Part III
The Last Period of Contentment

Age 9-13

Fourth grade ended, and once the summer started, I took a vow to mold myself into the coolest kid I could possibly be by the time Fifth grade began. I anticipated the approval the other cool kids would have of me once I reveal myself as being similar to them, and I looked forward to it.

After about a year and a half of living in the house on Hatteras St. in upper West Hills, my father decided to move into an even better house. This time, all of us spent a day looking at open houses together as a family. We went with a real estate agent and examined some beautiful homes around Woodland Hills. My favorite one was a 3-story house on Llano Drive, in the Woodland Hills Heights, the most prestigious area of Woodland Hills that bordered Calabasas. It didn't have a pool, but it had a sloping backyard almost three-times as large as our current one. The house had six bedrooms, and I took an intense liking to one particular bedroom that had its own bathroom and a personal balcony. My father showed extreme enthusiasm about possibly buying this house, and I became obsessed with getting that particular bedroom as my own room. When I brought it up with father and Soumaya, they said that the room would most likely be Georgia's because it was closer to the master bedroom. They said that I would get a bedroom downstairs, one without my own bathroom or balcony. I was furious, and I threw a huge crying tantrum.

Soon enough, father went ahead with the decision to buy this house. I made a big deal about the possibility of not getting that lovely bedroom I wanted, and I kept sulking to father and Soumaya about it. When they finally moved and the first week of father's at this new house started, I was very anxious. But then, as we entered, father and Soumaya surprised me and revealed that they decided to give me the room I wanted. I was so happy! I danced and leaped with joy all over the house, and then I went to my new balcony and looked out at the beautiful view of Woodland Hills for an hour.

After the move to this new house, father would never move again, and he still lives there to this very day. I would have many important experiences there for the next decade, both good and terrible.

I needed a skateboard for mother's house too, and so my mother took me to Val Surf and bought me a gray Val Surf skateboard. I would use this skateboard much more than the red skateboard I had at father's house, since I had all of my playdates during mother's week, and mother would make more of an effort to indulge in my new interest, eventually taking me to skateparks every weekend.

I became very excited about my new hobby, and I shared it with James Ellis and Philip Bloeser, my two main friends. I wanted to get them interested in skateboarding as well. It was tricky to get James into it, but he soon got his own skateboard, and we would start skateboarding together around his neighborhood.

As I now considered myself a skateboarder, I wanted to dress in the clothes that all the cool skateboarders were wearing. My mother took me to Val Surf once again, this time to shop for new shirts. I picked out a few that had the logos of skateboard companies on them. Later that day I put on one of my new shirts, and I was thrilled to start going around in it. I felt cool.

At father's house, I was introduced to a new nanny who would be living with us. Rosa and Amparro left back to their home countries a few months before we moved house. This new nanny was an African American woman named Tracy. She had a very fun personality, and I always had a pleasant time when she looked after us. She was able to drive, unlike my previous nannies, and so she would be the one who would always pick me up from school during father's week from that point on.

Uncle Dan had a quarrel with my father, and he was forced to move out. I would never see him again after that. Tracy would, in a way, replace Uncle Dan as the lodger who would live at father's house.

Early in the summer, father forced me to attend summer camp at an elementary school nearby our new house. This school was Bay Laurel Elementary School in Calabasas. I hated the prospect, and I vehemently protested it. The last thing I wanted to do was spend my coveted summer at a school where I didn't know anyone.

I was starting to like going to father's house a lot more after moving to our lovely new house with my exquisite new room, but this decision of father's made me dislike my weeks there again. At mother's house, I had it my way more often, and that's how I wanted to live.

I hated having to go to camp during the summer, and I was miserable at the start, but a couple weeks into it I made friends with two brothers named Thomas and Tyler.

On mother's week, I spent more and more time practicing skateboarding, and I had lots of playdates with James where we would skateboard together. We also had a lot of fun playing Nintendo 64 games, such as Donkey Kong 64, Banjo Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, James Bond Goldeneye, and many more. He also got me interested in collecting Beanie Babies. At first I thought such a thing was very lame and girly, but we used them to fuel our imagination and have mock battles and wars with each other. It was our secret hobby that we told no one about.

I was relieved when summer camp ended, and once it was over my 10th birthday arrived. I had been on this world for a decade, and what a decade it was... full of discovery, fun, and happy adventures. I can't say the same for the following decade.

I didn't have a party for my 10 birthday, and I believe I celebrated it during mother's week. We went out with James and his family to a restaurant in the Palisades.

10 Years Old

I was eager to re-bleach my hair to a fully blonde color, after the disastrous failure of my previous attempt. This time, Soumaya took me to the right salon, and they gave me a short haircut and bleached all of my hair blonde. When I looked at myself in the mirrior, I felt an intense level of satisfaction.

I went to James's house soon after I acquired my new hair color, and the look of surprise on his face when he first saw me gave me a good laugh.

A couple of weeks later, my hair started to grow and my black hair would show at the roots, but the blend turned out to suit me well, and this would become my hairstyle for the next year.

Mother took me and my sister on a short vacation towards the end of the summer. We drove up the 101 Freeway to Ventura, where we stayed at the Holiday Inn (which has now been replaced by the Crowne Plaza). I found the hotel to be comfortable and luxurious. It was located right on the Ventura Promenade, a beautiful walkway along the beach that led to a long pier.

At this stage, I was very enthusiastic about my new interest in skateboarding, and I took my skateboard with me. I enjoyed practicing on my new skateboard all along the Ventura Promenade. During this trip, mother took me to my first skatepark, which was called SkateStreet. It was humungous, and I was awed by all the towering ramps. I attended a beginner's class, and the instructor taught me the basics of riding on these ramps. I was absolutely terrified at first, but by the end of the class, I was able to go up and down the smallest of them, and I had a blast.

When we got back to the hotel, we had a nice room-service dinner, and then the three of us watched the movie Finding Nemo on the hotel television. It was a lovely little trip.

Before Fifth grade started, I went with my father and Soumaya to a dinner party at their friend's house. I forgot who these friends were, but it was a nice house in Beverly Hills. There were lots of guests, and I did what I usually did at such dinner parties... I sat around eating snacks and talked with my sister, sometimes going to father and to ask for a sip of wine.

During this party, I found myself having a conversation with father, Soumaya, and one of the party guests, a boisterous middle-aged man who I can't recall the name of. Father and Soumaya were talking about how I just turned ten years old, and we discussed life and what the future had in store for me. This man we were talking to... he patted me on the back and told me that I have a great life ahead of me. With a grin on his face, he told me that "in the next ten years, you'll have a great time... a great time". I had no idea what he meant by that. I wasn't even thinking about my future at that point; I was living in the moment.

Now I know what he meant. Childhood is fun, but when a boy reaches puberty a whole new world opens up to him... a whole new world with new pleasures, such as sex and love. Other boys will experience this, but not me, it pains me to say. That is the basis of my tragic life. I will not have a great time in the next ten years. The pleasures of sex and love will be denied to me. Other boys will experience it, but not me. Instead, I will only experience misery, rejection, loneliness, and pain.

