Remembering My Friend, Vladimir Reid a.k.a. Volodiya a.k.a. WAYNE!


I don't remember the first time I met Volodiya, but it was sometime in the first few months after I transferred to University of Alaska Fairbanks, so it would have been in the late Winter or early Spring of 1994. He was an RA in another dorm, but was friends with some of the girls in my dorm. He and I were friendly, but we didn't become friends until the Fall semester, when I became an RA and we worked in the same dorm.

Volodiya and I got into the habit of watching Letterman together. We'd order a Supreme pizza and hot wings from Pizza Hut, then go down to the little store in the lobby of the dorm complex to buy a couple Fruitopias while we waited for the pizza to arrive.

V spent a semester in France. He was either forgetful about the time difference or a very inconsiderate friend. Either way, I'd occasionally get a 5 AM call from him. He'd tell me about the boys he'd met and I'd catch him up on the gossip.

One year, for Spring Break, we stayed at a lovely cabin in the woods where V was housesitting for a professor. There was drinking, and inappropriate behavior amongst all of our friends, and it was so much fun.

One of our favorite bars to hang out in was the Captain Bartlett Inn. Volodiya would give me tarot readings there and tried to teach me the meanings of the cards. I have a terrible memory for things like that so I usually reverted to making things up based on the pictures when I would give him readings.

We graduated from college in 1997. Our class voted for Volodiya to be the graduation speaker. His speech was fun and nostalgic, like an internet meme. He talked about roller skates and parachute pants and Madonna.

Some time after graduation, when I was back in California, V was living with his boyfriend in Seattle. I visited them for a weekend. It was my first time there. I loved his urban life. Seattle was like Alaska Light. A lot of my college friends settled there.

The last time I saw Volodiya in person was about nine years ago. I went to Seattle for a visit and stayed with my best friend, Joanne. We spent one of the evenings with V and some others, hanging out like old times.

After that, we kept up through phone calls, but mostly online, through MySpace, then Facebook. A few months ago, when I posted a new picture of my slimming self on Facebook, he commented, accusing me of getting a facelift and saying he'd scratch my eyes out if I had.

Last week, I saw fake tarot readings in a sitcom and it prompted me to post that memory of us on Facebook. I tagged him in it and I am glad I did. Because of that post, one of his friends reached out to me today to let me know that Volodiya died yesterday, after a long bout of pneumonia. When he was living in Seattle, he contracted HIV, so the manner of his death does not come as a complete surprise. I did not expect it to come so soon, though.

I'll miss my friend dearly. He was the type of friend I could pick up with after many months without contact and everything would be just as it always was.

Ten years ago, on 9/11

When I was single, I was a serial alarm snoozer. The alarm clock I used was 14 years old. The buzzer no longer worked, so I was roused to waking by a local FM station. Instead of the usual music at 6 AM Pacific, there was a news report. I hit the snooze button, so I didn't learn yet that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. While I slept for nine more minutes, a second plan crashed into the South Tower. I played the snooze button game for nearly an hour. Each time, a little more of the news reports seeped into my consciousness. When I heard the newscaster say that the South Tower had collapsed, I bolted out of bed and turned on the television in my bedroom.

I was stunned by the sight of the smoking tower that remained, and the hole where its twin had been. I was sitting at the end of my bed, in my pajamas, when the second tower fell. I gasped and my chest tightened. I could barely take another breath as tears sprang to my eyes. After many long minutes, I  tore myself away from the television. I couldn't bear to look at that empty space, to think of the people that had fallen with the tower, to imagine the heartache that was being felt, simultaneously across our nation. I popped into the bathroom long enough to pee and wash my face. I brushed my teeth in front of the TV, once again riveted by the news coverage.

Over the next hour, I slowly readied myself for work. When it seemed like nothing else catastrophic was going to happen, I drove to work. Traffic was lighter than usual. My boss, her eyes bright and manic, met me at the door and asked if I had heard. She queried everyone who entered. One coworker hadn't heard. He lived alone and only listened to CDs in the morning.

