For the rest of the summer, I resumed my routine of relaxing and having playdates. I tried to forget
about what happened at summer camp as much as I could.
John Jo came over to my house, where he slept over for the first time. We played a few video games,
and then he told me that he wanted to take me to a place called Planet Cyber, a cyber café that had all
of the best online PC games. I knew nothing of the sort, but it was just down the street from my
mother’s house. I walked there with him, eager to experience something new.
This was my first experience with online gaming. Playing video games with people over the internet
invoked a whole new level of fascination in me. Talking to people over AIM was fun and new, but this…
this was tremendous. I always loved playing multiplayer mode on video games when I had friends over.
With online gaming, I could do it whenever I want. I was a novice to these new games on the PC, but I
got the hang of it after playing with John Jo for a few hours. The games we played were Day of Defeat
and Counter Strike.
Mother took me and Georgia on two little vacation trips in the same week. For the first trip we went
to Long Beach, where we stayed at the Hyatt hotel. It reminded me of our little trip to Ventura two years
previously. We visited the Harbor and the aquarium. The three of us really bonded on this trip.
We went home for a couple of days before going on the second trip. For the second trip, we went to
Legoland and stayed at the resort there. The resort was exceedingly beautiful, with a huge swimming
pool and spa. We met up with a family of one of Georgia’s friends and explored the entirety of Legoland.
When we got home from our marvelous trip, I had another sleepover with John Jo. He loved the fact
that I lived near Planet Cyber, so he would soon be calling every week, asking to come over.
I saw Charlie a few days later. Charlie was also familiar with Planet Cyber, and when the two of us
went there, he introduced me to an RPG game called Diablo 2. I didn’t know what to make of this game,
it was like an adventure game similar to Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong, but much more mature, with
the ability to interact with other players online.
It was only a matter of time before I started inviting John Jo and Charlie to sleep over at the same
time. When the three of us went to Planet Cyber as a group, I had an absolute blast. It was one of the
best experiences of my life.
At father’s house, father would frequently invite his new friend Alexander Bubenheim over. Alex
Bubenheim was a boisterous German man who worked as a composer and lived in the Top of Topanga
community. Alex had a son named Lukas, who was a couple of years younger than Georgia. Lukas was a
very girly and immature little boy, but I found him to be very amusing. They would come over almost
every weekend that I was at father’s, and become a big part of my life there.
Seventh Grade began. My coveted summer break was all over. On the first day, I noticed some people
I met during summer camp start school there as Sixth Graders. One of them was Patrick Dib, the
younger brother of Alex Dib. I would always view Patrick Dib as an obnoxious, rude lout. He was very
ugly too, and it annoyed me that he carried himself around as if he wasn’t a freckled, chubby-faced
I said hello to everyone I knew from last year, including Robert Morgan and his clique of popular kids.
There were also a flock of new kids who transferred from the Pinecrest in Van Nuys. I was soon to meet
them. Among these were Alfred Graham, Anthony Glukov, Jonny Noone, Derek Olsen, Garrett, Rafael,
and Edward. They already knew each other and always hung out together at the start of the year, but I
soon noticed that each of them soon integrated into the already pre-established cliques of Pinecrest. I
was jealous that Jonny Noone, an obnoxious Mexican kid, immediately became popular with the
skateboarders because of his cocky attitude.
Alfred Graham, a half-black boy whom I would have a semi-friendship with throughout the years was
intensely disliked by everyone, mainly because he was ugly and had a habit of intentionally annoying
people. He would eventually become friends with the skateboarders, however, due to his interest in the
My reputation as the “shy kid” continued, and I still didn’t make any friends who became close
enough to see outside of school. I did socialize with various groups during school hours, so I wasn’t a
complete outcast during Seventh Grade.
James Ellis started middle school at Paul Revere Middle School as a Sixth Grader. Though he is the
same age as I am, he was held back a year in elementary school. Coincidentally, he went to the same
school as John Jo, Charlie, and a few other friends from Topanga.
After this point, I would stop seeing James Ellis for a while. Our friendship became temporarily stale
and would remain so for another year. The only time we saw each other during this period was when we
had family get-togethers. James’s sister, Sage, often came over to play with Georgia, while James didn’t
bother to come at all.
John Jo and Charlie started to come over every Friday. This would soon become a tradition. Fridays
were always my favorite time of the week, and this tradition made me always look forward to Fridays
with intense eagerness. They would be dropped off by their parents shortly after school time, and then
we would all walk to Planet Cyber and play games for hours.
After a few of these Friday sleepovers, Charlie introduced me to his friend Elijah. Elijah was
temporarily staying at Charlie’s house, and the two of them were like brothers. I immediately took a
great liking to Elijah, and we became instant friends. He helped me beat some of the hardest levels of
Halo. Elijah would then come over with Charlie and John Jo, and the four of us became a close group of
friends. This was the only true social group I would ever have, and I had a great time with them.
