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Growing up in America

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  • Growing up in America

    The journey of an American-born Daheshist

    It has been an interesting experience to edit the first 23 years of one's life down to just a few pages... so please bear with me... here are the "highlights" as well as some "lowlights"...

    It's a BOY!
    I was born into a middle class family in the heartland of America in the city of Green Bay, Wisconsin. My father was a warden at a prison and of Swedish descent; my mother was a registered nurse and of English and German descent.

    I was told that during the week my mother was in labor with me, there were terrible summer storms going on. And, as the story goes, supposedly right as they were wheeling my mother back to her room after my birth, the nurse stopped along the windows in the hall of the hospital and they looked and saw the sun was out for the first time in a week and there was a huge rainbow stretching across the sky...

    Everyone say, “awwwwww….” I know, I know… but hey, I’m only the messenger… and for obvious reasons I have no recollection of this moment… (I was way too busy at the time trying to figure out how to use my lungs...)

    The middle of Wisconsin...
    A few years later, my mother, father, older sister and I moved to a small town in central Wisconsin. This is where I lived until I went off to college.

    Having lived most of my adult life in more urban environments, I now realize how much I probably took for granted growing up a mile from the edge of miles and miles of cornfields (but not on a farm...(inside joke)) There were always rolling hills to see, fresh beautiful woodland air and far reaching horizon lines.

    Many years later, when I brought a friend of mine from New York City back to see where I grew up in Wisconsin, when she saw all these broad sweeping, waving plains, she made the comment, “I can see why people in the Mid West tend to be so religious… how can you not believe in God with all this nature that stretches from horizon to horizon?”

    There was a lot of truth in that statement… the fragrant smell of wild flowers, the fresh breezes in summer, the freshly cut grasses and plowed fields, puffy white clouds floating across brilliantly blue skies… these are all sights and scents that still today take me back to a quieter, simpler place and time.

    On the other end of the seasonal spectrum, however, winters in Wisconsin were deservedly legendary… and I mean COLD! I remember years when the snow would fall in early November, more snow would fall throughout the winter, and the snow would not seem to begin to melt until June.

    On the upside of all this, as a kid, the six feet of snow on the ground for half the year allowed for the creation of a whole world unto itself for me: SNOW FORTS and elaborate SNOW TUNNELS burrowed throughout the yard! I absolutely loved the winters as a young child; this was also due in no small part to a genetic anomaly I possessed… I never got cold. I mean I can feel when it is cold outside, but I guess like a polar bear feels, it feels wonderful… kind of like a warm beach might feel to someone else. As such, this young future architect could work for hours every day completely unfettered by the freezing temperatures… and instead focus on working to understand the structural limitations of snow.

    More often than not, I would have to come in to the house because my mother was in the kitchen feeling cold… kind of like I always had to go to bed whenever my mother was tired…. That in a nutshell kind of describes the more often than not, out of phase relationship my mother and I shared.

    Toy cars and thinking of what to do next...
    I kind of kept mostly to myself growing up and surrounded myself with an inner world of things that interested me. I always had a desire to draw and I always had a desire to build things. Also, much to the chagrin of my parents, I also had a great desire to unbuild things; (as in disassemble) things like toasters and washing machines… whether they were still in working order or not.

    I have many fond childhood memories of building with Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs and Erector sets. I remember my mother joking once to a friend of hers that she never really needed to get a baby sitter for me when she left the house; “Just dump a pile of Tinker Toys in the middle of the floor and David will still be there hours later.”

    I would also lose myself in playing with and collecting little toy cars (Matchbox cars and later Hot Wheels when they came along) and everything else I could get my hands on relative to all things automotive. I remember very clearly when I got my first library card at the local library AND discovered from the very nice lady at the desk that there was an entire automotive section at the library! I know it doesn’t take much to impress a 6 year old… but it opened a whole new world of things mechanical to me and fed what would become a life long love of cars.

    I am sure there is still a little (ok, maybe not so little) part of me that carries that same inner excitement of a little boy when I take my car out on a beautiful day for a long drive. I still remember the sheer joy of “driving” my little Matchbox cars across the carpet, making skidding sounds and leaving marks on the carpet from the back wheels of my little cars…

    Of course... as I became a man, I gave up childish ways... *Ahem*... Disclaimer ahead: For the record, if there are any members of law enforcement reading this, I do not drive anything like that today and I always obey and observe all posted and applicable traffic laws.