We sat at our desks, not working, sending each other links to news sites with streaming coverage that hadn't yet been overwhelmed. BBC was the most reliable. Coworkers with family in New York went home, or hadn't come in. Scheduled meetings occured, but attendance was spotty and agendas were ignored.

My boyfriend's mother was stranded in Chicago. She'd flown there from Michigan, hours before the attacks, on her way to California. I was throwing a surprise birthday party for my boyfriend's 30th birthday that Saturday. (The attacks occurred on a Tuesday.) She was going to stay with a friend, who would bring her to the party. No flights were going in or out of any airports. Eventually, she was able to fly. She arrived in California on Saturday, a couple hours before the party started.

I didn't learn an important lesson on September 11th. That day wasn't a catalyst for change in my life. I remember it like it was yesterday, though. That gasp. My chest tightening. The smoke and the rubble. The shared experience of our nation, united by tragedy. Shaken out of our daily routines. Our world shifted and never returned to what it had been before.

Conservative Things

Conservativethings This was originally published by Clark Schpiell Productions, November 24, 2003.

My mother was what some would call a bleeding heart liberal when I was growing up. And why wouldn't she have been? She was a young (very young) single mother of two trying to live and work in an expensive suburb of Southern California because that's where most of our extended family lived. Were we poor? Probably not, but we certainly brought down the annual household income for the area.

Over the years, and as our incomes have increased substantially, both my mother and I have found conservative ideas creeping into our political beliefs. I had no idea this was happening to her. I kept my status as a registered Republican a secret from my family for fear of starting a long, drawn out discussion in which my age would be the eventual determination of my ability to reason.

Continue reading "Conservative Things" »

My Dad

My parents' wedding day

My dad was 19 years old when he married my mom. She was 16 years old, and three months pregnant with me. My parents separated when I was five years old, and divorced when I was nine years old.

My dad wasn't known for his lawful behavior. He didn't make court-ordered child support payments. He infrequently took advantage of court-allowed visitations with his children. He did not adhere to laws prohibiting the possession, use, and sale of illegal drugs. Two of the three things on that list caused him to be in and out of jail for much of my childhood.

My dad was book smart without a college degree. After he left the Air Force, he was an engineering technician until the recession of the late-'80s and early-'90s. After that, he drifted from odd job to odd job, preferring those that paid cash so he wouldn't have to make child support payments. It's unfortunate that he never grew up.

When I was in college, I made peace with the fact that my dad was never going to change and never going to be the kind of dad I needed. He was family and I still loved him, but as long as I expected him to act like a father, I would be disappointed. I resolved to treat him like an uncle -- not even a favorite uncle. After that, we had a much better relationship.

Eventually, my dad paid off the back child support with an extended jail term. I was well into my 20s by then. When he was released, he moved to New Mexico to live with my retired grandmother. He had a steady job and had been promoted to a supervisory position when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Eighteen months later, at the age of 50, he was dead. Today would have been his 57th birthday.

When I Was Sixteen


That's me in the front row, in the purple shirt with very heavy eyebrows. This is the Cast B photo for The Matchmaker. I was the Assistant Director. In Cast A, I played the same part as the blonde girl in the blue dress.

When I was sixteen, I was a junior in high school. I tried to take zero period Driver's Ed. at school, but zero period started at 7 AM, which was ridiculous. I couldn't take it after school because I had a job at the movie theater. (Free movies! Free popcorn! Half price candy!) I paid $125 to take Driver's Ed. privately. I had classroom instruction all day for a few Saturdays in a row. During the lunch break on the first day, I walked to the Wendy's around the corner. One of my classmates (tall, dark, and handsome) asked if he could join me at my table. I said yes. (Ooh, la, la.) His name was Omaya Yousef. His family had moved to the United Stated from Kuwait during the Gulf War. He was my age but he wasn't in high school. He had taken the GED and was going to the local community college, planning to major in microbiology. He walked very close to me on our way back to class, so that our arms occasionally brushed. We ate lunch together a couple more times, but I never saw him again after the class ended.

