basic judo

For a more mature and outgoing eighteen-year-old, ten months in LA could’ve been a truly emancipating experience. I mainly just cycled down to Venice beach, got ice cream and watched the street basketball tournaments. A couple of days a week, my much older, Leicester born, expatriated cousins’ would ask me to pick their kids up from school and keep them occupied until they got home. Most often, this involved watching a TV show about a team of colourful crime fighting ninjas called the Rainbow Rangers. Watching the Rainbow Rangers regularly led to playing the Rainbow Rangers, a game that involved me being neck-chopped and ball-kicked into submission, and from then on, the discipline of martial arts was to become a troubling reminder of my time in LA for a long time afterwards.

 + + +

Here’s how it starts. One of cousins, Karen, had started having Judo lessons shortly before I arrived. She returned from her class one evening and came out to the garden to find me laying on the trampoline, nursing my trodden-on testicles.

  ‘Hey babe, thanks for collecting the kids.’

  ‘No worries.’

  ‘What did you do today?’

  ‘Just went down to the beach and watched the basketball.’

  ‘Who won?’

  ‘Not sure. But one man threatened to shoot another. And the bike got a puncture.’

  ‘Cool. Hey, so, do you have any plans this Saturday night?’ she asked, knowing that I didn’t.

  ‘Not really’ I said. ‘Why?’

  ‘That girl CC I told you about, who teaches at my Dojo. Would you like to go see a movie with her?’

  I was petrified. ‘A movie? Er, not too sure. Could do yeah.’

  ‘Great, I’ll tell her! She’s really fun, you’ll like her. And she’s really pretty.’

  ‘Is it this Saturday?’

  ‘Yeah. Why? Do you not want to go?’

  ‘No, I do. Just wondering.’

  ‘You’ll really like her. She’s funny.’

  ‘How old is she?’

  ‘She’s about your age I think. She’s just broken up with her boyfriend so I told her my cute British cousin was spending some time out here and she said she’d love to go out with you.’ Cute British cousin? What was she talking about? I was not an exquisite prize on the international marriage market. I was a sulky bastard with bad skin.

+ + +

I prepared as best I could. I bought a new shirt. I got a haircut. I bought aftershave. I also researched the movies currently showing to decide which most suited a first date. There was not a great selection to be honest. Fahrenheit 9/11? The Passion of the Christ? Or Alfie, a remake of the Michael Caine classic with Jude Law and Sienna Miller. A film about a charming, albeit reckless, womanizing, Englishman might work in my favour, I thought, though the game plan was probably a bit obvious.

+ + +

The night before the date, Karen came back from Judo and called through the house for me. She came into the kitchen where I was, with Nigel, her husband, a blunt Yorkshireman who seemed very incongruous to LA, I thought.

  ‘Hey. So. Just been speaking to CC.’

Yes, I thought. She’s had to cancel. Pretend to be disappointed.

  ‘She can’t make it?’

  ‘No, she’s really looking forward to it. But she said, rather than the movies, you guys are gonna go to Swingers.’ Swingers? What was Swingers?  

  Nigel pointed at me laughing. ‘Look at his face! He thinks she’s taking him to a sex party!’

  Karen continued. ‘It’s a mini golf place not far from where she lives. Do they call it crazy golf at home? It has a bar and grill and they do really good shrimp apparently, if you’re into that. I don’t know, I’ve never been, but a lot of the kids your age hang out up there. It’ll be fun. Better than sitting in the dark in silence.’

+ + +

In the morning, I got up early. Nigel had a set of golf clubs in the garage and I planned to practice my putting in the garden. Before leaving for work, Karen unhooked her car keys from the kitchen and chucked them to me.

‘I’m taking Nige’s truck, so you can use my car later. I probably won’t be back before you leave.’

‘What. Really?’

‘Yes, have fun! Just don’t get too drunk’ she said. ‘Or whatever, do. But just don’t crash my car.’ I looked down at my cupped hands confused. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked, amused. ‘Were you planning on putting her on the back of your bike?’

‘I was just going to walk. I thought you said it was close by?’ I said. Then, ‘And the bike’s got a puncture.’

 ‘Nobody here walks anywhere, babe.’


 ‘The golf place is close by her house, but she lives off the 405. You can’t walk down a freeway.’