We sometimes hung out at Planet Cyber until 3:00 in the morning, the latest I had ever been out
without parent supervision. We would switch between playing Halo at my house, playing games at
Planet Cyber, or skateboarding around the neighborhood. I briefly got back into skateboarding for the
sake of enjoying it with these friends. On the following Saturday morning, we would wake up by 9:00,
have breakfast at Krispy Kreme and spend a few more hours at Planet Cyber before my friends were
picked up by their parents. I would then go to father’s house for the weekend, if father was in town.
My sister Georgia’s birthday was in November, and on that day my father hired a limo to pick up
Georgia and her friends from mother’s house. Charlie and Elijah came over, though John Jo was absent
that day. When the limo returned, we all celebrated Georgia’s birthday at the house together. I
introduced father to my friends. It was a very happy experience.
When the winter break finally arrived, my grandma Ah Mah came over from England to visit, and she
stayed in the fourth bedroom at mother’s house. Ah Mah is just like my mother, she always knew what I
liked and went out of her way to get it for me, just to put a smile on my face. She brought with her some
of my favorite English chocolates, along with her famous peanut cookies that I loved so much.
Mother had a party at her house, and a lot of family friends came over, including Maddy and her
mom, James and his family, Philip and Jeffrey and their family, and a lot of mother’s old friends whom I
hadn’t seen for a long time. Ah Mah, who is a professional cook, made some of her special dishes, and
we set up a bouncy castle in our backyard. I invited John Jo, Charlie, and Elijah over, and we walked to
Planet Cyber for a little bit, then walked back home and had some fun on the Bouncy Castle. James
never really liked my group of friends… he told me he thought they were jerks. I suppose he was right
about John Jo, but Charlie and Elijah were always nice people. Oh well, I never really liked James’s
friends either, so that made us even, I guess.
I had a great time during this party. James and Maddy were the last ones to leave. Me and my sister
played with them for a while on the bouncy castle. It made for an interesting and peculiar experience,
playing with both James and Maddy at the same time, my two oldest friends. It had been a long time
since I had seen Maddy, and it would be the last time that we would ever play together as friends.
Before the night was over, we all took a picture together outside my mother’s front door. James made a
funny face for it, while I stood behind him awkwardly waving my hand. To this very day, my mother still
has that picture in one of her photo albums.
One time when John Jo, Charlie, and Elijah came over for our traditional Friday night sleepover, we
met up with Armando and his younger brother Gus. I hadn’t seen them since Topanga Elementary
school. We had a good time skateboarding with them at the church parking lot near mother’s house,
and all over that area. Afterwards, we had some video game competitions at Planet Cyber.
My mother took me to watch Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in the movie theatres. I already
saw the first two movies, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the series until I saw this third one in the movie
theatres. Watching that movie in the theatres was such an epic experience, and I will always remember
it. Though it wasn’t as exciting as going to the red carpet premieres of the Star Wars prequels, it came
After the movie, mother and I ate dinner at TGI Friday’s. When we got home, as I was getting ready
for bed, I heard a knock on my door. It was Elijah asking if I wanted to go with him to Planet Cyber,
which I did for a few hours.
That day marked the last time I would ever go to the movie theatres with just my mother, except for
premieres. Growing up, I always loved it when my parents took me to the movies. The large screen and
loud surround-sound immersed me into the movie, and I liked that dizzy feeling I would feel when I
walked out of a movie theatre and entered back into the real world. It was always a remarkable
Soon enough, the movie theatres would turn from a place of joy to a place of dread. Once puberty
arrives, I would start getting jealous of all the young couples or groups of boys and girls who go to the
movies together. That day that I saw the final Lord of the Rings movie was the last time I enjoyed the
movie theatres in peace, without fear of humiliation.
Aside from Fridays, I always met my group of friends at Planet Cyber on Wednesdays, because they
were charging only one dollar per hour on Wednesdays. Usually my mother wouldn’t let me play video
games for such a long time on a weekday, but she made an exception for Wednesdays.
On one such Wednesday, Charlie introduced me to the game Warcraft 3. It was like no game I had
ever played before. It enabled the player to build an army and battle against other players online. After
the first round of Warcraft III, going up against John Jo and Charlie, I was captivated. The game was so
much fun. I couldn’t help but think about it every second for the next two days. When the following
Friday arrived, we played it for most of the day and well into the night.
My initially happy interest in the game Warcraft 3 had an ominous tone to it. This was the beginning
of a long relationship with the Warcraft franchise. In less than a year from that point, they would release
their ultimate game, World of Warcraft, a game that I would find sanctuary in for most of my teenage
Seventh Grade flew by very fast. My school life was a continuation of Sixth Grade. I mingled with
acquaintances here and there and behaved nicely with everyone. The difference is that I was having so
much fun outside of school with my friends at Planet Cyber that I didn’t really care about getting popular
at school or getting attention from girls. I was enjoying my very last year of childhood. My twelfth year
was one of the best years of my life, and the last year that I was happy. I’m glad that I can at least say I
made the best of it.