For the driving training portion of the class, an instructor picked me up after school on the days I didn't have work. Since I had already been driving (both illegally and permitted) for a year, the instructor didn't have a lot to teach me. He usually napped while I drove around town for an hour. When I took the DMV driving test a couple months after my birthday, I scored 100%. It was the easiest test I have ever taken.

I had small parts in a couple plays that year. I played Snug the Joiner in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Gertrude in The Matchmaker (the play on which the musical Hello, Dolly! is based). I wasn't any good. I was too self-conscious. I was involved in the production of six or eight plays in high school, usually as the Assistant Director. I was much better at that than acting.

When I Was Fifteen

When I was fifteen, I learned how to drive. Illegally. I was a sophomore and mostly hanging out with my friends who were juniors with drivers licenses and cars. I have probably driven more laps around the community center parking lot that anyone else who has ever lived in Camarillo.

I wore sweatshirts with shorts a lot. I don't know why. I also liked mock turtlenecks.

I usually took the early bus to school, arriving an hour early, instead of waiting for the later bus, which was overcrowded. I'd eat breakfast at school, a paltry breakfast burrito with taco sauce that was barely spicier than ketchup.

Instead of eating lunch in the quad, risking a dive bombing by aggressive seagulls, my friends and I usually ate in the classroom of Mr. Philips. Little House on the Prairie was usually on at that time. I brought yogurt a lot with my lunch. If I bought lunch in the cafeteria, I usually got a cheeseburger or a belly buster. Oh, man, did I love a belly buster. It was a pile of Fritos topped with chili and nacho cheese.

I got glasses. I only wore them in class. I was a little nearsighted.

When I Was Fourteen


When I was fourteen, I met my mom's boyfriend, Roger, for the first time at my birthday party. It was a family party at my grandma's house. I don't remember if he bought me anything for my birthday, but for Christmas that year, he bought bowling balls for my sister and I. He bought my mother a diamond watch.

We left my grandma's house and moved into a condo in Lakeside Village in Camarillo with Roger. He had two small children, Chris, age 8, and Jenny, age 6, who lived with their mother.

I realized that the only way I was going to go to college was if I earned some scholarships and paid for it myself. I quit slacking off in school and buckled down in my honors classes. I usually ate lunch in the quad with Melissa Greason, Shelly Rosecrans, and Kim Rust, who were in my grade. Through them, I became friends with Karla Whitaker, Heather Lewis, and Carmen Kisner. I don't remember if Jennifer Poole was friends with them yet or if she came the next year.

In California, all ninth graders have to take Health class. (Wear a condom! This is what genital warts look like!) Some of them fail and have to take the class again in tenth grade. That was the case with Maria, who sat next to me in Health class. Maria is still the most badass girl I have ever known. I helped her pass Health class and she offered to jack up anyone who messed with me.

When I Was Thirteen

When I was thirteen, I didn't sign up for soccer, but I continued with softball, until I broke my collar bone in gym class. We were doing a gymnastics unit. I was practicing a front handspring with my partner for our floor routine. She suggested I go faster. I did. My elbow gave out. I heard and felt a crack. I blacked out momentarily. My mom came to get me and drove me to my pediatrician's office. Every bump in the road sent a jolt of pain through my body. The pediatrician sent us to the hospital, which was a block away. I refused to get back in the car, so my mom pushed me in a wheelchair, which probably wasn't any better. Bruce Willis broke his collar bone in a skiing accident the same day (see #35).

We had moved out of the apartment and were living at my grandmother's house by then. I shared a room with my mom. My sister slept with my grandmother. It wasn't great.

There was an outdoor assembly at school. We all sat on the grass in front of the stage. I sat on my Trapper Keeper so my pants wouldn't get dirty. We all had to turn and sit facing the other way to watch something going on behind us. I was slow to turn around because I was trying to keep my folder under my butt. Chad something, a little asshole with black hair, was frustrated with my slowness and said, "You take up too much room." That was the only time someone ever said something mean to me in school about my weight.