  Nigel was watching TV on the sofa, eating breakfast. He didn’t break eye-contact with the news anchor as he uttered, ‘If you make her walk, that’s one less hole you’ll be seeing tonight, Tiger Woods. And if she does take you to a swingers do, you’ll need those car keys.’

+ + + 

I’d had my license for over a year and felt like I was capable driver. Tiger’s Road, the DVLA test centre in Leicester where I took my practical test was, anecdotally, one of the most difficult test centres in the UK to pass at. That was the word in my Sixth Form common room anyway. I passed (second time, whatever) with only three minors. I was one of the first intake of learners to experience the rigors of the Hazard Perception test. But, nothing could have prepared me for the frenzy of American roads. In England we had friendly mini-roundabouts and toucan crossings. In LA they had the Pregerson Interchange – a section of freeway designed by a child’s demented scribble. It was like I’d taken a wrong turn onto an airfield. Each lane was like a runway and the enormous SUVs and pickup trucks, twice the height of my cousin’s normal sized car, throttled their jet engines for takeoff. This was a few years before sat navs and smartphones, so as well as negotiating multiple lanes of chaos, I had to keep glancing down at my lap to read the directions I’d written on an envelope. You’d think this would’ve made me drive more cautiously, but I was reckless. I dove from lane to lane without signalling, wrenching the steering wheel around as if on an arcade game. I’d glance over at the car next to me and the driver’s face would have that wild, lip licking bloodlust you get when in a bumper car at the fun fair. I knew if I stalled the engine, or hesitated, they gleefully smash into my side like a warhead. I had no idea what most of the road signs meant either. I approached a left turn at a huge, buzzing intersection and I couldn’t tell whether I was supposed to stop and wait in the central reservation, so I took a risk. I slammed my foot down and accelerated over the lanes of crossing traffic. The car was almost on two wheels and I braced my body for impact, expecting to be smashed in the side and crushed by another vehicle. Extraordinarily, a slight mounting of the pavement as I pulled in front of CC’s house, twenty minutes late and drenched in sweat, was the closest I came to damaging Karen’s car.  

+ + +

I probably haven’t made it clear, but CC and I hadn’t yet seen each other. Facebook wasn’t a thing (except on the Intranet of Harvard University) and phones were of average intelligence. It was still a time when a blind date was possible. I turned the ignition off. This was it. Like I’d seen so many times in American films, I was about to lock my car and walk up the pathway to collect my date from her parents’ house. It was still hot and only the fly screen was shut, so I could hear their television from outside. I knocked on the netting, not an ideal surface for alerting people to your presence. Luckily, a dog barked and I heard it’s feet skittering on the wooden floor to find out what the fuck was going on. Next, a woman’s voice. ‘Hey! Sit down! What do you think you’re doing? Sit down!’

 A figure was approaching the screen door. It swung open and a friendly looking lady appeared. ‘Hello!’

  ‘Hi.’ I replied. ‘Are you…? You’re…?’ then I stopped speaking. Head tilted, she smiled at me expectantly. I had blanked on CC’s name. I had forgotten two repeating letters! A few more vast seconds of silence. The poor woman’s smile was beginning to spasm, eyebrows soaring across her forehead, willing me to finish the sentence. ‘…the Mum?’ I said.

  ‘Yeah,’ she said, chuckling, relieved. ‘I’m The Mom. And you must be Joe. Regina, lovely to meet you.’

  ‘Lovely to meet you too.’

  ‘Come in, come in.’ Inside the door, I started to take my shoes off. ‘Oh don’t be silly, she’ll be right out.’ She yelled through to some other room. ‘Christina! Joe’s here.’ Later in the evening I learned that the initials CC stood for Christina-Carolyn and it was the first time I’d ever encountered a double-barreled first name. At six syllables, I found it a bit greedy. The dog was barking at me again, but backing off when I went to stroke it, like a coward. ‘Don’t worry about her,’ said The Mom. ‘She’s friendly really. Tara, sit! Sit! Stop it Tara. Tara this is Joe, Christina’s friend from England.’ The dog was barking more now, clearly she didn’t like English people. ‘Hold on a minute, Joe. I’ll go and make sure she knows you’re here.’ I was left waiting in the hallway with the hostile dog, its bark sounding drier and more desperate with every yap. I took in my surroundings. There was a huge glass-doored cabinet filled with DVDs. The TV was the biggest one I’d seen in person. There were blankets covering all the sofas. My Mum hated settees covered in blankets. Through an archway there was the kitchen and I could hear sounds of cutlery in use. A man’s voice called out.