At that moment in time, I didn't think much about this man's comment. I don't even remember who he was. But after those ten years have passed and I've experienced what I've experienced, I can't help but think about that moment. If only I knew what was in store for me, right then and there.

It was time to begin Fifth Grade. It started out excellently. My teacher was named Mrs. Damart, and she would always be very kind to me.

For the first week of Fifth Grade, I was at mother's house. I considered myself to be very "cool" by now. I had gotten better at skateboarding, I had blonde hair, and I dressed like a skateboarder. I felt great anticipation for what the cool kids would think of me once they saw my transformation.

To my disappointment, no one really cared. They were all in their own worlds. I don't remember any kids showing recognition of my new "coolness". Eventually, I was regarded differently than I was in Fourth grade, which I became content with. The cool kids talked to me more, and I started hanging out with them during recess and lunch.

When father's week came, I felt frustrated because I didn't have enough cool clothes there, and it took a while for me to get father to find the time to buy some for me. Mother always got me what I wanted, right when I wanted it. At mother's house, all of my needs were met with excellent precision, whereas at father's house, there would always be a time delay because father and Soumaya had less time for me, and paid less attention to me.

Shortly after my Fifth grade year began, my mother decided to move out of the Red House to a small house in Woodland Hills. This new house was located on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, near Dumetz street. Father's house was just up the hill from there, so it was practically walking distance to father's house.

I would miss the Red House, despite its smallness and the fact that I had to share a room with my sister. I had some very good times there. This new house was more convenient. It was still a two bedroom house, but one room was big enough to be split in two, and so by having a wall built in the middle, my sister and I each got our own room.

As I got better and better at skateboarding, my mother made an effort to take me to a skatepark every week. By now, skateboarding wasn't just a sport I was doing to copy the cool kids. I was truly interested in the sport. I even had hopes and dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder. That became my life goal. I loved skateboarding so much. I pictured myself doing amazing tricks in front of a cheering crowd, just like I saw Tony Hawk do in some videos. I pictured the admiration on their faces, and it was awesome.

The skatepark my mother took me to was Northridge Skatepark, and she would take me there every Friday. Northridge Skatepark was an average-sized outdoor skatepark with fine wooden ramps. First, we would have dinner at the Northridge Mall, and then I would sign up for the 7pm to 10pm session at the skatepark. I usually went alone, but after a few weeks of going I made a few acquaintances there, and people knew me. This became a Friday tradition during mother's week.

On the following Saturday, James usually came over for a sleepover. We would play Nintendo 64 games like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Donkey Kong late into the night, and then on Sunday morning mother would take us both to Skatelab, an indoor skatepark in Simi Valley. James had become really interested in skateboarding too, or so I believed. I was always better at it than him though, and I liked it that way.

This was the way every weekend went during mother's week, and I had the time of my life.

I was so interested in skateboarding that I took my skateboard trick-or-treating for Halloween. My costume, of course, was myself as a skateboarder. We went to the Lemelson's for a nice dinner and then set out to collect our candy. It was quite tricky to hold a bag full of candy while skateboarding, but I had fun. I remember some teenagers seeing me on my skateboard and saying "why didn't I think of that". Hah, that was gratifying.

For Christmas, my mother bought me the new Playstation 2. I had been wanting it for a long time, and when I unwrapped the present and saw the box, I felt so elated. Beforehand, the only video game console I played was the Nintendo 64 (and the Gameboy, if that counts). The Playstation 2 was much more advanced in graphics, and it amazed me.

When mother announced that I would have to share it with my sister Georgia and that I can't keep it in my room, my excitement turned to indignation, and I threw quite a tantrum. After crying for a bit, I calmed down and settled to sharing it with Georgia. She wouldn't be using it much anyways, I told myself.

Even after getting a Playstation 2, I still played my Nintendo 64 a lot because I loved the games I had for it, and I had an emotional attachment to it. The Nintendo 64 was the first video game console I played, and it would always have a special place in my heart.

One day during winter break at father's house, father and Soumaya went out for a few hours and left me and my sister with Tracy. When they came back, they had a little puppy with them, and announced that it was our new pet. It was mainly a present for Georgia. Georgia had been desperately asking father for a pet puppy for the last year, but I didn't think he would actually go through with it. I was so shocked that we now had a dog. I was always afraid of dogs when I was little, and I never imagined having one as a pet. The only pets I've had previously were my turtle and iguana, who both died within a year of acquiring them. Georgia was given the choice on what to name the puppy, and she named it Lucky. I thought this was a very lame and stupid name.

When I returned to school after the winter break, I noticed that all the cool kids had another interest: Hacky sacking. It was a simple sport consisting of kicking a bean-sack into the air as many times as you can without it landing on the floor. They all had hacky sacks, and they would spend recess and lunch kicking them with each other, since skateboarding wasn't allowed on school grounds. I didn't have a hacky sack, and I decided that I needed to do something about that. Mother took me to the store Pac Sun where I got a hacky sack with an orange and green design. When we got home from the mall, I started practicing. I remember struggling with it first, but I spent the next few afternoons concentrating on getting good at it. I spent many hours well into the night practicing in my backyard.

Once I was able to kick the hacky sack properly, I made a big deal of the fact that I was now interested in it. I would go up to the group of cool kids and show off my skills, and I played with it every single minute I spent outside during school time.

The Upper playground was rebuilt over the break, and there was a brand new playground to play on. I always loved brand new things, and the new playground was quite engaging. On the very first day that we were allowed to use it, I played tag with Philip Bloeser, Addison Altendorf, Bryce Jacobs, and a few others.

I never really became good friends with the so-called "cool kids". I would see them more as competitors than friends. During recess and lunch, I mainly played with Philip and his little clique which consisted of Addison Altendorf, Kevin, and T.J Tassone.

I made a few Fourth Grade friends through hacky sacking, though I forget their names. I mainly played with them during recess and lunch. One day, after I stayed an hour after school at the Upper, I was hacking sacking with them and I kicked my hacky sack up onto a roof. It wasn't first hacky sack, thank goodness, but I was quite fond of it and I was sad to lose it. I wonder if it's still up there... No, it would have been cleared away by now.

I still refused to have any playdates when I was at my father's house due to the incident with Soumaya in Fourth Grade. Because of this, my father and Soumaya became concerned that I didn't have any friends.

Soumaya forced me to befriend some of the neighbor's kids who lived just down the road. They would often skateboard outside of their houses. I was aghast... the prospect of walking up to a bunch of kids who I didn't know and asking to play with them was terrifying to me. They were "cool" skateboarders, and that made it even more intimidating. Of course, I wanted to be friends with them and join in their fun, but I was too scared that they would think I'm weird. I have always been shy by nature.

Soumaya didn't understand this, and she gave me no choice in the matter. She sent me out of the house and wouldn't let me back in until I introduced myself to them. I tried pretending that I was playing with them, but instead I would hide in a quiet street corner. To my surprise, Soumaya somehow knew I was doing this, and she came to confront me. She then got Tracy to take me down to where the kids were playing and push me into it. Tracy went up to the kids and asked if I could play with them. I felt embarrassed and timid, but they welcomed me.

