The Hye-Phen

made with love ⟩⟩ for a better digital / queer / armenian / future ֍

Half-Moon in the Morning Sky Revealing Memories of Night

by | Oct 9, 2023 | Essay

Elizabeth Mkhitarian is a published writer in both Armenian and English. Her work explores people and language in displacement, often showing the prayer-like-hope that emerges from inherited stories of trauma and survival.

“Creating is living doubly. The groping, anxious quest of a Proust, his meticulous collecting of flowers, of wallpapers, and of anxieties, signifies nothing else.” Albert Camus 


He walks up, as I closely follow behind. Dreaded locks brush free along his ambiguous athletic tee. He’s not wearing a tam today and the usual talk of Zion surrounds us. 

He stops at a tree and pulls off a sticky substance and starts to chew, “Nature’s gum. Try it.” 

I pick off a piece the size of my palm, I hold it up and he laughs at my usual lack of restraint. “You can find everything in nature,” eyes fixed on my hair, “if you stop brushing, it’ll dread like mine.” 

The night before I had taken my housemate’s dollar store razor and shaved the right side of my head. 

A no-longer-manageable obsession with hair extensions that I styled and clipped and cared for daily came to a hard stop; razor to the side, it’s rough and leaves me a little bald. 

We stayed on that hill in Ocean View, no need, want, or schedule left unmet in the bush. No rules apart from scripture. 

The anticipation of a community can resemble the calm of a summer day. 


We walk to a hut with painted psalms covering its walls. An older man with a sack of weed to his left meditatively rolls joints in bulk, without pausing this motion, he invites us to sit. There’s a gathering tonight and he’s preparing. 

Stray dogs snore on doorsteps, small huts line the hill as we walk along. 

I met Junior when his mother Cheryl invited me over for a visit. 

Cheryl, in a tone of confession, told me her son was growing weed. She was nervous, but behind the laws, you can hear pride in her voice. “He’s a Rasta. Do you want to meet him?” 


Junior popped his head out from what appeared to be a shed. “That’s his room.” 

“You want to listen to a sermon?” The voice from the speaker passes quickly racing through words to a beat. I catch every other thought, It’s fast and in its speed there’s peace. 

Babylon, capitalism, violence. 

He brings us back to Ethiopia and Garvey: the pillars. Preachings play like a mixtape, one after the other, in the order of a meticulously curated album. 

Cheryl smiles, in the way mothers do. “Let’s go inside, it’s too hot.” 

I was staying at the English school in Masi, a black township, while Cheryl lived in the township of multiracial peoples. The darker the skin, the less resources, she tells me. 

The apartheid continued to live in the confines of walls and foundations, leaving their legacy on skin tones. Its decaying head peeks from the celebrity lined beaches standing apathetically across miles and miles of tin huts. Vacation homes overlook millions of them catching fire under the summer sun. 

No one speaks of the dichotomy. It’s numbing and with time, normal. 


I sleep on the top bunk and even though I can’t see them, I feel the bed bugs all over. 

I wake up with a fever and throw up. I think of my mom, who slept next to me most nights, the way she would place her hand on my head and pray, “God, please take away her pain.” 

The pain would move through me and into her hands, ongoing nightmares lulling. 

I have a sleeping bag on the mattress. My housemate told me to put fresh lavender in the bed to avoid bed bugs. I followed her lead before the bites appeared. 

I bite my nails down to stubs, I can’t scratch a single itch. I hide a fork beside me and use it for relief. 2

I remember my room, the anxiety in the walls, in my body; it can be easily dismissed as angst, but I think there was a bone deep suffering you don’t attribute to children. 

I felt the heaviness of a father yelling, of a brother being thrown around like a stray dog in violent outbursts. 

A playground, where I watched my brother standing outside of a group, buzzing around them trying to find his way. 

Behind the barrier, I understood they would reject us the way our father pushed. 

I can’t sleep. I imagine the bugs crawling. I shine the light from my phone.. I know they’re there. The evidence is the blood on my legs when the light breaks. 

Hysteria, maybe. No one else has bite marks. 


My housemate’s having a hard time here without her cigarettes. I tell her I’ll buy, if she drives. 

On the mountain carved roads we see smoke clouds fogging up behind us. It resembles the residue of a bomb dropping. 

“The huts are on fire.” We pull over to see Masi burning. 