  ‘Tara! Here Tara! Tara, baby, come here.’ The dog followed the sound of a can being opened. ‘Here she is,’ I heard the man say. ‘There’s a good girl. You like that? Who’s out there, baby? Who is it? Who is it? Is your sister going on a date? Yes, she is. We hope her date is going to be respectful and shake my hand, don’t we baby? Yes, we do.’

Shit, he’s talking to me, I thought. He’s talking to me by pretending to talk to a dog. He’s using a dog as a communication device. He knows I can hear, so if I just stay quiet, he’ll take that as me being disrespectful. Should I go in there and outline my intentions? Too late, CC was walking down the hall, followed by The Mom. She was, unsurprisingly, very pretty. Still acquiring condition, but on her way to being a beautiful woman. She smiled at me sincerely, but I have no doubt that she was disappointed. By comparison, I looked and felt a lot smaller and younger.

  ‘Hey’ she said, accompanied by a little wave.

  ‘Hey’ I said, little waving too.

  ‘Thanks for saying you’d go out. My friends are, like, I don’t know, they’re being boring at the moment!’

  ‘Thanks for inviting me,’ I said.

  ‘How cute is that accent, Christina?’ said The Mom with a giddy laugh.

  ‘Mom, come on, we’ve heard a British accent before.’

  ‘Hey, what? I know but…sorry Joe,’ The Mom said. ‘I just wish I spoke in that lovely accent. You’re very lucky.’

  ‘Oh, well, thanks’ I said. Imagine, this woman, I thought, in Los Angeles California wishing that she had a Leicester accent.

  ‘She only listens to audiobooks narrated by Brits’ said CC.

  ‘Not only by Brits, but yes, a few. I was quite happy for the kids to listen to Harry Potter tapes!’

  ‘You put them on when we weren’t here!’

 She looked at me to explain. ‘I do love Stephen Fry’s voice.’ There was a pause, then uncertainty. ‘You know him right, Stephen Fry?’

I nodded and smiled. Was this Anglophilia in the genes? I should have insisted we see the Jude Law film. Swinging the car keys around my finger, Alfie-like, I said. ‘Is it far? Swingers?’

  ‘No it’s close by, but let’s just quickly introduce you to my Dad, otherwise…you know, he apparently wants to meet you, I don’t know.’

  ‘He just would like to say hello is all, Christina’ said Regina.

In the kitchen, the Dad was sat at a breakfast bar with a ridiculously overfilled sandwich. ‘Dad, this is Joe’ said CC. He turned and looked at me with the face of an executioner. He took an enormous, exaggerated bite of his sandwich and chewed like it had gum in. He was looking directly into my eyes as he made those big, uncomfortable first chews. His jaw looked close to dislocation. His mouth was still mushing the bread into submission when he began. ‘So Joe’. He swallowed, freeing up a bit more space. ‘Sojo! Hey, you like that. He’s already got a nickname!’ I smiled. ‘Where are you planning on taking my daughter tonight buddy and why should I let you?’

  CC interjected, ‘Dad, I told you, I’m taking Joe to Swingers.’

  ‘She told you Swingers about ten times, Mike’ said Regina who was also now in the kitchen.

  ‘Swingers, yeah, that’s right.’ He cleaned his teeth with his tongue and gave me an appraising look. ‘You like golf, Joe?’

  ‘A bit,’ I responded. ‘I don’t play loads to be honest.’

  ‘Who’s your favourite golfer? You a Tiger fan?’

  ‘Er, yeah. I like Tiger Woods,’ I said. ‘Nick Faldo is alright as well. And Lee Westwood.’ I had now named 100% of all golfers I knew. The Dad seemed satisfied.

  ‘Where in the UK you hailing from then, Sojo?’

  ‘Leicester’ I replied. ‘It’s like, right in the middle. Of England.’

  ‘I know where Leicester is’ he said. ‘I’ve spent a bit of time in the UK. I know about you guys. You know what I mean, Joe! Your Lucozade and your pasties. Am I right?’

  ‘Yeah’ I said, smiling.

  He laughed. ‘Goddamn you British. Ok. Swingers. And then what?’

