Villa Palms

For his first two years in California, my father was without family, but he was not alone. For one, he shared a duplex with six other tenants, all of them subject to the vigilant proprietorship of Mrs. Yee. He was earning his master’s degree in computer science, presumably among colleagues, and waiting tables at a Szechuan restaurant called Golden Lotus. Once a week he would make a long-distance call to Shanghai, and my mother would put the phone up to my cheek so that my father’s voice would be imprinted on me. “I miss you,” he said, “unbearably, unbearably much.” But he must not have been lonesome because he had found a lover, a woman named Leslie Fang.

When my mother and I joined him we lived in the duplex too, but when I was seven we moved to a place called Villa Palms. It was a brown stucco apartment complex in Anaheim. Compared to the bedroom we had been sharing, Villa Palms was luxurious. It had a central courtyard with a bright rectangular pool and squat palms in beds of river rock. The presence of Disneyland nearby, though I had never been there, lent a pulse and an electricity to the place. You could always tell a family was bound for the park by the slick scent of sunscreen, the cameras slung around necks. At night fireworks thudded against the sky.

I was proud that we lived there, proud that we had the luxury of a living room and a kitchen that was ours alone. Mrs. Yee could no longer squawk at me for standing on the couch, for straying from the plastic mats she had laid over the carpet. We had been there for almost a year before my father’s paramour showed up and demolished it all.

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