I graduated from eighth grade and was more than ready for a fresh start in high school.

That summer, my mom started dating the manager of the bowling alley, Roger Jewell.

About My Autobiographical Posts

Last night, my husband asked, "How far are you going to go with this?" I quickly replied, "When I Was Thirty-Six." Thinking about it more, I'm not sure. It's one thing to write about the highs and lows of childhood, things I have thought about for years, processed, and assimilated into my thoughts about who I am. It is another thing to write about more recent events, those that I can't see clearly yet because I am still too close to them.

And, to be honest, the things I have written about so far don't feel that personal. They are things I would talk about in person, to any of you. I thought foward a bit from where I left off in "When I Was Twelve." I don't think I will have a problem with censoring myself for quite a few years after that, but then what? Am I going to write about losing my virginity? Am I going to reveal how many people I have slept with? Am I going to reveal secrets to my family, and strangers, and future employers, that are currently known only by close friends? I don't know yet.

I have censored myself a little already. I left out the name of a boy who did a bad thing in grade school because I didn't want his future employers to find it when searching on his name. For most of the people I have mentioned, these posts already come up on the first page of Google results for them. I didn't write about an incident in grade school that I clearly remember because I had already mentioned the other participant by name and I don't know if that is a painful memory for her. I inadvertently hurt the feelings of the girl who was my best friend through most of grade school because the only mention of her in these posts is when she found a new best friend. As I explained to her, I remember her fondly and have great memories of us playing together, but when I sit down to write these posts, I write the things that stand out the brightest and those memories tend to be hurtful ones or turning points or family-related. I haven't heard back from her.

These posts started with a flash of a memory and a spark of inspiration. I try not to overthink them. I start with the first thing I remember, write the post quickly, and stop when it feels forced. Each post has been longer than the one before because, as I have aged, I remember more and more things that happened to me, but I think they are going to peak with "When I Was Seventeen." I will keep more memories to myself after that.

When I Was Twelve

When I was twelve, puberty kicked my ass. I started the year with clear skin and size five jeans, and ended the year with a pizza face and size thirteen jeans. My first period arrived while I was at my aunt's house. I had been hoping it wouldn't happen until I turned sixteen.

I started seventh grade at a new school. We all did. The junior high was composed of seventh and eighth graders coming from a few elementary schools. My new best friend was a bad influence on me. We skipped school. My dad took us to a Ratt concert at the fairgrounds. Poison opened. We made it backstage and met Bret Michaels and C.C. DeVille. We watched them pick which groupies would join them on the bus. Two little brunette tweens were not chosen. We were obsessed with Bon Jovi. We saw them play at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater. Cinderella opened. I'm not sure why she stopped being my friend in the summer between seventh and eighth grade.

I was in honors classes. They challenged me, but I slacked off and, for the first time in my life, I had less than stellar grades. I think I received a D in my science class. That is where I met Melissa Greason. Sometimes I ate lunch with Melissa, Shelly Rosecrans, and Kim Rust. They were friends with some eighth graders I didn't really know: Heather Lewis, Karla Whitaker, and Carmen Kisner.

My mom left her second husband. We moved to an apartment in Oxnard, California because it was cheaper than living in Camarillo, but my sister and I stayed in the same schools. We used my grandmother's address as our home address. My Aunt Karen (Karen King, not really my aunt) and her daughter, Peggy Munson, lived with us for a little while.

My mom wanted me to go on a diet with her, the Pritikin diet. The day before, we ate a frozen cheesecake. The first day of the diet, I had the world's smallest tuna sandwich for lunch.

I recorded George Michael songs by holding my tape recorder up to my clock radio when Q105 played the Top 8 at 8. Also, "Two of hearts. Two hearts that beat as one."

My mom bought a red Pinto station wagon. Someone keyed it in the parking lot of our apartment complex. One morning, while walking through the parking lot to the car, we had one of the strongest earthquakes I have ever experienced. It almost knocked me off my feet. The blacktop undulated the way it does in a horror movie right before a giant, man-eating worm breaks through the surface.