  ‘Then I guess we’ll get something to eat?’ said CC.

  She looked at me. ‘Yeah. Sounds good,’ I said. ‘As long as it’s Lucozade and pasties.’ I looked for the Dad to acknowledge my brilliant callback, but nothing. He heard, but deliberately ignored it.

  ‘Right. Well. Ok then.’

  ‘Bye, Dad.’

  ‘Home by eleven,’ the Dad said.

  ‘Yeah should be.’

  ‘Should be?’

  ‘If it looks like it’s going to be later, I’ll text you.’

  ‘Well there’ll be no need for you to text me, will there? Because you will be back by eleven.’ He winked at me and I, out of fear, winked back, a co-conspirator in thwarting myself.

  ‘Exactly,’ CC replied, before kissing him on the cheek. And with that, we left.

+ + +

We had a few drinks before the game started. She seemed to find me quite amusing and was laughing a lot. I told her a story about the time I had my face punched in at a popular British seaside resort and she really seemed to find that funny. At the time, I thought it was because I told the story well, but looking back, I don’t think this was the case.

  ‘Wait, why? Why did he want to hit you?’

  ‘I’d accidently shone a laser pen in his eyes from across the street,’ I explained.

  ‘A laser pen? Like a laser pointer?’

  ‘Yeah, a laser pointer. I was trying to see how far it would go and it went in his eyes. Or so he said.’

  The comedy seemed to be in the detail for her. ‘So he came over and punched you right in the eye?’

  ‘Well, it was in the nose actually,’ I said.

  ‘Oh my god. Did it hurt?’

 I nodded solemnly. ‘My nostrils stung for about a day afterwards.’

  ‘What did he say? Was he shouting?’

  ‘I can’t really remember, I think he was pretty calm,’ I said. ‘But he pulled me up by the scruff of my t-shirt.’

  ‘What? What do you mean?’ I demonstrated by pulling with two hands at my shirt collar. ‘He ripped you open like Hulk Hogan?’

  ‘It didn’t rip, it just stretched the neck so it was all misshapen.’  She was waving her hand in front of her face now. It remains to this day the funniest I’ve ever appeared to be. I loved it. I mined for any additional details. ‘He also pushed me backwards’ I said, ‘and I fell over a restaurant A board. It collapsed underneath me!’ She didn’t laugh at that though. Ironically, it fell flat.

+ + +

The comedy did continue right up until the fourth hole. This was the set of my life. I was killing it. I was now telling her a story about when I fell off a moped in front of my old maths teacher. This is it, I thought. I have arrived. This is my land. Was Richard Curtis also playing crazy golf there that night? He must’ve been. I was the real-life inspiration for Colin and the American girls in Love Actually, surely.

  ‘So I get on the bike and go to see if it really is him…’

  ‘Uh huh.’

  ‘It is him! I recognise him straightaway, though it’s weird to see him not in a tweed suit, he was wearing jeans.’

But she had stopped listening and paced ahead to the next hole. She sat down on the ground cross-legged. Then she stood up again and looked about agitatedly.

  ‘Can we just.…shit.’

  ‘What’s up?’

  ‘Shit.’ Her face looked flushed and she put a hand to her groin.

  ‘You all right?’

  ‘I’ve…fucking…pissed my pants.’


  ‘I’ve pissed my pants. Fuck.’

I looked down and there was a dark patch spreading over her grey trousers. For anyone familiar with the borders of British counties, it almost resembled the outline of Buckinghamshire. I was stunned but thought the right thing to say was, ‘it’s ok’ so I said it, but it sounded insincere.

  ‘Quick,’ she ordered, ‘push me in the wadder.’ Wadder meant ‘water’ and here came my instinctive British courtesy at its best. Without even having fully processed what was happening, I did as she asked. Instantly and mechanically, I lifted my hands and shoved her shoulders so that she stumbled backwards and dropped waist-deep into the water. She squealed and splashed about playfully so she fully covered her wet patch. Watching her from the edge, I briefly entered some kind of abstract dream sequence, a dimension of slowed down sounds and kaleidoscopes. I could hear raised voices and my mind tuned back into my immediate environment. ‘HEY! What the FUCK, DUDE??’ I turned around and two older men at the next hole were pointing and shouting at me.

  ‘Douchebag just pushed his fucking girl in the wadder!’