I always had the subconscious preconception that the coolest kids were mean and aggressive by nature, which is quite true, and I was shocked that these kids were being nice to me and letting me play with them. After a fun afternoon skateboarding around the streets of Woodland Hills, I regretted not befriending them sooner. They went to Woodland Hills Elementary School, the school my sister would soon go to.

A couple of weeks later, Soumaya forced me to befriend yet another group of Woodland Hills kids. This second group lived nearer to my house, and they weren't skateboarders, however they liked riding bikes and scooters. One of them was a black boy named Lucky Radley, who I thought was very nice at the time. I found it strange that he had the same name as my dog. He was a fourth grader, and he would later go to the same middle school as me, where he would become an object of my extreme jealousy and hatred. Looking back, I can't believe I actually played with him as a friend in my father's neighborhood.

In the spring, uncle Jonny and the cousins came to stay at father's house. Cousin George bunked with me in my room, and the two of us became instant friends. I hadn't seen him since my last trip to England, and back then we were little kids. I enjoyed having a friend to play with on a daily basis without having to arrange a playdate, and the week that they stayed with us was great fun. I once took him along to play on scooters and skateboards with the neighbor kids, and we also went to the beach a lot.

Indeed, it was a great week, and I was sad to see them go. I looked forward to seeing him again when we were to go on our vacation to France and England in the coming summer.

After Jonny and the cousins left, Soumaya's mother Khadija came to stay for a few months, and I was made to share my room with her, because father had converted two of the guest rooms into his office, and Tracy was staying in the downstairs room. I had an extra bed in my room, so I suppose it made sense to them. I was a bit annoyed with this at the start, but I bonded well with Khadija, so I soon became ok with it. She was like a third grandmother to me.

My mother attained tickets to the red carpet premiere Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones. We received four tickets. Georgia was old enough to go, and I persuaded mother to let me give the fourth ticket to James. I was awestruck by the time the movie ended. It found it to be absolutely phenomenal. James and I talked about it for hours afterward.

My life at school was starting to become mediocre again, and I became frustrated with my struggle to be cool. I didn't have a regular group of friends who I always played with. I was like a nomad, moving from group to group and trying to fit in with each one, but never fully integrating. I feared that the cool kids didn't regard me as one of them, and even Philip's clique never considered me one of their core friends. Despite all of my attempts to be cool, I didn't feel as if the other kids respected me as such. I was still quite the outcast, as I always will be.

My social life changed somewhat when Mrs. Damart announced that we would have new seating arrangements in class, and the process of deciding on who sits where was up to us. Our class consisted of tables that seated about five to six people, and when our name was called randomly, we could choose anywhere to sit, meaning that everyone had a chance to sit with their group of friends. I didn't have a core group of friends, so I was thrown into a state of panic.

Originally, I was sitting at the table where Philip's clique sat, but all of their names were called before me, and I was booted from their table. At this point, I just chose to sit anywhere, and I ended up sitting next to John Jo Glen. Matt Bordier and Danny Dayani also sat at our table. These were kids who I regarded as cool, so I was content with sitting with them.

I never really interacted with John Jo Glen that much in the past. He was one of the biggest jerks of the school, next to Trevor and Keaton. We quarreled a bit at the start, but soon enough we started socializing, and I talked with him about some new games I got for my Playstation 2. We became friends when John Jo suddenly asked me if he can come over to my house. I felt happy that he asked me this... it would be the first playdate I would have without my mother arranging it for me. This would spark a fun new friendship that would last well after Fifth Grade. The random seating arrangement next to John Jo was the best thing to happen to me in Elementary School.

Despite my struggles to be regarded as "cool" and my obsession with attaining such recognition, Fifth grade was my favorite school year in Elementary School. I played with more people than I ever did in previous grades, I was less shy, I wasn't a dork, and I had an awesome time learning how to skateboard and hacky sack. It was memorable year filled with joyful experiences.

I didn't want the school year to end. Once Fifth grade was over, I will have to go to Middle School, and the prospect filled me with anxiety. My little innocent mind always looked at Middle School as something far in the future, when I grow up. I didn't want to grow up. I was enjoying my life as a kid right at that moment. I didn't think about the future.

Kids in my class told many rumors of Middle School life that filled me with fear and sent a shiver through my spine. Even through watching movies and T.V. shows I got a glimpse of what was in store for a Middle Schooler. There was talk of girls, and how it would soon be "cool" to be popular with the girls. Girls were like completely foreign creatures to me. I never interacted with them... I wasn't expected to. In Elementary School, boys played with boys and girls played with girls. That was what I was used to. That was my world. I heard stories of how boys are expected to start kissing girls in Middle School ! Such things overwhelmed me. I tried to dismiss it as much as I could and enjoy my life in the present moment.

My school arranged a camping trip for the entire Fifth Grade class before graduation day. At first I didn't want to go because I would be away from my parents for five days, something I was never used to. I was afraid I would get too homesick. I never spent more than one night away from my parents. On the rare occasion that they had to go out of town for a few days and left me with a nanny, I would cry at night.

My teacher Mrs. Damart came up to me one morning before class started and persuaded me to go, saying that the graduation trip was something I wouldn't want to miss. It would be a once in a lifetime experience, and after some hesitation I agreed to go along.

I forgot exactly where this camping trip took place. It was located at a special camping retreat somewhere in the forest to the north of Los Angeles. It was very secluded... a small village of cabins and tents surrounded by wilderness and hiking trails. For the trip there, I decided to go with my friends Bryce and Charlie in a car instead of taking the school bus with everyone else. This was much more comfortable, and I was glad to have snagged a spot in the car with them.

Everyone was assigned to groups of five to share a cabin or a tent. I was originally placed in the group with Charlie, Bryce, and a few others... but that group was given a tent to sleep in. I was appalled by how drab and uncomfortable the tents looked. I wanted a cabin. So I went to my teacher and asked to be transferred to a group that was sleeping in a cabin. She placed me in a group of some cool skateboarder kids, including Michael, Sam, Trevor, Matt, and Stephen. I felt a sense of pride to be part of this group.

During the daytime on this trip, the whole Fifth Grade class participated in games, outdoor activities, nature hikes, and barbeques. It was great fun. Nighttime in the cabin was like having a sleepover with five people, and it was a new experience that excited me. Before bedtime, Michael Ray took out a magazine that had pictures of beautiful model women, and all of the boys gathered around and looked at them. So... even at the early age of ten, boys were starting to be attracted to the female body. I didn't understand this... I hadn't yet reached that stage. I pretended to be interested just so that I wouldn't appear uncool. All of those boys probably lost their virginity by sixteen. Damn them.

The trip ended up being so fun that I didn't cry at all about being away from my parents for so long. A

nd finally, it was time to graduate from Elementary School. Before the ceremony, our whole class watched a video full of footage of school life throughout the year. I saw a few glimpses of myself caught in the footage, and I felt gratified. My life at Topanga Elementary School was a blast, full of memorable experiences and wonderful times.