    The sound of music...
    Both my mother and grandmother were fairly accomplished pianists and as such my older sister and I “had” to take piano lessons. And let me tell you, I HATED piano lessons. My sister, however, being the dutiful, obedient child, was very disciplined to play Brahms the way Brahms intended Brahms to be played. I on the other hand, had a more, um, shall we say, personalized and “creative” approach to interpreting written music. My piano teacher often referred to much of what I presented or rather interpreted as “noodling”. Thankfully, after about 4 or 5 years of the struggle that piano lessons were, I was finally allowed to quit.

    What is funny NOW though, is that all that “noodling” around on the piano would one day eventually lead to what some now might refer to as “composing”… and I love music and playing the piano now today more than ever: interesting how these little seeds are planted… and one day come more in to fruition.

    Throughout school I pretty much immersed myself in everything I could that had to do with art and music. I entered many art competitions and music programs. My early academic career was probably just a little better than average… I was more interested in satisfying my need to do more purely creative things than just the cold discipline of academics.

    Religion at home..
    Both of my parents were raised Baptist. In fact, this was how they met in college; they met at the Baptist Student Center at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. My younger brother, sister and I were raised in this environment as well. We attended church every Sunday… and I wore my little suit and one of my varied selections of clip-on ties.

    At church my parents were very active in all of the church’s activities and Bible study groups. Because of this environment, I guess I probably read through most of the Bible several times by the time I graduated from High School. After reading the New Testament for the first time, I remember my deepest hidden thoughts of prayer would always be, “oh how I wish I could have been near Christ when he was alive.” That is a dream that was always with me… I know this may sound very convenient given the context of this essay, but it is the truth.

    At home, as a family we held hands and said grace before the evening meal. Before going to bed, we folded our hands, bowed our heads, and said our prayers.

    I remember many late nights, laying with the windows of my bedroom open, all the lights off, closing my eyes, and opening my mind to the fresh fragrance of the night breeze… this was how I would pray after everyone else went to bed. I remember the sound and feel of the curtains billowing into my room and my thoughts traveling to try and open my mind as much as possible to the energy of the universe… trying to feel and connect with everything that was “out there”...

    Ok fine, so maybe I was a little bit eccentric as a kid… so unlike today... ha!

    Aside from surviving childhood in general, the only other really traumatic event of my youth was contracting viral meningitis AND encephalitis at the same time when I was 15 years old. It was REALLY a bad time… I had various short-term comas and uncontrollable fevers. The damages to my brain and nervous system at the time were unknown.

    I was hospitalized for quite some time and I missed a lot of school. During one of my catatonic states, I remember the doctors talking to my parents as if I wasn’t even in the room, telling them that it might be very likely I have “brain damage”…I heard everything from “reading disabilities”, “motor skill coordination problems” and even “mental retardation”… I wasn’t SO far gone in my state of mind to realize, "Well, none of THAT can be good!"

    During this time there were also strange “brain events” that were thought to be seizures… the only real down side I could see at that time was that I would not be able to get my driver’s license when I turned 16 in a few months… this is quite funny to me now in retrospect…everyone around me was worried about my life in general, and my only concern was that I might not be able to fulfill my lifelong dream of driving a car for myself.

    When I started to recover, and could speak again… I remember thinking to myself, “oh my God, what if I can’t draw anymore???” I wanted to see a book or a magazine or just anything with words to see if I was still able to read. I also wanted a pencil and pad of paper to see if I could still draw…

    The first thing I drew when I could sit up were the trees and church steeple I could see out of my hospital window. Sadly, though, the reading thing did not go quite so well… I remember looking at the letters and words, but not really being able to process what I was looking at… I found for years afterward, I really had to double my efforts to get the clarity back relative to looking at words and letters and ultimately comprehension… something we all pretty much take for granted when it comes to reading.

    The only other “residual” of this 4 month ordeal was that, and while I can’t remember a whole lot of it, just bits and pieces… I DO remember my “last supper” before I got sick: FROG LEGS! I had been working after school at a food service facility for a private academy in my town and one night they served frog legs… I had never even heard of such a thing before… but my friends and I ate a LOT of them that night…a LOT. Well, while it was determined that they were not necessarily the cause of my illness (an infected mosquito was felt to be the culprit) to this day, I just can't bring myself to eat frog legs. I know people say, “Hey, they’re good! They taste like chicken!" I none the less, just stick to actual chicken and every so often think… “Hmmm… chicken tastes just like frog legs…”

    After graduating from High School, I applied to and was accepted to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. I spent two years there in an engineering program. I studied mechanical engineering in the hopes of going in to some form of medical research designing artificial limbs or something. This was a difficult adjustment time for me…. I wasn’t happy, I was bored and nothing really “clicked” with what I was doing.

