This page is where I put down memories from my childhood that it would be a shame to forget. Some of them are good, some are bad, but they’re all mine, and they’re all as true as memory allows.
Sister recently reminded me of a time when my uncle’s secretary and close family friend, Rema, babysat us at her house when we were kids. Her (teenage?) son was there, but we didn’t meet him until we were in the living room, and he came out with a face mask on. It was bright green against his dark skin, and made a very lasting impression on Sister and me, apparently. Sister brought it up a few days ago without any help from me at all.
In 6th grade, the movie Mary Riley came out, and I felt compelled for some reason to read the book. I don’t remember much of it, aside from the obvious (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde references and the titular maid wading through water indoors in order to clean the floors). My fellow students became somewhat obsessed with whispering the title to me whenever they saw me pull it out during free time in the classroom. They were imitating the trailer, in which her name is whispered right at the end, as I recall (and around the 1:00 mark, apparently [god what an awful trailer, lol]). It was kind of annoying, but I enjoyed the attention.
I got $5 as a weekly allowance from my parents for a long time. I used to walk to Larchmont, about a mile away from my house, and spent most of said allowance on ice cream at Baskin Robbins (31 Flavors!). There was a little botique along the west side of the street where, at age 11ish, I became enamored of a pendant: a rose carved out of mother of pearl. It was priced at $40, so I saved for two months, visiting the store to gaze at the rose under the glass, and making sure no one had bought it yet. Eight weeks later, I went in with eight $5 bills in hand. I pointed it out, the woman wrapped it up, then gave me the total: $42.90. I froze: I didn’t know what tax was, but clearly I was $2.90 short. I said, “Lemme ask my mom, I’ll be right back,” and turned to dart out the door when the woman said, “Oh don’t worry about it,” and handed me the brown paper bag with the rose pendant. I was elated, thanked her without looking up, and rushed out the door. For a long time I thought tax was something shops chose to impose on a customer-by-customer basis.
In the house I grew up in, we had central heat that would come up out of the vents low on the walls in the upstairs bedrooms. Downstairs, though, there were only two vents, one in the back bedroom (which was hastily covered in a sheet of hard plastic), and one in the breakfast room, both of which were located on the floor and covered with a vent made of thin metal bars that made small square holes for the air to pass through. On cold mornings before school, would stand barefoot on the vent next to the breakfast table my dad build from scratch. The hot air would blow through my toes and up my sweatpants (navy with snowmen on them) while metal cut into my skin and made a waffle impression on the bottoms of my feet. Then I would lean on a the gray leather chair or sit on the bench with my feet still on the vent until someone (usually Mom or Sister) told me to move so I didn’t steal the heat, or else Dad would tell me to move so I didn’t break the vent.
The Last Fight
The fights Sister and I used have would occasionally become physical, and she usually won or ran away (she was faster than me). I must have been about 11 or 12 when we had our last fight. We were in our room and Sister had just pushed me down onto her bed. I brought my legs up, planted my feet in her stomach and shoved her as hard as I could. She landed on my bed as I stood up, ready for more. She was shocked. The fight was over. I had won.
The only other time we made physical contact in anger was when we were in high school. We were outside the library, I had gone to get her because our ride was waiting. For whatever reason, this started a fight (I think it’s safe to assume Sister started this one since she hated when I told her what to do, even if it was an order from our folks), and she started jabbing my shoulder with her finger. I remember thinking, “I’m a green belt now, I could really hurt her.” With that in mind, I didn’t raise a hand against her. I knocked her hand away and told her to stop; “You know I’m going to win this.” She stormed off to the car, and I followed. I don’t remember if we told our folks. Sister never got in trouble, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
I just rediscovered a white ceramic teapot that my sister and I used to play with as kids. It has flowers painted on it, and a little bit of gold trim. The handle is wicker with plastic wound around it neatly. Sister and I would fill it with water and pretend to pour each other tea. I feel very fondly toward this little teapot. Although I have not used it more than a handful of times.
When the Northridge quake hit, Sister and I were in bed in the house we grew up in. I sat up and looked over at Sister as the room shook. She shouted, “Get under the bed!” We both dove under our beds and waited it out. When it was done our parents came running into the room, and panicked for the two seconds it took us to crawl out from under our beds. They took us outside and told us to sleep in the car. Of course we couldn’t sleep. We listened to the radio, and Sister complained whenever I changed the station looking for news during commercials.
