
I didn’t want to be perceived as broke or stupid or lazy or “white trash” or some ethnic minority either. My white friends thought I was Italian until they asked, my black friends thought I was middle eastern or something, and my Puerto Rican extended family called me gringo. I felt like everyone was trying to tell me who they thought I should be but ultimately felt like none of those things. I was me.
I perceived myself as a science, math, and art nerd. I was curious about everything that people weren’t eager to teach me. I love figuring things out. I loved video games, drawing, wrestling, pogs, and riding my bike to explore new territory.
When I was 3, we lived in North Philadelphia in a small apartment above a Donuts Queen, a place with a similar look to a popular chain that America runs on. It was here that I played video games for the first time. Super Mario Bros was presented to me by my older brother and I sat on the arm of the couch staring at that little tube TV trying to pass the first level for hours. I was hooked on making this little pixelated plumber jump on Goombas and go down pipes. Many of my friendships throughout life have been based on that love for video games ever since. Video games became my oasis, my life raft, my bridge to other humans, and my respite from the panic, pain, and zeal of everyone around me.
There’s something special about that time as a kid when you’re in the pre-moral state of just wanting to do stuff and learn stuff. Every time someone wanted to shove something serious into my brain I rebelled hard. I hated every moment of seriousness that was being forced into life, especially when it didn’t seem like it was working for them.
Much of my story throughout this book is a push and pull with that feeling of wanting to be an innocent kid again and thrashing with the various navigatings of life as an adult then finding the integration of the two.
What life has felt like to me, even from a young age, is that you’re born into an experience as a soul or spirit or essence or whatever, and everyone can’t wait to get their grubby hands on you. There’s a mad dash to program you to help them feel a little less lonely, or crazy. I get why that happens, we want our ego to pass on to the next generation just as much as we want our genes to. So, I’m not cynical about that but there is a version of me that exists outside of that programming. The person that came into this world before anyone was able to inflict their ideas or outside of influence.
I want to explore myself outside of these things that have been assigned or thrown at me. I want to know who that nameless child is and what they’re all about.