  One of the women with them came marching over. ‘You need a hand, sweetie?’

  ‘No it’s fine,’ replied CC.

 She turned to me. ‘That water is disgusting you fucking idiot! It could be contaminated!’ I didn’t say anything. I just stood there defencelessly. What was happening? I had been foolish enough to think the date was going well. Now, just twenty-five seconds later, CC was soaked in her own urine, waist deep in pond water and I was being hurled with abuse by an angry mob.

+ + +

  ‘Where do you want to eat?’ I asked. We were in the car now. We had left without finishing Holes 5-9.

  ‘We could go to Johnny Rockets,’ she suggested. ‘If that’s cool with you? It’s open till ten.’ I didn’t say anything. I was wondering if the piss and pond water was going to soak through to Karen’s seats. ‘No? You don’t like Johnny Rockets?’

  I didn’t know what it was so I said ‘I don’t really know what it is.’

  ‘You don’t have Johnny Rockets in England?’

  ‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘What kind of food is it?’

  ‘Just hamburgers and stuff,’ she said. ‘But it’s like 50s style. The waiters have roller-skates.’

  ‘Ok cool. That sounds good.’

  ‘They also do awesome milkshakes…I can’t believe you don’t have Johnny Rockets in the UK.’

  I shrugged on behalf of my country. ‘We have Harry Ramsden’s though,’ I said. ‘It sells fish and chips.’

  ‘Is it 50s style too?’

  ‘I’m not sure. Kind of,’ I said. ‘But it’s not trying to be. It’s just old fashioned.’

  ‘Do they have roller-skates?’

  ‘I don’t think so.’

We were silent again for a minute.

  ‘Ok, take a left at the lights,’ she instructed. ‘Then it’s a few hundred metres on the right.’

That was it really. We had hamburgers and milkshakes and we resumed laughing. Now about a family sitting near us who were all wearing the same t-shirt. The pissing in pants incident was never mentioned again. She didn’t try to explain, or apologise, and I didn’t bring it up either.

+ + +

I saw her quite a bit after that. We went on a few more dates, and she also came over to my cousin’s house to hang out. We babysat for the kids a couple of times so Karen and Nigel could go out for dinner. The first time CC wore short sleeves I saw that she had deliberate, sore-looking scratches along her forearms. She saw me see them and again, neither of us said anything.

 + + +

One babysitting night we put on a film. Pirates of the Caribbean (The Curse of the Black Pearl). My mobile phone beeped and a text message notification lit up the screen. It was from Nigel. ‘Condoms in my bottom drawer if u need them mate haha.’ The only people who had my number for this cell, as I got used to calling it, were my two cousins, their husbands and now CC. Half an hour or so into the film, there was another message beep. I expected it to be Karen checking in on the kids (or Nigel: ‘Cigarettes in my top-drawer mate haha’) so I picked it up and read it. It was from a withheld number and said: ‘YOU BRITISH FUCK’. I stared out it for a few seconds trying to work out the joke and who it might be from.

  ‘What?’ I said, to myself. Then to CC. ‘This is weird. Look at this message.’

  She scanned it with a faint look of guilt. ‘That’s horrible. Who would send that?’ From the rehearsed way she said it I suspected that she knew who had sent it.

  ‘I don’t know. I can’t work out who it is.’

  ‘So strange.’

  ‘You haven’t given the number to anyone have you?’ I asked.

  ‘Have I? No. Why?’

  ‘Well, only you and my cousins have it really. I’m not saying you have, I’m just trying to think who it could be.’


  ‘I just mean as another way to get in touch with you or something?’

  ‘I haven’t given your number to anyone. Not that I can think of.’

  ‘Ok. Well, then it’s really weird.’ I paused. ‘Perhaps it’s from your Dad’ I suggested, smiling but partway serious.

She ignored that comment. We continued watching the film, neither of us concentrating. A few minutes later, another message arrived. I peered at the illuminated screen. Withheld number again.

  ‘Do you want me to read it?’ CC said. I shook my head and opened it. ‘What does it say?’ she asked.

  ‘It just says,’ I gulped, ‘you British pussy. All in capital letters.’

  She began to edge closer to a confession. ‘Oh no…I wonder if…no.’

  ‘You wonder if what?’

  ‘No. Nothing.’

  ‘Don’t do that. I feel like you might know who’s sent them.’

