“When you point at someone, you’ve always got three fingers pointing back at you. That’s why we Filipinos always point with our lips.”
-Christian, on being publicly teased and jeered at
Christian is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met, though he tries to don a hardcore exterior with the baggy jeans, a black tank top exposing his tattoos, and an uneven gait that looks more like a cool swagger. If the graphic on his shirt were more profane he’d fit right in with the rest of the Central Valley vibe, but as the hipster-esque image of Marilyn Monroe’s doe eyes peek out from behind a bandit’s bandana, Christian is exposed for the gentle, ironic, funny sweetheart that he actually is. The badass front, he says, usually fends off those who’d rather stare, open-mouthed, and tease him than show him any mercy. Plus, he says, “girls like bad guys”. He’s got an amazing sense of humor about his impressively large head, the marker of hydrocephalus, a congenital abnormality from which he shouldn’t have survived even just a few months after his birth, though his 30th birthday was just a week after our interview. He alludes to the cartoon character Brain of “Pinky and the Brain”, the animated collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation that all true Children of the ‘80s remember and think about when somebody dares ask, “What are we going to do today?” For the most part, Brain is a pretty accurate description of Christian’s physical proportions, though he laughed that he’s reluctant to lose any weight “because then [he]’d look like an orange on a toothpick”. He often tells children who gawk at him that he’s an alien from outer space, a guise he clearly relates to emotionally and socially. But when people assume that his larger skull must hold an immense brain that surely must be the smartest, most powerful brain in the world, humble, self-deprecating Christian corrects them. “No, no. I’m not extra smart,” he’ll say, his round, kind eyes looking down at his feet, his relatively massive head shaking back and forth with his modest admission. But he is incredibly intelligent. Christian is quite the novelist, and I burned with envy when I learned of his dedication to write for many hours each day, weaving the complexities of his life, his dreams, his disappointments into his stories until he’s satisfied with that day’s catharsis. When he elaborates on his characters, especially the protagonist, Lt. Chris Q., in the detective-romance series on which he’s been working for years, it quickly becomes obvious that his writing, like his outfit, his tattoos, his swagger, is a type of façade for his personal reality. When one reads of LAPD’s Lt. Chris Q.’s adventures and of the rag tag crew of misfits that traipse across the pages, the reader will be far removed from any “Pinky and the Brain” reference. Christian is to the lieutenant what Clark Kent is to Superman (though with an LAPD badge instead of a cape, but keep the cute-geeky Kentian glasses). It’s through Lt. Chris Q. that Christian gets to realize fantasies – things like being married, having children, working a meaningful job, being needed, and helping people. Most people wouldn’t consider those extraordinary accomplishments (Isn’t that the way of taking things for granted?), but they’re all Christian wants. The disheartening part of our interview, the part where I wanted to just hug him, be his best friend, and then do my best Yente impression in finding him a wonderful bride to share his dream, begins when he explains that he feels his dreams are constantly thwarted by his disability. Christian, who I’d been in stitches with just moments before, soberingly claimed that a family of his own just wasn’t going to happen. He hasn’t had much luck with girls. He actually has never been on a date (He wondered aloud what going on a date would feel like and, after I remembered my awkward days of getting gussied up when I really just wanted to sit on the couch in my pajamas, of doing the Who’s-Going-to-Pay-the-Bill song and dance, and waiting those excruciating three days for the follow-up call all looked a little different, seemed a lot more romantic, when I heard Christian’s child-like curiosity). Apparently, in love and relationships, head size does matter. Happy fantasies he saves for his novels. Lt. Chris Q., on the other hand, solves the mystery, saves the day, and always gets the girl. While Christian’s protagonist gets shot in the head three times as he – I’m sure – was either solving a mystery or saving someone or both, Christian has three shunts put into his skull to drain the cerebrospinal fluid from his brain after suffering a pretty bad seizure on his way to the bus stop; seizures, among a host of other miseries, come with the hydrocephalus territory and, no, they don’t get better, nor are there many treatment options for people like Christian. Regardless, he proudly shows me the three divots in his head where the holes/shunts are and fluidly vacillates between the story of his operation and that of Lt. Chris Q. “I write about what I want my life to be like… So I stick to fiction and just write what I want.” And in Christian’s stories, he/his protagonist isolates himself as the brooding, benevolent, misunderstood hero usually does, more reminiscent of Batman than Superman, instead of being hatefully ostracized from the popular cliques, something that has happened to Christian all his life. He explains that, for once, “[Lt. Chris Q.] isn’t the problem. The other characters have the problems.” After a pregnant pause Christian glances up to meet my eyes and, with a knowing smirk offers, “Like I said…it’s all in my dreams.” When I finish my interview with Christian, though, I don’t feel sorry for him. I’m thankful for his willingness to be honest and vulnerable with me in the midst of our giggly hangout, because it is that honesty that so few people see, regardless of physical ability, which reminds me why I’m doing this project to begin with. That Christian doesn’t elicit sadness or ask for pity, but rather exudes creativity, hope, and a refreshing innocence is completely inspiring. Throughout the interview, I asked him three separate times what he would change in his life if he had the opportunity, millions of dollars, a time machine, a genie in a bottle, whatever. Not once did he say he’d change his disability. The first time he said he wanted a family, then he said he’d be stoked to be a Los Angeles police officer, and finally he made the most telling, honest request yet: “I wish people would stop taking pictures of my big head without my permission.”
Christian reveals the all-too-real and very common aspect of having a physical disability that not many people talk about: depression. There are days, sometimes weeks, months, or even years, when you just wish that your dreams were the reality, and your reality was merely a nightmare.