My family fled our house during the 1992 LA riots. My parents saw the smoke marching up Crenshaw toward our house, packed us into the car and took off. My dad recalls driving through a firefight between rioters and police to get out of the city. We stayed with my god-parents in the Palisades for a few days. I remember watching the fires on TV. Then Reginald Denny got pulled from a truck, and a small group of people surrounded him. They struck him once before my dad threw a blanket over my head and told me to play outside. I don’t remember ever feeling the adults feel so scared. Two years later after the Northridge quake, people were shaken but not afraid.
Sister shared a memory with my family a little while ago: Once, when I was sick with a fever, she covered me with blankets just like my folks told her to when they left for work. When they came back, I had a fever of 105 or something, and they got mad at her for putting all those blankets on me. We were just kids, she didn’t know any better. Still, she was next to tears when told us about that. I don’t remember that at all. She obviously still feels responsible. Poor Sister.
Sister and I got skateboards for Christmas one year: a blue one with a white eagle on it, and a pink on with a tiger’s face on it. They were almost the size of long boards with big wheels and two patches of that black sandpaper they put on boards. We never learned how to ride them properly. Instead we sat on them and rode them down the driveway into a patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. If we leaned really hard we could make the turn onto the sidewalk, but usually we just rumbled to a quick halt on the bumpy grass under one of the magnolia trees. I finally tried it standing up, and my heart almost stopped. I did it standing up from then on almost every time, especially after Dad took one from us and demonstrated how it was done. He liked to do that, especially when Tattoo Cousin would come over with his skateboard. I think he did it partially for fun, and partially to make Tattoo Cousin feel like less of a badass for knowing how to ride a skateboard.
I was a Girl Scout (Brownie) for a short spell as a kid. One of the activities we did was to take a Father-Daughter weekend camping trip to Camp Hollywoodland. I have fond memories of that time, roughing it in cabins with my friends and our dads. We were surrounded by people who loved us and wanted to take care of us in the middle of what I considered the “wilderness.”
One night around the campfire, the dads were playing a game where they would tell a story as a group. One dad held a stick and started the story, then he passed the stick to the next dad who carried on where the last dad had left off. One father (a white guy with brown hair and a beard as I recall) created a story line about some kind of troll, then said, “…and then he sang this song…” and proceeded to pass the stick to the next father. Everyone howled with laughter, and waited for the next dad to burst into song. Instead he said, “But before he sang the song…” at which point we all lost it again. But the dads had caught the bug of mischief, and eventually one forced another to dance a jig.
I was lucky enough to be raised in a house with a front lawn, a good-sized back yard with a patio, garage, and plenty of grass and trees and dirt to play in. Our house is where the extended family on my mom’s side (all loud Italians) gathered to celebrate Easter, but I recall one year, perhaps before this tradition took root, when Sister and I woke up and were given colorful baskets. We were both starving for some reason, but our parents strictly refused to allow us to eat (maybe company was coming over and we would eat with them?). This would be another bad memory of intense, neglected hunger if it wasn’t for Sister. She has never had a high tolerance for pain, or any discomfort for that matter. She poked through her basket, looking for something to eat; peeps, chocolate, anything. No luck. ”What’s this?” she said, holding up a shiny pink tube. ”Strawberry lip gloss,” mom said. After a pause, Sister asked, “Can you eat it?” I’m sure Mom said no, but Sister spent the next ten minutes liberally applying the stuff, then licking it off before applying more. My own hunger bothered me less in light of Sister’s ridiculous solution to our ravenous hunger: sexy, pouty, strawberry-flavored lips. I laughed aloud at her efforts, to which she responded, “What flavor do you have?”