The coast glides next to us, the cliffs that attract colonists to a promise hang underneath, the grey smoke puffs up and I no longer feel my lungs pump. 


Atrocity cannot be fully realized. It digs small holes inside of the body, chipping its words into bone. The only way forward is to inscribe horror in a language on the side of a hill knowing you’re lucky to feel pain, to feel generations claw at skin, you don’t have to speak, but you have something that asks to be passed. A parasite wrapped in the garment of inheritance, it reveals itself slowly, not to consume you entirely, but in parts keeping you whole enough for the next. 

She pulls out a pack of cigarettes and inhales the smoke. Car parked. She throws the bud towards an ocean and steps back inside. 

“We’re going to see a lot of these,” she buckles in, “should we go back?” 


The grocery clerk takes one look at me, “Went a little heavy filling in your eyebrows, hey?” Exactly. 

Masi is uneasy in its stillness. The schoolgirls tell me about last night, about the rape of an eight year old. We walk towards the school. More stray dogs, open huts, a table of smileys. 

A woman lifts a smoldering sheep’s head out of brightly burning flames. The expression on its scorched face is fiendish, with lips curled back into a toothy grin. 

The chickens in our yard are gone. One of the girls says the boys like to steal and kill them for fun. Which boys? The young ones. 


The burnings. 

Memorialized in a landscape split between two oceans. 

Named by who? 

You hear the chanting. 

Trauma captured on phones spread global, an outcry does not bring back the dead. 

The peace, the protest, the taking of streets. 

Take what was never given. 

The Rastafarian lights one up and we smoke. Inhale and exhale breath on lips told not to touch. Told not to share. 

Was it ganja that made it hard for Cheryl to say proudly that her son grows life from stolen dirt.


We listen. 

He erects walls around his house and hides under. 

They’re going to kill me. 

The sky above another colony fills with smoke. 


He sits beside me watching the sunset. The gathering will start soon, but more joints need to be rolled. The last of them now. 

The mixtape is heard from behind us. Haile Selassie, the Ark kept safe, a redemption, a return. 



Jacob in Chicago goes to rehab for unknown reasons. 

“Are you ready? I’m going to drop a bomb,” he often speaks in hyperbole, I listen. 

“I’ve been struggling with it since I was 14, I’m going to get help.” 

“Why did you suffer alone?” You were a light in every room, I meant to say. 

In Chicago now, no phones, I don’t have a location, only the name of a man who looks like a prison guard. He left

clues and pieces for us to pick up. Wedding band in the bottom drawer, wife, jar of love letters.

We sit in the pain, in the not knowing, how do you discover what was? 

The first step is finding the right spot in the river where the gold might collect, such as a crook in the bedrock, idle pools, log jams, inside corners of rivers or spaces between boulders. Then start digging, filling your pan with gravel. From there, continuously weed out the bigger rocks and pebbles 

Move the pebbles aside. There’s no one to put on trial, no one to confront. 

It’s a different kind of breaking, when the one who breaks you can’t be found. 

His wife lays next to me haunted by an image of a person once loved and not known. 

It is only when the water carrying it slows down that the flakes and nuggets fall to the riverbed, and rivers travel slowest on the inside of bends. … So this is where you will find your gold – at bedrock on the inside of river bends. 

A body bends in grief. “Are you sitting?” he asks. 

The body buzzing around the group, Jacob. A mother taking you to church so you can find a father. The boys naming you fag, you not knowing the meaning, you not speaking of the abuse, not once acknowledging your beatings. 

How far in the riverbed did you suppress them? 

The Rasta passes the joint and I take another hit. The party is about to begin. Music grows from above and people climb up to the bush from underneath. 

New faces, greetings sister, hello brother. 

We dance in a crowded warm shed until the sun breaks. Zion, zion, on our lips. Masi below. Nothing burning.

Sometimes the calmest person in the room needs your attention most. 

Masi looks calm in the fading of night. 

I hope the child can heal. 

I hope you extract pain without collapsing. Generations wait in riverbeds to be panned out, acknowledged, and treasured. 

You look down at your feet, there is no other soil to dig. You look up and the sky fills with liberation lingering in the forgetting, in the covering of morning light. There is no vast dark when night fades, no empty expanse when you step across this fence. 


Elizabeth Mkhitarian
Elizabeth Mkhitarian is a published writer in both Armenian and English. Her work explores people and language in displacement, often showing the prayer-like-hope that emerges from inherited stories of trauma and survival.