I dressed in a nice shirt with a tie for the ceremony. All of the Fifth Graders lined up and walked down an isle through the center of the Auditorium, with the audience of parents and siblings on either side. When I saw my parents, they looked so proud of me. Each student had to walk up to their teacher on the stage and receive a graduation award. We weren't required to give a speech, to my relief. I would be too nervous to talk in front of an audience. The graduation theme song was "Time of Your Life" by the band Green Day, one of my favorite bands. Whenever I would hear this song again, I would think about that glorious day, and the memories would make me feel an extreme sense of nostalgia. In the afternoon, there was a graduation party at the Top of Topanga community recreation center, a lovely place that provided a view of the whole Valley.

My mother took me to have dinner at the sushi restaurant Kabuki afterwards. It was just me and her. As we sat down at the restaurant after all the excitement, I took a moment to fully ponder over the fact that Elementary School was all over. It was done. I felt so accomplished and proud... I was happy, things were good. But along with that happiness was a feeling of sadness that I will be leaving all of those experiences behind. A whole chapter of my life had just passed, and a new one was beginning. That day was such an extraordinary day. A day to remember, a memory to cherish.

For the first few weeks of summer, mother arranged playdates with various friends and acquaintances I made from Topanga Elementary, including Trevor Bourget, Matt Bordier, Charlie Converse, John Jo Glen, and Philip Bloeser. It was interesting to have Trevor and Matt over. I never thought I would have playdates with them. Matt was one of the coolest kids in the school; he was a skateboarder and a baseball player who seemed to garner respect from everyone. I envied him during Elementary School even when we were friends, and I would deeply envy and hate him later on in life, when I find out how much success he would have with girls.

Again, I repeat, that as children we all play together as equals in a fair environment. Only after the advent of puberty does the true brutality of human nature show its face. Life will become a bitter and unfair struggle for self-worth, all because girls will choose some boys over others. The boys who girls find attractive will live pleasure-filled lives while they dominate the boys who girls deem unworthy. Matt Bordier will go on to live a life of pleasure. Girls will throw themselves at him. And I will go on to be rejected and humiliated by girls. At that moment in time, we were just playing together as children, oblivious to the fact that my future will be dark and his will be bright. Life is such a cruel joke.

My mother continued to take me to Northridge Skatepark every Friday, and I also attended a skateb

oard camp at Pedlow Skatepark for a couple of weeks. At this camp I bumped into one of the kids I played with around father's house.

I had been trying very hard to get better at skateboarding, but when I saw that there were boys a lot younger than me who could do more tricks, I realized that I sucked. I was never good at sports or any physical activity, and when I discovered skateboarding, I thought that finally here was a sport that I could excel in and even became a professional at. It crushed me a little inside to see that I was a failure at skateboarding after more than a year of practicing it. I could never master the kickflip or heelflip. All I could do was the ollie jump and ride down a few ramps. I saw eight-year-old boys at the skatepark who could do a kickflip with ease, and it made me so angry. Why did I fail at everything I tried? I asked myself. My dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder were over. I felt so defeated.

Because of this, my interest in skateboarding slowly faded away during this summer. James had recently told me that he was no longer interested in the sport, so I no longer had him to skateboard with anyway. I just decided to forget about it for the moment.

James's family moved to a new house in Malibu. The house was owned by the Lemelson's, and they were staying in it temporarily. Mother took us there a few times where I adventured with James in the wilderness area that surrounded the house. We would often go to a small plaza in the center of Malibu. There was a playground there, with a few shops and restaurants surrounding it.

It was time for my 11th birthday. I was at mother's house and just decided to have a small playdate for my birthday. I invited James over, along with another kid who I had befriended at the Woodland Hills recreation center. My mother made a small cake, I blew out the candles, and that was it. I was eleven years old.

11 Years Old

The trip to France and England began shortly after my birthday. We had been talking about it for a while at father's house, and I was really excited to go. We traveled on Virgin Atlantic Upper Class. I was extremely enthusiastic about this, as I always loved luxury and opulence.

We stopped by in England for a couple of days to say hello to grandma Jinx. The cousins weren't there, they were already in France, so it was a bit boring. When we arrived in France, the feeling of wonder and curiosity swept over me as it always did when I visited a foreign country. The last time I was in France, I was only a few weeks old. This was the first time I was able to truly experience the country. France was a whole different world, and it was a world that I liked. French culture is so exquisite and refined compared to American culture.

After booking a couple of rooms at a small Inn near the town of Toulouse, we met up with Jonny and the cousin's at Aunt Jenny's house. Aunt Jenny is my father's sister, and the last time I saw her was when I lived in England, before the move to America. She had a few kittens in her house that I loved to play with.

George and I immediately resumed our friendship that started in the spring. There was a vast forested area surrounding the house. George told me there were lots of wild boars in the forest, so we went "wild boar hunting". It was just a game, and we never ended up seeing any boars at all, but the suspense of possibly finding one was what made it fun.

We stayed in Toulouse for about a week, and then we said goodbye to the relatives and set off to tour the country. We toured many cultural towns and stayed in castle-style hotels. This should have been a great experience for me, but my conflicts with Soumaya soured it. There were a few incidents in which she punished me by making me stay in my hotel room while she, father and Georgia all went out to dinner at a restaurant. I hated her for this.

On the way back, we stopped at grandma Jinx's house in England for a week. The cousins were there this time, and it was a lot of fun. We all slept in one room, so it was like having one big sleepover. One day we went on a trip to a museum, where I had an argument with Soumaya. She shouted at me in front of George and threatened to punish me. This was so embarrassing that I fell into a miserable mood for the rest of the day. I always loved traveling, but I learned that traveling with Soumaya just ruins the whole experience. And this wouldn't be the last time I would be forced to travel with Soumaya either, to my utmost dismay.

The trip lasted three weeks in length, the perfect length of time for a vacation, in my opinion. I quite enjoyed it, if I don't count the times Soumaya ruined it.

It felt nice to be back home after a long, cultural vacation. At father's house, my nanny Tracy got into an argument with father, and she was forced to leave. I was sad to see her go. She was always pleasant and fun to be around. Once Tracy left, Georgia and I would no longer have any nannies. We were getting too old for it. I wasn't a little child anymore... having nannies became a thing of the past. From now on, if father and Soumaya had to go out to a dinner party, they would just hire a baby-sitter to look after us, and soon I would be old enough to stay by myself in the house.

I got a haircut, and this time I decided not to bleach my hair blonde. The black hair always grew out anyway, so the full-blonde look only lasted for a couple of weeks. Having blonde hair seemed to have lost its spark, so I just didn't bother with it anymore.

The summer was pleasant and relaxing, but it quickly came to an end. The time for Middle School had come. My fear of this day haunted the back of my mind all summer. I was enrolled at Pinecrest Middle School for Sixth Grade. I had mixed feelings about going to this school because I didn't like my experience there during kindergarten. Father said it's the best option for me, because it was a small private school. I didn't want to go to a large school like Hale Middle School... that would have been too overwhelming for me.