I was the first kid in my school to have a pair of Teva's. My dad's girlfriend worked at the factory. They were red with black soles.

10 things I've never revealed before, for 10/10/10

  1. My feet grew with my second pregnancy and I now wear a size 10W shoe.
  2. I had my first kiss when I was 15. It was very nice. I don't remember the boy's name.
  3. When I take a class,the first thing I do is look at the syllabus and calculate the least amount of effort I need to expend in order to earn an A.
  4. I remember each of the five Bs I received in college and why I didn't receive As in those classes.
  5. My thumbs are short and squatty, and I usually try to hide them in pictures.
  6. I believe fertility treatments subvert the evolutionary process.
  7. After I typed that sentence, I looked up "subvert" to make sure I had used it properly.
  8. I lie every single day.
  9. The first diet I ever did was the Pritikin diet with my mom. I was twelve years old. I have been overweight (then obese, then morbidly obese) for two-thirds of my life.
  10. I am having gastric bypass surgery on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

When I Was Eleven

6th Grade

When I was eleven, I was put in a fifth/sixth combo class taught by Mrs. Smith. Most of the kids were fifth graders. Mrs. Smith had a reputation for being mean but, unlike Mr. Peterson in fourth grade, she actually was. I was glad I was assigned to reading and math groups taught by another teacher.

My best friend, Molly Vinson, got a new best friend, Brianna Hanson. I started hanging out with my friend, Heidi Yeates, more.

We were weighed and measured in school, for the first time I remember. I was five feet tall and weighed 102 pounds, which was the exact same weight as Heather Shoemaker, who was two or three inches taller than I was, and slim. It was shocking information. I shocked Andrea Vach and Rosalie Genhart further by fitting into Heather's size five jeans at sixth grade outdoor school.

It was raining when we got off the bus at sixth grade outdoor school. I dropped my pillow in a mud puddle. I don't think it rained the rest of the week. I learned how to identify poison oak; something about "leaves of three."

We took a family vacation to the East Coast for Christmas. We visited my mom's aunts and cousins in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, then drove up to Maine to visit my step-dad's mother and spend Christmas with my mom's sister, Penny White. My Uncle Mike was stationed there with the Navy. He grossed me out by asking me to help de-vein the fresh shrimp he had bought, along with the five-dollar lobsters we were having for Christmas dinner.

I missed my cousin, Mike Buchanan. He is the same age as me and had been one of my primary playmates since kindergarten. We skated on an ice rink in a local park. I was terrible.

My cousin, Ryan White, was just a baby, but he could crawl. From the living room, we heard a loud crash in the kitchen. We found Ryan in there with an open tin of Danish butter cookies. How he got them down from the top of the refrigerator is an unsolved mystery.

Their middle brother, Matt White, was a toddler. He cried a lot.

It snowed on Christmas Day. My mom couldn't stop talking about having a White Christmas. I started in one corner of the backyard and, row by row, methodically stomped every inch of the pristine snow. My cousin, Mike, got mad at me for ruining the snow. That is where he and my uncle had planned to build a snow man. They had to do it on the side of the house instead.

I liked to shop at Clothestime. It was in the same strip mall as Alpha-Beta.

When I Was Ten

When I was ten, I had a great year. Fifth grade at my school was awesome for most kids. There were two awesome fifth grade teachers and one mean fifth/sixth combo teacher. The two awesome teachers -- including Mrs. Wagner, who I had -- did practically everything together. We took fields trips to see Punky Brewster and Mr. Belvedere being taped. My grandma (my dad's mom, the one with the Nova) took a day off from the lemon packing plant to come bake orange cranberry bread with my class for the holidays.

I was the first kid in my class to get Reeboks. They were gray. My aunt, Lynette (my dad's oldest sister), gave them to me.

My step-dad was overseas with the Navy. He sent home gifts from Okinawa and Japan.