  ‘Er, no I don’t!’

  ‘So what are you saying? What do you wonder?’

  ‘I’m just thinking now that it could be my ex-boyfriend. Possibly.’

  ‘Possibly, meaning what? How likely is it?’

  ‘I think it probably is him. Sorry.’

  ‘And why is it him? How did he get the number?’

  ‘He was training at my dojo yesterday. He was going through my phone and asked about you.’

  ‘Why were you were talking about me to your ex-boyfriend?’

  ‘I wasn’t.’

  ‘You just said you were.’

  ‘Because Karen was there and said thank you for us offering to babysit. So he was asking about that. And he saw messages from you I guess.’

  ‘Why was he going through your phone.’ She shrugged. ‘What I mean is why were you letting him go through your phone.’ She shrugged again. She wanted him to see messages from me, I realised then. She was using me to make him jealous.

  ‘Who is he? Does he know where I’m staying?’

  ‘No of course not.’

  ‘Are you sure?’

  ‘He doesn’t know where you live.’ There was a pause. ‘Anyway, he won’t take it that far. Trust me, he won’t.’


  ‘He’s full of shit. He’s just thinking it will scare you. He thinks it’s funny.’

  ‘Well. He’s right.’

  ‘You don’t seem to be finding it very funny.’

  ‘No. I mean…not that I’m scared, but…’


  ‘…I don’t want my fucking head kicked in.’

  ‘He’s an asshole. He’s full of shit.’

  ‘Does he go to your school?’

  ‘No, he doesn’t go to my school.’ A pause. ‘He doesn’t go to school. He’s…’ she searched for a better word, and didn’t find it, ‘…older.’

  ‘How old is he?’


  ‘Twenty-eight! Bloody hell.’

  ‘Don’t worry, he’s not gonna do anything.’

  ‘If he’s twenty-eight, what does he do?’

  ‘What do you mean? Like, for a job?’


  ‘He’s a Sensei at another dojo. That’s how we met, at a tournament. And he does some acting stuff.’

  ‘Oh great. I’m gonna get fucking crane kicked in the teeth by Daniel-san.’

  She laughed. ‘Not you’re not.’

  ‘What sort of acting?’

  ‘What sort acting does he do?’


  ‘Just like, you know, when they need martial artists and stuff.’

  ‘Like what?’

  ‘I don’t know, nothing really.’

  ‘I kind of want to see him.’

  We both looked at the TV for ten seconds or so, then she asked, ‘Do you know that kids’ show, The Rainbow Rangers?’


  ‘He’s the blue one in that.’

  ‘What, really?’


  ‘He’s one of the Rainbow Rangers? What the fuck?’

  ‘It’s a kids’ show.’

  ‘The blue one? Kyle?’

  ‘Yeah, Kyle. Though his real name’s Tommy.’

  ‘The blue ranger is calling me a British pussy?’

She laughed and I did too. ‘It sounds so Austin Powers.’

  ‘Shit, how am I supposed to take out a ninja?’

She laughed again. ‘Shine your laser beam into his eyes!’

+ + + 

I told Karen about the messages and she was angry with CC. She mentioned it to the Sensei at her dojo about it and he advised that I perhaps not see her as much. The ex-boyfriend, Tommy, was a nuisance and he didn’t like him training there. He thought he’d been a bad influence on CC and was glad when she’d stopped seeing him. Don’t get involved with it basically was what he said. I did see her again though. Just once more. We went for a rushed lunch at a burrito place and her friend came along too. CC seemed detached, or annoyed. I suspected she knew my cousin had spoken to her Sensei and I felt like kid who’d had his Mum interfere. Her friend barely looked at me and stifled a laugh when I asked CC how her Mum was. I never heard from her again after that. I texted her a couple of times, but she didn’t reply, so I stopped texting too.

+ + +  

Actually, I did see her once more. I saw her, but she didn’t see me. In fact, it was The Mom I spotted first. Walking through a Target car park, I saw CC’s mum packing some bags into the back of a car. Helping her was a boy of about fourteen who, I guessed, was CC’s younger brother. He hadn’t been at the house when I first met the family, but that had to be him. Then the Dad got out of the car. I crouched further behind the car I was watching from. Dressed in a blue t-shirt and blue trousers, he paced round to the back of the car shouting ‘What did I just say? WHAT DID I JUST SAY?!’ He was shouting at the boy, pointing. ‘GET IN THE CAR.’ The boy shook his head. ‘I SAID GET IN THE CAR.’ The kid stood his ground. He folded his arms across his chest and moved closer to his Mum. ‘GET. IN. THAT. FUCKING. CAR!’ The Dad then kicked him in the stomach. He booted him in the stomach as hard as he could and the boy crumpled. He was winded. The Dad dragged him up, opened the back door, pushed him in and slammed it shut.