On the first day, I was shaking with anxiety and fear. I didn't know what to expect. Transitioning to Middle School was a big deal for me, even more so than starting elementary school. I was much older and I cared more about what people thought of me. I was no longer an innocent little child who didn't have to worry. I had to worry about a lot of things, and oh, did I worry! It was a whole new school full of people I didn't know. They all previously went to elementary school together, so most of them already knew each other. That made me even more nervous. The only person I knew who was going to Pinecrest was a geeky kid named Nate Grossman, who I didn't really interact with that much in Topanga.

I also felt an intense fear of what Middle School life would be like. I didn't know how to act around girls, I didn't know what was cool anymore, I had no friends there. I simply didn't know what to do. I felt like I was walking into a snowstorm without a coat.

My parents led me into the school to say goodbye, and then it was time for me to start my first class. I had to take multiple classes with different teachers now. This was also a new concept for me and it made me extremely uncomfortable. Since this was a private school, I had to wear a uniform, something I hadn't done since going to Dorsett House in England. I thought of this as a good thing though... I didn't have to worry about what I would have to wear on the first day.

For the first few days, I withdrew into a defensive shell and didn't really talk to anyone. I did observe, however. I observed how everyone acted, who the "cool kids" were, what they were like... and it was all so intimidating. The social challenges that I faced in Fifth Grade were intensified tenfold.

I noticed that there were two groups of cool, popular kids. There were the skateboarder kids, such as Vinny Maggio, Ashton Moio, Darrel, Wes, and Alex Dib. And then there were the boys who were popular with girls, including Vincent, Robert Morgan, and Oren Aks. They all seemed so confident and aggressive. I felt so intimidated by them, and I hated them for it. I hated them so much, but I had to increase my standing with them. I wanted to be friends with them.

I also observed the girls. I was still very short for my age, and most of the girls were taller than me. I hadn't reached puberty yet, but I was starting to admire female prettiness. There was one group of pretty, popular girls, and they all seemed to like hanging out with that boy Robert Morgan. I didn't yet desire girls sexually, but I still felt envy towards Robert for being able to attract the attention of all the popular girls. What was so special about Robert Morgan? I constantly asked myself. I tho

ught all of the cool kids were obnoxious jerks, but I tried as best as I could to hide my disgust and appear "cool" to them. They were obnoxious jerks, and yet somehow it was these boys who all of the girls flocked to. This showed me that the world was a brutal place, and human beings were nothing more than savage animals. Everything my father taught me was proven wrong. He raised me to be a polite, kind gentleman. In a decent world, that would be ideal. But the polite, kind gentleman doesn't win in the real world. The girls don't flock to the gentlemen. They flock to the alpha male. They flock to the boys who appear to have the most power and status. And it was a ruthless struggle to reach such a height.

It was too much for me to handle. I was still a little boy with a fragile mind. Thinking about such things would only crush my innocence, and it eventually will. But not at this point. I subconsciously wanted to enjoy my childhood as much as I could, so I tried not to think about this new revelation and enjoy life in the moment. I put it all aside, to be pondered over later.

My whole world had changed. The "cool" thing to do now was to be popular with girls. I didn't know how to go about doing that. Skateboarding, I was able to do... dressing well, that was simple... But attracting attention from girls? How in the blazes was I going to do that? I didn't even understand what was so special about it either, but everyone seemed to place so much importance on it. This made me even more shy, and I became known as the "shy new kid."

Thankfully, some kids started reaching out to me, and I had a few chances to integrate within a couple of weeks. The first boy to talk to me was Brice Miller. He asked me if I had any friends at the school, because he always saw me alone. I admitted that I had no friends, and he offered to be my first friend. I was very grateful for this.

Once again, I used skateboarding as a way to increase my standing, telling the skateboarder kids that I knew how to skateboard and that I could do some tricks. This got them to treat me more cordially. I even talked to Robert Morgan a few times, who I hated and yet subconsciously revered for being so popular. Whenever a so-called popular kid would say a word to me or give me a high five, I felt immense satisfaction.

Inevitably, I started to become known to the girls of my school; and surprisingly, they treated me quite well. It was a huge relief. Middle School would be the last time in my life where I wouldn't be completely invisible to girls. All of the pretty girls had a peculiar habit of hugging boys they knew as a form of greeting, and some of them hugged me. I didn't understand why, but it felt like the best feeling ever. I was one hundred-times more satisfied from getting a hug from a pretty girl than getting a high five from a popular boy. It was a new experience that enraptured every fiber of my being. The 7th and 8th grade girls were especially kind to me. I guess they thought I was "cute" in a boyish sort of way. This made my initial experience of Middle School much better.

I decided to attend the school dance in early October. A school dance was completely foreign to me. Elementary Schools didn't have them, of course, and I only knew about them from watching typical American shows on television. I thought it was something I had to do in order to be cool. I was very nervous, naturally, but I pushed myself to go ahead with it.

When I got there, Robert Morgan saw me and asked me if I wanted to hang out with his group. I was grateful for this, and I ended up having a nice time. I was shocked that some 7th and 8th grade girls offered to dance with me. They came up to me in a group and taught me how to "slow dance". I had to place my hands on their hips, while they placed their hands on my shoulders, and we would move slowly with the music. They were all taller than me, and I was terrified, but it felt so... good. That would be the only time in my life where I would have a satisfying experience with girls. The only time. H

alloween of this year marked the last time I would ever go trick-or-treating. After this year I would be too old for it. Mother took us to the Lemelson's, and I decided to not dress up in any costume. I went as myself, sporting my black Pinecrest sweater. As it was my last time trick-or-treating, it would be the last time I would have any sort of fun on Halloween. And I did have a lot of fun. It was nice to go out collecting candy with James and Noah, like we had been doing for several years past.

My father cut off a portion of the child support he had been paying my mother, which forced my mother to move house. We moved to a small blue house on Glade Avenue in Canoga Park. I didn't like Canoga Park at all. It was a very ugly and low-class area to the north or Woodland Hills, and I felt it demeaning that we would have to live there during mother's week.

The house did have some upsides. It had four bedrooms and a bigger living room than mother's old house. My new room was a lot larger than my old one. And of course, my mother always had her own ways of making everything better. I would still enjoy my time at mother's small house more than my time at father's big Woodland Hills house.

Along with this move, there came a new change in our rotation schedule. My parents decided that we would stay at our mother's house more, instead of switching one week-one week. Mother would have us for all of the weekdays, and we would go to father's on the weekends when he was in town. A

round the same time that my mother moved, James's family moved as well, to another Lemelson- owned house in the Palisades. They would only remain in this house for a very brief period, because a tragic event would soon occur in James's family.

One day at school, I was sitting in my class when I was suddenly called to the office. My mother was there, waiting to pick me up. I got into her car, and the three of us drove out of my school and parked on the side of Shoup Avenue. She told us the dire news. James's mother, Kim Ellis, had just passed away from breast cancer. I cried for a bit. Kim was a very kind-hearted person, and the mother of my best friend. She had been suffering from breast cancer for several years, but I never thought she would die from it. I immediately thought of how James must be feeling. He just lost his own mother! It made me think of how horrible I would feel if the same thing happened to my own mother, just the thought alone filled me with pain.

