Everything I Shouldn't Say

Everything I Shouldn't Say

Who Am I?

Hello. I am Naomi Foster, a girl who is currently a sophomore in college. Eager to pursue a career as a columnist, I am majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing. Honestly, I picked this major out of spite and now I have to live with that, xx.

I am from an overpopulated suburban town called North Babylon on Long Island. After being surrounded by picket fences and fake tans for over a decade, I was desperate to escape the conformist atmosphere. So, I fled to Manhattan in search of diversity. I hoped that the multicultural haven would allow me to break out of my shell and become the person I am meant to be.

What Is My Work ?

I consider my writing to be an extension of me, an extra limb if you will. It is through poetry and memoir that I am able to share bits of myself with the world. Let my work serve as soup for the sick, energy for the weak, and love for the lonely. I want my readers to become so engrossed in my work that they forget about their worries and become one with the words.

Featured Works

Dear Valley Girls, We Owe You an Apology

Valspeak is a common name for a now partially universal American sociolect, originally of Southern Californians, in particular, "Valley Girls". The valley girl stereotype, empty-headed, retail addict, blonde with vocal fry, emerged in the late 1970s but was at its peak in the 1980s. For a brief period, a national fad, many phrases, and elements of Valspeak became stable elements of the California English dialect lexicon, and in some cases wider American English (such as the widespread use of "like" as conversational filler). Elements of Valspeak can now be found virtually everywhere English is spoken, particularly among young native English speakers.

The term "Valley Girl" and the Valley manner of speech was introduced to the world in 1982 with the release of a hit single "Valley Girl" by Frank Zappa. Moon Zappa, Frank's fourteen-year-old daughter, delivered a monologue spouting phrases associated with Valspeak slang such as "Barf me out", "Grody to the Max" and "Gag me with a spoon". Some of the terms used by Moon were not Valley phrases but were surfer terms instead (such as "tubular" and "gnarly"). But due to the song's popularity and association with Valley Girls, surfer phrases entered the speech of real Valley teens after this point. The Los Angeles surfing subculture, on the other hand, did not incorporate Valley lingo into their lexicon. Surfers despised the Valley Girl, believing that they were too shallow, materialistic, and out of touch with reality, to be taken seriously.

Despite having numerous songs and films dedicated to them, Valley-girls" were not well-liked amongst the California subcultures. They were described by the press as vapid, shopping-obsessed individuals who came from a middle-class background(Moley et al.:. Even the song, Valley Girl is not the serenade it appears to be. In multiple interviews, Zappa expressed his disdain for the Valley Girls in several interviews. Though society dismisses the sociolect as the talk of self-absorbed adolescents, Valspeak features a rich variety of markers and/or linguistic variables including the vocal fry, intonation, use of discourse markers, vowel quality, and the notable argot, all of which have made their way into spoke English in the present day.

Vocal Fry

A vocal fry is a form of phonation, characterized by a "distinct laryngeal vibratory pattern, distinct acoustic features, and a distinct vocal quality"(Wolk et al.). The vocal fry, though it may be construed as Valley Girl, is a feature that started being noticed and studied, after the fad. It is now commonly associated with new-age Valley-Girls like Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton.

In a speech, Yuasa referred to the vocal fry as a "new feminine voice quality". A 2011 study, conducted by the Voice Foundation, determined that the vocal fry is more prevalent in women. Ninety-four percent of the participants were females and 6% were males. 86% of the students had normal vocal quality, while the remaining 14% exhibited two or more features of a disordered voice. They were all females. The primary characteristics, which included hoarse voice, creaky voice, strained phonation, and abnormally low pitch, were present in various degrees (Wolk et al.).

Pathologists even suggested that it may have spread through pop culture and media, specifically television. Some credit the main character of the series Gray's Anatomy, Meredith Gray, and the famous sister clan from Keeping up with the Kardashians(Maronian. Following the debut of each program, young women started altering their natural tone of voice to imitate the sizzle and rasp of their favorite American stars.

Moreover, the vocal fry has been labeled as a "verbal tic". To label, the speech technique as a "tic" implies that the vocal fry is a bad thing. The word "tic" is typically associated with idiosyncratic behaviors and illness, both of which are negative. These negative associations disproportionately affect women. Associating a feminine language with tics and uncontrollable urges suggests that women who use Valspeak are at a loss, society, or that we should pity these women because they have no clue how to articulate their thoughts in a way that is acceptable according to patriarchal standards. It has been proven that, while vocal fry hinders both men's and women's job prospects, it's even worse for women. Women with a vocal fry are seen as empty-headed and juvenile. This lack of respect ties back to the release of Frank Zappa's song "Valley Girl". Through the Valley Girl was cultural, she was not someone to aspire to. She was vapid and conceited, a mouth breather with a credit card. The use of Valspeak in the song was more of a joke and a way to stereotype adolescent women rather than an appreciation of the subculture. Another linguistic marker associated with Valspeak is the High Rising Terminal contour. HRT can be defined as "a movement in pitch from relatively low to relatively high" (Hall-Lew, Saigusa, Purse 2). This change in pitches it relates to speech is known as intonation, more specifically it is referred to as uptalk when the rise in pitch gets higher as the sentence ends. This use of uptalk is one of several lingering characteristics of Valspeak. Contrary to SNL skits and stereotypical films, Val-speak didn't die out and it is not merely a thing of the past; it spread all over Southern California and across socioeconomic, ethnic, and gender boundaries. In the twenty-first century, there are Valley Boys as well as Valley Girls. It just depends on how frequent use of uptalk is your metric. Amanda Ritchart, a graduate student in linguistics at the University of California, San Diego reported on the results of her new study investigating the prevalence of uptalk(Ouellette 1). Ritchart and Arvaniti gathered 23 native English speakers from among the UCSD student populace (12 women, 11 men), and had them perform two speech tasks. First, each participant viewed a snippet of a popular sitcom and described what happened in their own words. Second, participants were asked, "provide directions for another person to help them navigate through a map of San Diego showing popular landmarks" (Ouellette 1).