My mom used to shop at Gelsons, where, if you buy a pint of ice cream, they would put it in a special off-white paper bag that was extra thick to keep the cold in. They were durable and free, so we used them as lunch bags all through elementary/middle/high school. One day, I was particularly annoyed at Sister about something, and decided to do something that would really bother her, even if it got me into trouble. I grabbed one of the off-white paper Gelsons bags, went into the back yard, and loaded it up with dog shit. We had a 120lb golden retriever, so his shits were not insignificant. I judged the weight carefully to make sure she wouldn’t get suspicious, then I went back inside, folded the top of the bag down just like mom used to, and put it on the kitchen counter. I chuckled to myself. I couldn’t wait until she opened her locker later that day, only to find that a bag of fresh dog shit had stunk up all her books. I went upstairs to get ready. About ten minutes later, I heard Sister yell, “Daaaaaaaad! Look what she did!!” I winced. I was hoping we would be far enough away from any authority figure when she discovered her ‘lunch’ that I would have time to enjoy my shenanigans. I got in a lot of trouble for putting a bag of dog shit on the kitchen counter. But Sister was horrified and disgusted, and that’s all that mattered. Worth it.
It was a hot day on the playground when I found a tennis ball. It must have come over the fence from the liquor store parking lot next door or something. Tennis Balls are kind of useless on a playground; they’re not big enough to kick or play handball with, and no one wants to play catch with anything but a football. I looked around for a safe direction to throw it as hard as I could, just to see what would happen. I spotted a pigeon about ten feet away, and, without thinking, chucked the ball at it. I didn’t have much confidence in my ability to hit my target, so when the ball landed dead center between the wings of this poor bird, I was shocked and horrified (and a little bit impressed). Mostly I was ashamed for hitting a bird with a ball. It wasn’t like me to do something like that. I was pretty sure I was going to miss, and I regretted it immediately. I still feel bad about it. Poor bird.
My best friend in elementary school and I decided we would be best friends in kindergarten, and remained so through 6th grade, after which we went to different middle schools. In 1st grade, another girl came to our school and wanted to hang out with us. She was pretty stuck up, and we didn’t want to, but her mom found us on the playground one day and ordered us to include her. She was black, and so was my best friend, which I didn’t notice until around 3rd grade when she decided to claim my best friend (who had become popular) for herself. She basically tried to force a wedge between us with segregation. One day we were sitting at a round table outside on the asphalt playground when she said something like, “You’re not one of us. Go away, little white girl,” at which point I leaped across the table and attacked her. ‘So what if I’m white,’ I thought. I liked who I was, and fuck her for trying to make me feel bad for it.
Some ‘yard teachers’ came over to break it up and benched us both. I got into more trouble because I wasn’t crying, and I didn’t deny attacking her. It wasn’t until the reason for my attack was discovered that I stopped being in trouble. She didn’t get into trouble, though, as I recall, nor did I ever receive an apology (though I was forced to apologize to her). What a bitch.
I had a debilitating stutter for a while as a kid. When my folks asked me why, I shouted that no one ever let me finish talking. As young as we were, even my sister knew that. She nodded and kept eating her dinner while I sat there, fuming, waiting to be taken seriously. Even today, I think my parents are in denial that they helped cause this problem.
I teach a little boy who has a similar problem. It’s not that he repeats a sound many times before moving on, it’s that he literally can’t get the word out. It’s always the first word of the sentence. It’s exactly the problem I had as a kid, and it makes me feel all warm inside that I can stand there, patiently giving him all my attention while he struggles to speak. One kid interrupted him, and he just gave up, like I used to. I didn’t realize at the time why people were interrupting me, I just felt like no one valued what I had to say, like my ideas were worthless, and therefore not worth vocalizing. Luckily I was born with a certain unreasonable amount of happiness and confidence in my blueprints (and surrounded by people who had confidence in me, even if they didn’t let me finish a fucking thought), so instead of getting quiet, it made me upset.
I had no help getting over this minor speech impediment. I was forced to figure out creative ways of getting my ideas out before someone lost patience and started ignoring me. I tried preparing what I was going to say well in advance. I tried shouting my words, haha, that was awesomely disruptive in the classroom. Eventually I pretended that the words I wanted to say were attached to a rope, then I imagined I was yanking the rope out of my mouth, forcing the words to come out.
I still struggle with this sometimes, especially with words that begin with a glottal stop, like “umbrella” or “unlikely” or “always.” Words that start with fricatives (F, S, etc.) never give me trouble. It happens most when I’m around my family, of course. No one I’ve met in my adult life can tell.