There was to be a get-together of family friends at James's house that night, in honor of Kim. On the way, I thought about how I would approach James on the subject. The amount of grief he must be feeling... I couldn't even imagine it. The last similar experience was the death of my grandfather, and I was only four years old then. When we arrived, I looked for James, and found him sitting in his room. I gently offered my deepest condolences for his loss. He remained very strong, obviously hiding his emotions. He looked very sad, in an extremely stoic sort of way. He told me he fully accepted what had happened, that his mother was dead and that was the end of it. That was all we spoke on the matter. We tried not to think about it for the rest of the night, and later on I played tag in his backyard with him and some of his friends.

I remained very shy during my Sixth Grade year, and I would always be labeled as a quiet kid. I wasn't able to establish any friends that I could have playdates with, so the only playdates I had was with old friends from Topanga Elementary. This filled in the social void, and I was content with it.

I tried my best to improve my social situation during school time. A few girls continued to pay attention to me, saying hi as I walked by them and occasionally giving me hugs, but I felt bitter at the fact that I wasn't able to truly hang out with them like the popular boys were doing.

In order to not be seen as a complete loner at school, I ended up making friends with a kid named Connor Hanrahan. Connor was not a popular kid, because girls didn't like him. Despite this, he was one of the most pompous assholes of the school, even more so than any of the most popular boys. Connor was a true bully. I started hanging out with him during recess and lunch, and we made a few jokes with each other and had a few good laughs, but he would always push me around and act tough. I was so timid back then that I didn't care. I just wanted someone to hang out with.

When I stayed back after school one day, my mother saw me with Connor when she came to pick me up. She has been concerned about me not making any new friends at Pinecrest, and I suppose she was relieved to see me with a "friend". She invited Connor to come over to my house, which he accepted. I was a bit hesitant to invite anyone from Pinecrest to my mother's house, because it was located in Canoga Park, a bad area, and most of the kids at Pinecrest were upper-middle class who would look down on me for living there. But I couldn't back out of this once my mother invited Connor. He came over and all went well, we played a few video games for a couple of hours. But after that playdate, he would always rip on me for living in a "poor" house. He would also tell other kids at Pinecrest about it. This infuriated me to no end, and I would keep proclaiming that my father lives in a prestigious three- story house in the Woodland Hills Heights. I became vehemently obsessed with proving to Connor and everyone else that I wasn't poor. I went so far as to bring pictures of my father's house to school. I even considered inviting some people over to father's house, but I remembered my vow of never doing that due to the possibility that another incident would happen with Soumaya, like the one that occurred years ago.

It was at eleven years old when I first started using the internet on a regular basis. The internet was still considered a new phenomenon at the time. Before eleven, I roughly knew how to browse websites and use email, but once I fully immersed myself in it, it really fascinated me.

The popular social networking tool at that period was AOL instant messenger, or "AIM". I made my first AIM account on my mother's computer, and she would let have one hour a day to explore it. I joined a few chat rooms. The prospect of talking to strangers from a computer was new and astounding to me.

Towards the end of sixth grade, I still hadn't made a group of friends who I could see outside of school. The only social interactions I had outside of school were playdates with old friends from Topanga every now and again. Joining chatrooms through AOL temporarily filled in the social void for a few weeks. This will definitely not be the first time I would try to fill in that void with the internet.

Once I established myself in the chat rooms, I made a few friends who I instant messaged frequently. Most of them were in middle school and some were in high school. I also talked to a few people I knew from Pinecrest over AIM.

One friend who I met through a chat room suddenly emailed me pictures of beautiful naked girls, telling me to "check this out". When I looked at the pictures, I was shocked beyond words. I had never seen what beautiful girls looked like naked, and the sight filled me with strong and overwhelming emotions. I didn't know what was happening to me. Was it the first inkling of sexual desire in my body? I was traumatized. My childhood was fading away. Ominous fear swept over me, and I stopped talking to that person.

As the Sixth Grade year came to a close, I felt dissatisfied and insignificant. Indeed, a whole new world had opened up before me, and I had no idea how to prevail in it. I still wanted to live as a child.

I never established any proper friends at Pinecrest, and the only playdate I had was the one with Connor that my mother arranged, and that turned out to be a disaster for me. My mother and father both showed concern that I wasn't making any friends, but because I still saw some friends from Topanga, they didn't make a big deal out of it.

I consider Sixth Grade to be the better year out of the three years I would spend in Middle School. Girls actually paid attention to me. They knew who I was and I didn't feel like I was completely invisible. I was extremely shy with girls and could barely have a conversation with them, but I still interacted with girls more during this year than I would for any following year. The cool kids treated me nicely, despite my reputation as the "quiet kid". I always felt like a loser compared to them, and I hated them for it, though I still wanted their approval. I wanted to be one of them... I wanted to be their friend.

The closest I came to truly being one of them was when Vinny and Robert both invited me to their birthday parties, which were only a couple of weeks apart at the very end of the school year. Both parties were at Skatelab skatepark. I hadn't been to Skatelab for about a year, and when I walked in, all of the memories of going there with James filled my mind. I hadn't even skateboarded for a while, but after a few minutes on the ramps my ability came back like magic. They were all quite impressed. I bet they thought I would end up sucking at it. I was happy to prove them wrong.

Indeed, Sixth Grade was the peak of my life at Pinecrest. It would only go downhill from there.

My mother bought me a brand new video game console, the Xbox. I heard a lot of kids talking about how great the Xbox was at school, so I was really eager to have one. I liked the Xbox much more than the Playstation 2. The graphics were better and the games were more to my taste. With the Xbox, I got the game Halo. At first, I found Halo to be very difficult and I gave up on it a few times. I had no idea that Halo would soon become one of my favorite video game series that I ever played.

I was extremely happy and relieved when summer came. Middle School was much more stressful than Elementary School, both socially and academically. Summer would provide a well-needed break from all of it.

I started seeing some old friends from Topanga more frequently. Among these were John Jo Glen and Charlie Converse. Charlie wasn't really one of my main friends at Topanga Elementary. I had a few playdates with him here and there, but not that many. It was only until after Fifth Grade graduation that our real friendship began. He always had a charming and humble personality, and he was well-liked by everyone at Topanga. He came over to my mother's house a few times after I got my Xbox, where he tried to help me get past the hardest level on Halo. John Jo and Charlie were very close friends with each other, and eventually I would start to see them at the same time.

John Jo invited me to his father's apartment in Hollywood for a sleepover. I found his apartment to be very dingy, but I had so much fun that I didn't even care. He lived just across the street from the huge Scientology building. We got together with a group of his friends and snuck into the building's courtyard at night to play hide-and-seek tag. This was the first time I had been out having fun with a group of kids my age without any adult supervision. It was very amusing. When we went back to his apartment, we played Conker's Bad Fur Day on the Nintendo 64. The Nintendo 64 was a very old console at this point in time, especially after I now had an Xbox and a PS2, but I was entertained by Conker's Bad Fur Day so much that I asked my mother to buy it for me the next day.