I gave no thought at all to my future, or the fact that puberty was just around the corner. I barely
even knew much about what puberty was. With puberty, my whole world would change, and my entire
life would collapse into utter despair. I wonder how I would have handled things if I knew… If was
This summer was long awaited. I was having the time of my life, and once school was out I couldn’t
wait to spend the summer relaxing and doing fun things. I was relieved that neither of my parents made
me attend summer camp. I suppose I had gotten too old for it. This summer was mine to enjoy however
I wanted. It was like a coveted treasure that I could only hold for a few moments, but those moments
would last forever in memory. It was my last summer before puberty. My last summer of innocence. My
last summer of true happiness and satisfaction with life.
I continued my traditional Friday sleepovers with Charlie, John Jo, and Elijah. Because there was no
more school, they would sometimes come over on other days as well. I managed to beat the entire
game of Halo on legendary mode with Elijah’s help, an impressive feat.
Philip and Jeffrey came over quite a lot as well. Philip was always the mature and insightful brother,
while Jeffrey was the wild and funny one. Seeing the two of them together always made for an
interesting and excitable mix. Their mother, Kathy, brought them over on weekdays quite often. We
drank a lot of soda, ate a lot of candy, and played with scooters and skateboards around my mother’s
neighborhood. I took them to Planet Cyber one time and showed them some of the games there.
On the weekends I spent at father’s, we usually did something with the Bubenheims. They lived in the
Top of Topanga community, where we often spent afternoons. I played with Georgia and Lukas in the
swimming pool there, and being one who admires great views, I spent a lot of time looking out at the
Valley. Going to that place would always remind me of my Fifth Grade graduation party, a good
Soumaya told us extraordinary news. On one sunny afternoon at father’s, me and my sister were
asked to come to the dining room for a special announcement. It wasn’t announced by words, but by
Soumaya indicating us to feel her stomach. She was pregnant! She and my father were having their first
baby together. I was going to have a baby brother.
I felt elated. I remember when I was a bit younger I always asked my father and Soumaya if they were
going to have a baby, and they said they would like to. I still felt surprised when it was actually
confirmed. It was that warm feeling that would envelop me when a good change happened in my life. I
had no idea what it would be like, but I welcomed it.
My step-grandmother Khadija came to stay with us for a second time, mainly to help Soumaya
prepare for the birth.
In the middle of the summer, mother took me and my sister on a vacation to Malaysia. This was the
first time we would go on an overseas vacation with just mother, and I was pleased at the thought of it.
We took off on my 13
Birthday. I spent my birthday on the airplane, a much more exciting birthday
than the previous few. We traveled on Singapore Airlines, and though we weren’t traveling first class on
this trip, I found it to be just as comfortable. The staff of Singapore Airlines knew it was my birthday, and
they brought me a cake with a candle during the middle of the flight. It was a very nice gesture.
We had to spend eight hours at the Singapore Airport. I thought this airport was such a pleasant place
that I really enjoyed just spending time there. It was all part of the vacation experience. The airport was
huge, and much more entertaining than LAX or any airport in Europe that I’ve been to. The three of us
walked around and explored, went shopping, visited all the common areas, and had a nice meal at one
of the restaurants. There were a lot of foreign candies and sodas that I was curious to try. Traveling with
just my mother and sister was a lot less stressful than traveling with father and Soumaya. It was
When we arrived in Malaysia, we met up with my grandma Ah Mah, my mother’s sister Min and her
husband Jack, and cousin Emma. They were also visiting Malaysia from England. We all stayed at a tall
hotel building near the beach. After we unpacked everything at the hotel, some of my mother’s relatives
who lived in Malaysia came to see us. We had a birthday celebration for me at the hotel that night.
Before I went to sleep, I pondered over the fact that I was now a teenager.
I had a lovely time on this vacation. Our hotel suite was on one of the highest floors of the building,
and it had an exquisite deck that provided a view of the ocean. During the trip, we toured around the
island of Penang, visited Georgetown, went to a fun waterpark, and had very delicious meals at many
exotic restaurants. Just relaxing and watching movies at the hotel was a joy in itself. The vacation was so
nice that I didn’t even miss my life at home. The three weeks flew by very fast, and I cried a little when it
was over. It was a good sadness.
I celebrated my birthday again at father’s house on the night we returned to America. I was allowed
to have my very first glass of beer for this celebration. I always thought of alcoholic drinks, such as beer
and wine, as mysterious drinks that were forbidden to children like myself. Father would let me have
only a small sip of wine from time to time. Having my first glass of beer felt like a big honor.
For my present, I got my first cell phone. During this era, cell phones were like a rite of passage for
kids my age. I always envied the kids who had a cell phone. John Jo had a silver Sprint phone with green
lighting that I always coveted. To finally have a cell phone of my own made me feel so proud. My phone
was a silver T-Mobile phone with blue lighting. I loved the satisfaction I felt when I opened it up and saw
the pretty lights.