My mom and I were in the car one day while I was in high school. We were chatting about me as I recall, and she asked if I wanted to do drugs. I thought for a minute, then replied, “No, drugs will mess you up. I think I would like to try pot just once though, for the experience.” She pulled over, slammed on the brakes and started hitting the steering wheel with her open hand, yelling, “NO NO NO NO NO!” I sat in complete shock, staring at her, helpless to understand what could possibly have elicited a response more violent than I had ever seen from someone I had known my whole life. Within a week we were all laughing about it and poking fun at her for overreacting.
To date, I’ve only smoked pot twice, and it didn’t affect me the first time. The second time it just slowed everything down. I couldn’t keep up with the conversations people were having. It wasn’t a great feeling. I’m not interested in doing it again. It was boring.
We had a giant golden retriever who we found wandering the street with his leash dragging behind him in 1995. I was ten or 11 at the time, and super excited when my folks said we could have him. He was huge, over a hundred pounds, and a total sweetheart. He was inexplicably afraid of the broom (maybe he was punished with one by his previous owners). We loved him so much. When we were all downstairs unloading groceries or getting ready for dinner, he would plop down in the doorway from the kitchen to the breakfast table (which my father made by hand), and just lie there waiting for someone to pay attention to him. If we said his name, his body would remain completely stationary, but his eyebrows would raise as he tried to catch sight of who spoke, and his tail would would thump, thump, thump against the floor. He died in 2002. We all miss him pretty hard still. Especially Mom, since she took some time off work and hung out at home with him a lot.
I got one detention every Wednesday for three months straight my senior year of high school. I went to an all-girls’ Catholic high school with traditional uniforms that also included pants, hideous shorts, and hoodies. My senior year, the administration decided that Wednesdays we would have to wear the traditional skirt, button-up shirt, sweater/vest, loafers and knee-high socks. This did not go over well with 17-year old me; she wore pants when it was cold, since that was the sensible thing to do. When asked what we should wear if it was raining on a Wednesday, we were told to “wear stockings” to keep warm. We all smelled it for what it was: bullshit. But I gave it a shot, and all it got me was wet and cold, so I decided to wear whatever part of the uniform suited me according to the weather. That year was particularly rainy for Los Angeles, and every Wednesday in December, January and February was frigid and/or rainy, so I wore pants, and as a result, I spent every following Tuesday in detention. I wrote a long rhyming poem about how much I hated detention, in which I mentioned that I’d rather be shooting heroin than sit through one more second of detention. I brazenly posted the poem on my AP English teacher’s classroom wall, thinking I was pretty damn clever. The next day I discovered that my poem had been corrected and placed back on the wall by none other than my English teacher (I had misspelled heroin as “heroine”). I used all the detention slips to wrap my Mother’s Day present that year. That did not go over as well as I thought it would.
I couldn’t have been more than five when I first contemplated suicide, but it’s not what you think. I was a happy kid, and I don’t mean “I smiled when I played, I laughed when I was tickled.” I mean when I was alone in a room with no one around, I smiled. I was a genuinely happy kid at heart. One summer day I was in the kitchen. The counter was about eye-level; I was looking at the knives, thinking, “I could kill myself right now with one of those,” and pictured myself holding one of them with the point angled down toward my chest. I thought about the pain, how it wouldn’t last because I thought I would die quickly if I aimed for my heart. I thought that if I died, I would finally know what happens afterward. I didn’t want to not-live, I just wanted to find out what happens after we die. I was SUPER curious. For a minute or two, I just stood there thinking about what a huge mystery the after-life was, and how badly I wanted to explore it immediately. Then I thought, “What would I miss if I died right now?” Pizza. Roller coasters. Ice cream. Cartoons. There was just too much awesome stuff to eat and experience for me to die that day. I decided not to do it, and instead looked forward to discovering what happens after we die later, once I’d lived a full life. I still feel that sense of adventure and anticipation of some great discovery when struck by my own mortality.