Ellis moved yet again to another house in the Palisades. After the death of his mother, James's father Arte quickly made the decision to move again. Arte rented a small house on Temecula Street, near the renowned Palisades Bluffs. There they would remain for a very long time, and all of the most significant experiences I would have with James in the future would take place there.

At this time, though, I wasn't seeing James that much. We slowly drifted apart after we lost our common interest in skateboarding. We still considered each other friends, and we would still see each other occasionally, almost as a courtesy. But our friendship would be at a standstill during our middle school years.

I was enjoying a lovely summer, but suddenly my mother said that I had to go to summer camp at Pinecrest. This was a decision she made with my father, because they thought it would be healthy for me. I didn't like this one bit. It was a last minute decision. One moment I was relaxing and enjoying my summer break, the next my mother is waking me up early to take me to my first day of camp at Pinecrest. Gratefully, summer camp would only last for four weeks.

Summer camp at Pinecrest was located at the Elementary School section, and I recognized my old kindergarten class. It was a mix of middle school and elementary school kids, and I made a few friends with some kids who were younger than me.

At this camp, an incident happened that would scar me for life. The first time that I was treated badly by a girl occurred at this camp. I was innocently playing with the friends I made, and they were tickling me, something people always did because I was very ticklish. I accidently bumped into a pretty girl the same age as me, and she got very angry. She cursed at me and pushed me, embarrassing me in front of my friends. I didn't know who this girl was... She was only at Pinecrest for summer camp... But she was very pretty, and she was taller than me. I immediately froze up and went into a state of shock. One of my friends asked me if I was ok, and I didn't answer. I remained very quiet for the rest of the day.

I couldn't believe what had happened. Cruel treatment from women is ten times worse than from men. It made me feel like an insignificant, unworthy little mouse. I felt so small and vulnerable. I couldn't believe that this girl was so horrible to me, and I thought that it was because she viewed me as a loser. That was the first experience of female cruelty I endured, and it traumatized me to no end. It made me even more nervous around girls, and I would be extremely weary and cautious of them from that point on.

Before summer camp ended, I saw that same girl hanging out with Oren Aks a few times. Oren Aks was one of the popular kids in my grade. I hated Oren so much when I saw him with her. It made me feel so inferior... that this girl was mean to me and yet she liked Oren. Thankfully, Oren wouldn't be returning to Pinecrest for Seventh Grade, and I would never see him again. I wonder what became of him... I bet he lived a good life.

I felt relieved when summer camp ended. That experience with the mean girl ruined it for me. Hell, it ruined a part of my life. Whenever I think about summer camp I would think about that girl, and my emotions would flare up.

My 12th birthday followed. I decided not to do anything for it. Mother took me and my sister out to a Japanese restaurant to celebrate it. Twelve seemed like a big number to me back then. One more year and I would be a teenager. It was hard to believe.

12 Years Old

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 cafe 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 imbecile.

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. A

lfred 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 sport.

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 quite close.

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 experience.

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 years.

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 prepared...

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 J

effrey 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 memory.

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 th 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 wonderful.

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.

13 Years Old

I enjoyed the rest of the summer as best as I could. On the first Planet Cyber session after being back from vacation, I met up with John Jo. They had the new Warcraft 3 expansion available to play, and the two of us tried it out.

I had a sleepover with Charlie and Elijah, and they introduced me to their friend Julian Ritz-Barr. Julian went to Topanga Elementary with us, though he was two grades lower, so I never knew him beforehand. I thought he was very cool, but a bit stupid. We competed with each other at Planet Cyber. I continued to see him with Charlie and Elijah a few more times after that.

Coincidentally, Julian's parents were friends with Rob Lemelson, and I didn't know this at the time. A few years down the line, I would cross paths with Julian again at one of the Lemelson's parties, where I would spitefully envy him for being so confident with everyone.

When the summer ended, I cried a little. It was such a great summer. I went on a vacation, I saw lots of friends, played lots of games, and enjoyed life to its fullest. Of course, I didn't know at the time that this was the last good summer in my life, but I still cried... as I always do after a joyful experience comes to an end.

Eighth Grade began on a very mellow note. For the first couple of months, I continued on with the life I've been living, and things seemed ok. The main people I hung out with at school were Alfred Graham, Gavin Dowd, and Brice Miller. Alfred was just getting good at skateboarding, and he was starting to become popular with the skateboarders. He once brought his skateboard to school and landed a kickflip, the move I was never able to master in the past. I was secretly jealous, even though I insisted to everyone that I was no longer interested in skateboarding.

I started to take more notice of the kids in lower grades, specifically the Seventh Graders. There was one who came in from Topanga Elementary, the older brother of one of Georgia's friends. His name was Neil Davis. I observed the popular kids of Seventh Grade... In a way they visually mimicked the popular kids of my own grade. They were all the same, though the Seventh Graders seemed a lot meaner. I noticed that Neil Davis was starting to be friends with them, even with the pretty girls. I would gradually develop a great envy towards him. Another one was Lucky Radley, the black kid I played with in father's neighborhood. He transferred to Pinecrest during that very year, and he immediately became popular with the pretty girls of his grade. I hated him for it.

Things were getting more intense every year we grew older, and I didn't want to grow up. I wanted to live the life I was comfortable with. I wanted to live in a world of fairness, and I tried not to accept that it would soon come to an end.

The games I enjoyed playing at Planet Cyber were too powerful to run on my mother's computer, so Planet Cyber was the only place I could play them. That was until I asked my father to buy me Warcraft 3 to install on his powerful laptop. I got the Frozen Throne expansion to go with it, and once it was installed I was able to play it on his laptop whenever he allowed me to. I thought it was really cool to actually play an online game from my own home. Father's house became a lot more fun after this, though I hated it when Soumaya set limits on my playtime.

When father invited the Bubenheims over, Alex sometimes brought his friends Gary and Antje Twinn. They had a son named Vincent, who was the same age as my sister and a good friend of Lukas. Vincent was a kind-hearted and sweet little boy who was a bit overweight. I showed him Warcraft 3 on my father's computer. He was very interested in the game, and he would watch me for hours. He really looked up to me. We got along well.

One day, I was looking up things on the internet about Warcraft 3. That is when I found out about a new, revolutionary Warcraft game coming out, called World of Warcraft. I didn't think much of it at the time, ignorant of the effect it would have on me in my later life.

Gradually, my friendship with John Jo, Charlie, and Elijah started to wane. They no longer came over as a group anymore. Our usual Friday sleepovers stopped happening, as they got more busy with other things. John Jo and Charlie slowly started to get bored of Planet Cyber, which caused them to lose their interest in coming over every week. I continued to see them individually; sometimes I would see Charlie and Elijah together, sometimes just Elijah, and sometimes just John Jo.

Due to them coming over less often, I began to walk to Planet Cyber alone. I never did this before, because my friends came over so much and we would go together. I would usually play Diablo 2 or Warcraft 3 there. For a time, I did this as a routine without getting bored. Sometimes I would meet John Jo there and we would have intense Warcraft 3 competitions with each other.