    After two years, I transferred to the University of Wisconsin Architecture program in Milwaukee. I felt that maybe an environment more “creative” might better suit me. In the little town I grew up in, I didn’t know any architects, or frankly even knew what one did. Well, architecture school was a bit of a revelation to me… it just seemed to feel “right” and made sense to me.

    During my second year in architecture school in Milwaukee, I was contacted by the dean of the school that they had been contacted by the Saudi Arabian embassy. A Saudi student in my class wanted a tutor. I was asked to come in for an interview and I was selected for the job. Riyad and I hit it off famously. He and his wife and cousin and his wife shared a house in Milwaukee. We had many meals together and long talks late in to the night. It was my first experience with Middle Eastern culture, language, writing and food. I took it all in and really felt an affinity toward it all. Though it would never come to pass, Riyad and I talked of working together after graduation with his father’s construction company in Saudi Arabia.

    Cancer, Heart Attacks and other fun...
    During the last year of my time in Milwaukee, my mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Shortly after this diagnoses, and no doubt due to the stress of my mother’s situation, my father had his third heart attack. This was a rather surreal time in my, as well as my brother and sister’s lives. Our mother was in one hospital in Madison, and our father in another hospital in Milwaukee. It was a time of many tears, prayers and traveling back and forth between different hospitals in different cities.

    On what would turn out to be the night my mother finally passed away, we all as a family spent the evening with her. Around 10:00 pm as everyone was leaving to go home, I decided to stay the night with her in her room… Later that evening I could tell my mother’s breathing had changed markedly. I held her in my arms and talked to her for about an hour... even though she was rather comatose at this point. I could just tell, “This was probably going to be it”. I told the nurses to call my family back to the hospital.

    I continued holding my mother in my arms… she was so tiny and frail. Shortly after my family arrived back… she took her final breaths. The reason I mention all this, is because of the extraordinary experience it was of being so close to experiencing the “death” of someone. Yes, emotionally, it was traumatic…but spiritually, the experience was something quite surprisingly different.

    As I held my mother, like one holds a baby, feeling her third to last breath, then 30 second later, her second to last breath… and then after a minute… her final breath… upon that final breath… aside from feeling her exhale… I could feel the energy of what felt like her "spirit" leaving her body…it was electric and palpable. It was like a final “whoooosh” and then the energy of life just left her body… and I could feel all this next to my very own body… one second she was my dying mother, the next second, when the energy left her, her body no longer even looked or felt like my mother. It was an extraordinary experience to me on many levels... of feeling what felt like the separation of the spiritual aspect of life exiting the physical. Certainly under the circumstances it was emotionally difficult, but it was also an experience that really tangibly got me thinking for the first time about the very real aspects of the spirit being something quite separate and distinct from the physical.

    Months after my mother passed away, the house I grew up in caught fire and the dog my mother gave my younger brother died in the fire. It was a tough time and seemed like a year that just wouldn’t end… I think we were all waiting for the locusts to arrive next.

    London calling...
    For my last semester in Milwaukee, I applied to and was accepted in to a study abroad program in London. After three months in London and graduating, I traveled around Europe for the next few months. It was an extraordinary experience for a young kid from Wisconsin. I had never really been anywhere… As part of my travels around Europe, I also visited a friend of mine that lived in Jordan.

    In the background of all this, I had applied to go to graduate school in Berkeley, CA... and planned on moving to California when I returned to the U.S. …. I just wanted to get as far away from Wisconsin as possible by then. Berkeley was the only place I applied to for school, but in my gut, I somehow just KNEW I would probably not be going to California…

    Upon my return from Europe… sure enough, I found out I did not get accepted to Berkeley… so I then thought to myself, “now what?” It was the end of the summer and classes were going to start up again in a few weeks. Well, instead of the West Coast… how about the East Coast? The dean of the architecture school in Milwaukee where I had graduated from was transferring to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I had never even heard of Pratt. None the less, a few calls were made and in the course of about 24 hours, I had packed a truck with all my belongings and headed to Brooklyn and New York City. I didn’t know where I would live or even if my portfolio of schoolwork would officially get me enrolled at Pratt. I only had a last minute interview. But being young and impetuous… off I went…

    To be continued….

    Up next…The Big Apple…
    Last edited by Johnson; 03-07-2009, 04:53 PM.

  • #2
    Where is Part Two !!! Don't make us wait long.


    • #3
      Hi Chad... Part Two is done and is being edited down as we speak... it should be up in the next day or so. Thanks for reading!