My all-girls Catholic high school was a non-smoking campus. While all the students knew this, not all visiting adults did. The smell of cigarette smoke was usually confined to the girls’ bathroom in the science building where all the seniors (and I have to assume a few teachers) grabbed a smoke between classes. One afternoon, some friends and I went to the vending machine near the gym below the pool, and smelled smoke. Sacrilege! We saw a man smoking near the phones, and decided someone should say something. It was times like that when I became the leader of our group, and after which I melted back into the fold. I approached him and said, “Excuse me, this is a non-smoking campus.” He looked surprised, and a little displeased, then said, “Oh, ok, sorry,” and put out his cigarette.
I wrote a poem in high school about how I felt that lead dust was settling on me, making me heavy and silent. That’s pretty much the definition of depression, I guess. I felt so isolated sometimes. But then, I was in high school. I guess everyone felt that way sometimes.
At the all-girls Catholic Middle School and High School I went to with Sister, there’s an annual fund-raising 10k run. To the rest of the school it was a giant annoyance, but to the athletes, it was a competition to see who would place, since the top five got prizes. I ran my little heart out my Freshman year and somehow managed to snag second place. I caught my breath and smiled at the girl behind the table as she handed me the clip board where I would write my name under the best athlete in the entire school. I took the pen in hand, and heard footsteps clomping down the hill behind me at breakneck speed. I turned to see Sister sprinting down the driveway. She stopped just short of the table and demanded “What place did I get?” “Congratulations! You got third!” the girl at the table enthused. She stood there panting while the disappointment spread across her face. I handed her the clip board, and told her she could have second.
“Wow, thanks!” She wrote her name on the slip of paper, and then she left.
Mom cried when we told our folks about it later that night. “You girls are so sweet, boo hoo!” We rolled our eyes and ate our dinner. The prize for second and third place: Boxers with our school letters printed on them. I slept in them last night (so soft!).
I was in the car with mom, couldn’t have been older than… maybe 5? Aretha Franklin’s Respect came on the radio, and we were both singing along. The bridge came up where she sings “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” and of course, being 5, I still hadn’t figured out why she was saying all these letters, let alone what they spelled. So I ad-libbed, and just starting calling out random letters, at which point Mom started howling with laughter. She asked me something like, “You don’t know this part?” I answered No, and she cracked up some more. I was glad I could make her laugh, but a little bugged since I couldn’t figure out why it was so funny.
I just had a look at today’s LA Times Homicide Report, where I read about a black woman named Sandra Oliver-Jones who was beaten to death by a guy on probation for domestic abuse against her. It reminded me of something my mom told me once: “If he hits you once, he’ll hit you twice. No matter how sorry he is, he’ll always hit you again.” I couldn’t have been more than 12. What sobering advice to give a kid, but she was right, and I needed to hear that. It’s a vivid memory, too; Mom was sitting in the big chair with the light floral print in the bedroom. I was standing by the door. It was a bright day, and I remember thinking, “Wow, she’s dead serious. I wonder what made her say that.” Turns out we had a family member who was in an abusive relationship at the time which I wasn’t told about (naturally, I was too young).
Late one night at the house I grew up in, Dad and I were watching Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A helicopter passed slowly over head, looping in a low circle over the house. I turned up the volume so I could hear the movie better. When Dad asked me why I did that, I said, “I can’t hear them talking.” Of course, as soon as I said this I remembered that they were speaking Cantonese, and the ridiculousness of my actions became immediately apparent. Dad always liked to do that kind of thing, messing with you by showing you your own brain under a microscope, and lovingly making you feel kinda dumb. That must be where I learned it. THANKS DAD.
Mom would do our hair a good amount of the time, and whenever we had a party she would put mousse in it to give it that motorcycle helmet shine and durability. She would ask what shape we wanted, a headband or a set of horns. Horns were my favorite. I wonder if there were more shapes.
One summer we were at Tattoo Cousin’s house playing hide-and-seek with a friend of his from summer camp. We were all in our hiding spots from him when we heard him shout, “You guys! Come here, there’s a gun on the roof!” Naturally, we all thought he was just trying to get us to come out of our hiding spots, so no one moved a fucking muscle. After about five minutes of straight shouting and freaking out though, our curiosity was piqued, and sure enough, there was a rusty revolver sitting on the roof. We called his dad, who called the cops, and we all waited in the kitchen, staring at it in a ziplock baggie until the cops arrived. I wonder if anyone else remembers that.