When I Was Nine

First day of school 1983

When I was nine, I had a male teacher. Mr. Peterson had a reputation for being mean. He read us a chapter from a book every day after lunch. He used rubber cement to paste cut-out pictures onto our classwork instead of using stickers. We played Heads Up, Seven Up a lot.

There was a girl in my class named Melissa Munarriz. We sat next to each other at the back of the class. We didn't like each other. I don't remember why. She didn't believe me when I brought in Michael Jackson's autograph. She was right. I was lying. I had copied it off of the THRILLER liner notes.

Boys started liking girls and girls started liking boys. I liked two boys at various times of the year: Alec Caligagan and Greg Nuibe. My friend and I tried to find out who all the boys liked. We asked Greg who he liked. He said he didn't know. We named every girl in the class and made him say yes or no. He said no to all of them until it was down to us two girls. He said something like, "I guess I like you," to me. It was a big day in fourth grade.

I kicked a girl's butt. Literally. She was ahead of me in line, walking back to the classroom from recess. I don't know why I did it, but I reached out my foot and kicked her lightly on the butt. She wailed like I'd attacked her. Mr. Peterson gave me detention. A few older kids came into the classroom while I was in detention and asked me why I was there. They were impressed by my story about how I kicked another girl's butt.

My mom married her boyfriend, Darren Doucette, in my grandmother's living room on my great-grandmother's 80th birthday. I wore a long-sleeved dress with lavendar velvet accents on the bodice, cream-colored cotton tights, and tan suede shoes.

My great-grandmother died in her sleep from a brain aneurysm. We called her Memere (pronounced memay), which is French. She had very flappy skin on the backs of her arms and babysat my sister and I and a couple of our cousins after school. She ate all her meals at the breakfast bar in my grandma's kitchen, a cigarette burning in the ashtray next to her food. She and my grandmother spoke French to each other when they didn't want the rest of us to know what they were talking about. Memere had a boyfriend. We called him Grandpa Walter. He drove the five blocks to my grandmother's house every day in a yellow VW Beetle. They played cribbage. He brought us treats.

I went to Memere's funeral and looked in her casket. Her face was puffy and she didn't look at all the way she normally looked.

When I Was Eight

When I was eight, I had Pac-Man sheets on my bed. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Trachsel, made a chart to show how much progress each student was making on memorizing multiplication and division tables. The yellow Pac-Man with my name on it munched its way across that chart, neck and neck with another kid, as I knocked out the multiplication tables. My poor little Pac-Man dropped back to the middle of the pack on its way back across the chart, as I learned the division tables.

I had very long hair. My sister started kindergarten. She had long hair, too. We were occasionally late to school because we couldn't find her shoes.

We lived with my mom's sister, Peggy, in a two-story house we rented from Mormons. They had shelves of canned food in the garage. The house had a kumquat tree in the backyard. I begged and begged my mom to tell me how much money she made. She said she didn't want to tell me because it would sound like a lot but it really wasn't. She made $1000 per month.

My dad took my sister and I to the lake in the summer. We got very sunburned. My sister's skin blistered. My mom broke open vitamin E capsules and rubbed the oil on my sister's back and shoulders.

I woke up in the middle of the night to pee. My aunt was taking a bath in the bathroom across the hall from the bedroom I shared with my sister. I forgot about the bathroom downstairs, next to my cousin Stan's room, and I went to use the bathroom in my mom's room. The lights were on. She was having sex with her boyfriend.

I told my mom that I wanted to go live with my dad because he had a pool in his apartment complex.

My mom gave me a mini Frogger video game for Christmas. The battery compartment became searing hot when I played it too long.

When I Was Seven

The last time I wore a tube top

When I was seven, I lost my two front teeth. They were still missing on school picture day. My hair was also very messy in that picture.

I was late leaving school on Valentine's Day, so I was still in the classroom when Mrs. Antle was talking to two girls about the mean things one of the boys had written on their cards. I opened mine and saw that he had written "chubby." I said, "Chooby? Mine's not that bad. I don't even know what "chooby" means." The two girls who were crying had curse words written on their cards. The boy had written naughty things on everyone's cards. He was an equal opportunity offender.