  ‘MIKE! Hey Mike, you don’t do that to him!’ shouted Regina. ‘You DO NOT hit him like that Mike!’ The Dad ignored her and got into the driver’s seat. You could then hear the kid crying, screaming from inside the car.

  Regina shut the car boot and hurried round to open the passenger door. ‘Don’t you dare kick my son like that!’ she stood shouting. He said something back. I could hear the bass of his voice but not the words. ‘I don’t care!’ she continued. ‘Don’t you EVER hit my fucking kids like that!’ The other rear passenger door then flung open and it was CC who got out. She stormed away from the car. Regina called after her. ‘Christina!’ CC continued marching away. ‘Christina, honey, come back. Where are you going?’

  ‘I’m fucking walking!’

  ‘Come here! Don’t be stupid.’ CC then stopped and turned. She walked back towards her Mum.

  ‘I don’t want to be near him!’ At her Mum’s insistence, the conversation quietened. They spoke animatedly but with lowered voices and I couldn’t hear what was being said. Her Mum held her by the chin and kissed her on the cheek. They hugged. Both of them then got into the car and shut their doors. The engine started up and the car pulled away.

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When Facebook escaped the Harvard intranet a couple of years later, CC was the one of the first people I searched for. I tried all the variations of her name. Christina Adams. Christina Caroline Adams. Christina-Caroline Adams. Christina Carolyn Adams. CC Adams. There were plenty of people with the names, but none of the thumbnails looked like her. I searched by location. Nothing. Eventually I stopped looking. Then years later, after telling the story to a friend, he said, have you ever looked for her on Facebook? Not for a long time, I thought, so I searched again that evening. I looked through every page of results. Still nobody I recognised as her. She probably looked a lot different now. Was I even remembering her accurately? Again I forgot all about it. Then, when I decided to write this story, I looked once again. Still nothing. ‘Really rare nowadays not to be able to find anything, isn’t it,’ I said to a friend.

She said, ‘She might have died.’ That had genuinely never occurred to me before and I felt shocked. She might have been dead for years. She might have died not long after I was in her life. The intervening years had made her trivial for me. She was a punchline in a story, a girl who pissed herself. Whenever I retold the story, I never included what I saw in the car park. I kept looking elsewhere online. I wanted her to be alive. All the Christina Carolyns and Christines and Carolines were much older women. I need other search terms. I looked for the Judo school she worked at. I looked up the Blue Ranger’s IMDB page for any personal information. Had they got back together and later married? No mention of her name though. I searched for Mike and Regina Adams. And Michael and Regina Adams. Was her Mum even called Regina? Was it Georgina? After exhausting my free searches on countless pay walled directory sites, I clicked on one called I typed in ‘Regina Adams Sherman Oaks California’ and the third result on the list was a lady aged 58. I clicked through. It was her. That was The Mom! In the ‘Associated With’ section was ‘Michael Adams (Family), Brent William Adams (Family), Christina Carolyn Hawkins (Family), James Stanley Hawkins (Family).’ It said Regina was now living in Olympia Washington, Oregon. Christina Carolyn Hawkins! I copy and pasted into Google image search. Nothing. Then I added ‘Olympia Washington.’ On the second row of images I saw her. It was a low-resolution photo of four women. One of them was CC. I tried to enlarge the picture but it just stayed the same size. I lifted the laptop close to my face. There she was, in the middle pair of four people. Unmistakably it was her. Her face was almost exactly as I remembered but she was older, obviously. She was wearing a blue dress and smiling. They were all smiling. The picture was from an otherwise empty Google+ account in her name. I showed it to my friends the next day.

  ‘Wow, good work.’

  ‘I want to see!’ Another friend came running over. ‘Which one is she?’

  ‘Second left,’ I said.

  ‘In the blue dress?’

  ‘Yep. The blue one.’