Over at my parent’s house, there is a museum wing devoted to old photos and videos where you can find the most obscure and archaic historical records of my early existence. Many of the exhibits date from November, 1964, when I was born, through much of 1965, my first year of big-headed (literally) infancy. I was a baby with a humongous head and very little hair. The effect was exaggerated as I looked like a little alien baby, and I don’t mean of the illegal sort. Nope, another galaxy.
Recently my mom took a bunch of Super 8 film to a local camera guy who transferred it all to CD, and reckoning himself a cinematic artist, inserted a musical soundtrack which I must admit lends the old frames a tinge of dramatic immediacy. One of the reels was taken at the beginning of 1965 during a trip my parents took to Juarez, me in tow. Most of my father’s family lived there, having transported originally from the state of Zacatecas. Juarez, the border city. The video shows miscellaneous snippets of a faraway land which seemed more exotic on the living room screen than how it appears now amid bullets and beheadings on today’s big screen which just makes much of Mexico seem like a cheap Hollywood B-grade horror flick. 1965 Juarez was real Mexican. During my survey of the old footage, I found several scenes of myself as the renowned big-headed baby. This is what I’m talking about. I had a big head.
It’s sorta awesome, a little disconcerting to see myself as a helpless infant. I find any image of my infant self perturbing. I was so vulnerable. I despise the state of vulnerability. I disguise vulnerability whenever I can. And what defines infancy, if not vulnerability? You are at the mercy of everyone. You depend on them to feed you, wipe your ass, put you to sleep, keep you from crawling into some serious shit, and even from not dropping you as they recklessly descend a makeshift rocky plateau leading to a Catholic monument in the middle of the barren Mexican wilderness. I couldn’t believe this video. I’m the only baby in the video, the one with the very big head. Watch as I flop around while my young aunt runs down with me while surrounded by more family. Especially, note the background presence of my father raising his arms and taking a big swig of beer. Sooo Mexico!
I cringe a little because I want to stop my aunt from hauling me down so recklessly. I want to tell her to slow down and hold me more carefully. I want her to cradle me and act like she’s concerned about the safety of descending these stony stairs etched into the steep hillside. I’ve noticed that Mexicans like to place Catholic commemorative statues high atop hills and mountains where the fictional character can have a grand, sweeping view of the countryside. This is fine, but for goodness sake, be careful with that little baby. Slow down!
Vulnerability is awful. Vulnerability still festers after the passage of time and the resolution of a safe outcome. My aunt did not fall, I was not injured during the making of this movie, and it all turned out well. But still. I shudder at the image of me as a baby. I understand they gave me Coca Cola to sip on in Juarez! I was a baby. So vulnerable. I had no say in my fate. My fate was 100% in the hands of those who presume to be my caregivers.
I wonder what the likelihood is that such a descent unencumbered by worry would happen now. My son would not have experienced such a risky journey because I, along with everyone else, would be surrounding whoever was holding him in a pressing cloud of cushioned concern should she lose her footing.
We worry now. We are modern people who worry and fear and it’s the vulnerability we dislike, isn’t it? We’ve wiped danger from the planet in order so might overcome our sense of vulnerability. This is the curse of our time, the inability to reconcile with vulnerability and thus, we try to control fate because that is the ultimate arbiter of human vulnerability. We seek escape from danger, from taking silly chances, from tempting fate. Everything is buttoned down and padded and locked and safeguarded. We erect a barrier between us and the world and our vulnerability is disregarded. Watching this video makes me feel uncharacteristically vulnerable. This is what we’ve done to ourselves and for ourselves. We’ve come so far. We are safe! And even if we’re not safe, we try not to feel the danger.
Watch that baby. He’s got a big head and he’s a little top heavy. Slow down. In fact, why the hell did you even take him up there?