I wrote a poem about Martin Luther King, Jr. after a class project in which we sent letters to somewhere petitioning someone to turn his birthday into a holiday. My teacher made me read the poem in front of the class. I was mortified, barely whispered it, and raced back to my seat.

She made me sit next to the naughtiest boy in the second grade, Daniel Burdis, so that I would be a good influence on him. He wasn't so bad.

Mrs. Antle had a lady mullet.

When I Was Six

Strawberry Shortcakes

When I was six, my first grade teacher's name was Mrs. McGee. She stunned the class into silence when she told us her first name was Connie, the same as one of the girls in the class.

I was in the highest math group with two boys, Eric Johnsen and Greg Nuibe. We raced to see who could finish the workbook first. I lost by mere seconds. I forgot who won. Greg wore corduroy OP shorts every single day of elementary school, according to my memory. His mom brought sushi on family culture day. Everyone thought it was gross; we had never seen it before. I think it was tuna.

My soccer team was called the Strawberry Shortcakes. Liz Pizza's mom was the team mom. She crocheted curly hair ties for everyone and made an awesome felt banner with the team name in big white letters and each girl's name on a strawberry patch.

My mom started her career in banking as a teller at a new community bank.

When I Was Five

First grade maybe

When I was five, my kindergarten class had to say the full date every morning before the Pledge of Allegiance. "Today is Friday, September 28th, Nineteen Hundred and Seventy Nine." One of my friends at school was a boy with dark, curly hair. When we played house, he stuck the plastic banana in his ear.

One of my friends in the apartment complex was a boy with a soft afro. My dad told me I couldn't play with him anymore because he was black. I told my dad he was mistaken and everything was fine because my friend was brown, not black.

My Christmas present was wrapped and under the tree before Christmas Day. I told my mom that I knew that she and my dad had bought me a Barbie because I recognized the shape of the box. She tried to fake me out but I was right. I told her that I was giving them cans of spinach. I faked her out. It was a cookbook my kindergarten class had made for the parents. It was heavy and rolled into a cylinder about the size of two cans of spinach. The recipe I contributed to the book was how to cook my favorite food. I said that you open the can of spinach, put it in a pot, and cook it on the stove for twenty minutes. My estimation of time was better than that of one of my classmates who said his dad puts the chicken on the grill and cooks it for two days while he drinks beer.

I was sitting on the couch in my underwear and a t-shirt, watching Tom and Jerry and eating Cheerios out of the box. My mom told me that my dad wasn't coming home anymore. I cried. We visited him in the barracks where he lived. He had a lot of electronics on tall metal shelves.

We moved back to Camarillo, California, where my mother's family lived. My mom and my sister and I slept in my aunt's spare bedroom. I went to kindergarten with my cousin.

When I Was Four

Me and Michael Paul

When I was four, I learned to read. I would come home from Sunday school, turn down my dad's stereo because it was too loud, and turn on the TV so I could watch Sesame Street. I learned that agua meant water in Spanish. I liked to say it a lot. The ladybug picnic was my favorite thing on Sesame Street.

At bedtime, I would take a book off my metal bookshelf (aluminum with a fake wood print) and read it in bed. When I was done, I would throw the book under my bed. When I had no books left, I told my mother that I needed new books. That is when I learned that I could read the same book more than once.

I started kindergarten.

When I Was Three

When I was three, my favorite outfit was a blue dress with yellow accents. It had matching blue and yellow striped tights. I had a pair of brown GAS shoes. I liked to wear that outfit to Sunday school. I took the bus to Sunday school. We didn't go to church. My dad had a pet tarantula.

I dressed myself, choosing my own clothes for the first time. When I came down the stairs, my dad laughed because each thing I had on was a different color. I liked to play with plastic blocks that opened on the diagonal. I could open the blocks all the way and snap two different blocks together to make two connected cubes. The edges were sharp.