After a few more weeks into autumn, I began to get a bit depressed over the fact that the good times I had with my main group of friends was fading away. I started to walk to Planet Cyber alone just to reminisce such times. Sometimes I would stay there for hours into the night. I never thought I would get bored of the highly entertaining games there, but after playing them so much on my own, I was surprised that I was getting a bit bored. Good times always come to an end, and I always had a hard time accepting this fact.

One time while I was alone at Planet Cyber, I saw an older teenager watching pornography. I saw in detail a video of a man having sex with a hot girl. The video showed him stick his penis inside a girl's vagina. I didn't know anything about sex at the time. I barely even knew what sex was. I was slowly starting to develop sexual feelings for hot girls, but I didn't know what to do with them. To see this video really traumatized me. I had no idea what I was seeing... I couldn't imagine human beings doing such things with each other. The sight was shocking, traumatizing, and arousing. All of these feelings mixed together took a great toll on me. I walked home and cried by myself for a bit. I felt too guilty about what I saw to talk to my parents about it. I was quite shaken for a few days.

This was among the very first glimpses I had of sex. Finding out about sex is one of the things that truly destroyed my entire life. Sex... the very word fills me with hate. Once I hit puberty, I would always want it, like any other boy. I would always hunger for it, I would always covet it, I would always fantasize about it. But I would never get it. Not getting any sex is what will shape the very foundation of my miserable youth. This was a very dark day.

Soon enough, I would inevitably find out about what sex was, whether I saw that foul video or not. Boys at my school started talking about it. Connor Hanrahan and his friend Jordan Carlton one day told me exactly what happens when a man and a woman have sex. Finding out about sex was just the beginning of my horrific downfall.

My father and mother arranged to change our routine back to one-week, one-week. Father wanted to spend more time with us, and it was agreed that this would be the way. I was angry about this, because I felt satisfied with the way things were. If it went back to one-week, one-week, I would have to spend time at father's even if father wasn't there, and I hated that. I didn't see how it enabled father to spend more time with us, because he was always going away for work anyway. But alas, I had no choice in the matter, and the arrangement was set. This is how it would remain from that point on... My living arrangement wouldn't change again until I turn 18 and Soumaya kicks me out.

When Christmas came, I told father that I would like a new computer game. Father took me out shopping for my new present. We first went to Comp USA on Victory Boulevard, but they didn't have a large selection of games. I was on the verge of just choosing to buy Diablo 2, a game I had already spent hours on at Planet Cyber. But then, I decided that since Best Buy was just across the street, we should go and have a look at the games there.

At Best Buy, I saw the game World of Warcraft. It had just come out a few weeks ago. I picked up the box and looked at it for a few minutes. The game looked amazing and alluring, so I decided to choose World of Warcraft as my Christmas present. I spent more time looking it over and reading about it on the way home.

The only computer I could play World of Warcraft on was father's laptop, but father was always using his laptop for work. I had to wait a long time to get a chance to play it. After reading the game manual, I got extremely excited to play it. It was a whole new type of game for me, an MMORPG that would enable me to make my own character in a huge online fantasy world, and it was a world I was already familiar with through playing Warcraft 3. This game was a hundred times bigger than any game I've played in the past. The more I read about the game, the more anticipated I became.

After almost a month went by after getting World of Warcraft, I was finally able to play it. I made a WoW account with my father, and then I created my first character, a night elf druid. It really blew my mind. My first experience with WoW was like stepping into another world of excitement and adventure. It was a video game world, but they made it so realistic that it was like living another life, a more exciting life. My life was getting more and more depressing at that point, and WoW would fill in the void. It felt refreshing and relieving. I was only able to play it for a few hours for my first session. It was all I would think about when I wasn't able to play it.

Mother didn't have a good enough computer to run World of Warcraft, so I felt a bit frustrated because of that. I thought of how awesome it would be if Planet Cyber had the game, but I doubted that it did. One afternoon, I walked to Planet Cyber with my WoW disks and asked them if they can install my disks onto one of their computers. The owner told me the game was already being installed, and I was thrilled to hear those words. It wasn't ready yet, however, and I had to wait. I kept going back to Planet Cyber every day to wait for it, and played other games there while they were still processing it. It was a fun wait, and I knew I will eventually be able to play it. Finally, after spending three days at Planet Cyber waiting, it was ready. I loaded the game and logged onto my account. I was completely ecstatic. I spent all of my free time in the next few days playing it. The owner of Planet Cyber came to know me because of this series of events, and he named me his best customer.

I invited Charlie over, and he came with Stephen, an old friend from Topanga Elementary whom I hadn't seen for a while. I found out that they both had their own WoW accounts, and we went to Planet Cyber to play it together. I made a new character on their server just to play with them, though I would eventually discard this character.

I saw Charlie only a few more times after that. Elijah was busy with some life problems and stopped coming over. John Jo simply vanished from my life at this point, for no particular reason. I can't recall the exact last time I saw him, but it was around this period.

My mother decided to move to an apartment in Woodland Hills. I reacted indignantly. An apartment! I had never lived in an apartment before, and I always thought of apartments as being poor and low- class. I would be embarrassed to admit it to anyone.

The apartment building was called the Renaissance Apartments, near the Warner Center area of Woodland Hills. We moved into a two bedroom apartment. Mother knew I was too old to share a room with my sister, so she gave me the second bedroom, and she and my sister shared the master bedroom.

Leaving the blue house on Glade Avenue was hard. I had so many good times with my friends there. And to move out of it at the very time that I stopped seeing those friends... it was quite emotional. I cried on our last day there.

My mother's new apartment was not walking distance from Planet Cyber, and I was a bit embarrassed to show that I lived in an apartment, so I stopped seeing any friends. Elijah was the last person in the group who I saw. I was at Planet Cyber and he tapped me on the shoulder. It was a random meeting. The two of us talked for a bit about the new Halo 2 game, and I showed him my WoW character. That was the last time I saw him.

Eventually, I lost all contact with Charlie, John Jo, and Elijah. The friends I had such a good times with for the last two years were no longer my friends. They were lost to me. I also stopped seeing Philip and Jeffrey... they simply just forgot about me, I assumed. The only friend who remained to me was James Ellis.

The upside of moving to the apartment was that my mother acquired high speed internet. I was able to play World of Warcraft on her computer, along with Halo 2 on Xbox Live.

This was the point when my social life ended completely. I would never have a satisfying social life ever again. It was the beginning of a very lonely period of my life, in which my only social interactions would be online through video games, with the sole exception being my friendship with James. The ability to play video games with people online temporarily filled in the social void. I got caught up in it, and I was too young and naive to realize the severity of how far I had fallen. I was too scared to accept it. This loss of a social life, coupled with the advent of puberty, caused me to die a little inside. It was too much for me to handle, and I stopped caring about my life and my future. I even stopped caring about what people thought of me. I hid myself away in the online World of Warcraft, a place where I felt comfortable and secure.