The final part of the experiment focused on the analysis of the recordings, specifically looking at the location of the rise in pitch in a given utterance, as well as how much it rose. Ritchart and Arvaniti found that there were different uses for uptalk. For example, "speakers tended to use a very small rise [in pitch] if they were making a statement, as opposed to a large rise if they were asking a question" (Ouellette 1). Upward inflection is also used to indicate that a speaker is not quite finished to avoid being interrupted, also known as "holding the floor". and using uptalk as a "confirmation request" to make sure the listener has understood correctly. Though this linguistic occurrence is most frequently for an inquiry of some sort, that's not its only purpose."The precise nature of the rise (how much and where it occurs in an utterance) is critical to conveying the intended meaning. This yearning to be "close" with the audience and have a be understood by the group, thus the need for confirmation requests is prevalent among younger generations in California, hence the constant uptalk and additional phrases added to the end of the sentence like "you know" or "you know what means." Though uptalk was popularized by Valspeak it certainly did not stay stagnant amongst the Southern Californian youth. Intonation in some form is used by all groups regardless of their diverse backgrounds in socioeconomic status, ethnicity, bilingualism, and gender. However, the use of uptalk has a different connotation when it is used by certain groups. When used by men, uptalk has a positive effect, making them seem more compassionate and understanding. Unfortunately, this same courtesy is extended to women. When adolescent women use uptalk it is seen as an indicator of stupidity. For instance, Cher Horowtiz gets ready for a date with Christain. She comes downstairs and speaks to other characters in the film, they look puzzled or irritated.

Mel: What the hell is that?

Cher: A dress.

Mel: Says who?

Cher: Calvin Klein.

Mel: It looks like underwear. Go upstairs and put something over it.

Cher: Tscha! I was just going to.

Allow the bold letters to represent a rise in pitch. There's a noticeable squeak at the end of each word she says. To a non-native speaker or someone who is not familiar with Valspeak, it sounds as though she is confused.

Arguably the most identifiable marker of Valspeak is the excessive use of discourse markers also known as filler words. A discourse marker is any word or sound that interpolates the main message of the speaker, without changing the meaning of the statement. Whether an individual is talking with a friend, attending a lecture, or listening to a public speech, they will likely hear or use some type of filler. Filler words in question are "like", "um", "ok", "you know" and "or something". Essentially filler words are "a speech disfluency", which is anything that causes a break or an upset to normal-or fluent-speech.

Scholars have narrowed down the causes of fillers into three categories: divided attention, infrequent words, and nervousness (Duvall, Robbins, Graham, Divett 7). A speaker may lose focus during speeches in which there is a distracting member of the audience or when something unplanned or unanticipated occurs. The speaker momentarily directs his or her attention from his or her speech, and often filler words creep in to occupy the void left by nonfluent speech"(Duvall, Robbins, Graham, Divett 7). It's a way of stalling until we gather our bearings. Discourse markers also appear in speech when an individual uses words that they use infrequently. Filler words, then, appear when someone is having difficulty processing a word. Their brain is trying to process both the general definition of the word and its meaning in the context of what they are saying. The person's brain cannot locate a word, which will cause him or her to pause, frequently throwing "um" or "like" in its place until the word or a synonymous word, is found and used in speech.

Whatever the cause, scholars are split as to the positive and negative effects of these fillers on a speaker's credibility. While the majority of scholars agree that the credibility of the speaker decreases with the increase of filler words. Some scholars suggest that it positively affects the credibility of the speaker, calling them "verbal tics" (Duvall, Robbins, Graham, Divett 7). The opposite side argues that the use of fillers can have a positive effect, noting that speech doesn't seem as rehearsed and filler words add to a display of authentic emotions and suggest that the speaker is currently in the means as opposed to someone dishonest and mentally removed from the situation.

It's important to note that this wavering stance on the impacts of filler words is incredibly gender-biased. The presumed positive impact applies to men, best to make them seem more personable, as though they're trying to defy hypermasculine stereotypes by allowing themselves to be nervous and honest (by using "um", "like", "you know", "right?"). As for women, the use serves as evidence in the argument that Valspeaking women are not capable of having discussions about substances because they can't form a sentence without relying on a verbal crutch. The discourse marker crisis can be observed in the first verse of Frank Zappa's "Valley Girl":

"Like, oh my god!

Like, totally!

Encino is, like, so bitchin'

There's, like, the Galleria

And, like, all these, like, really great shoe stores

I love going into, like, clothing stores and stuff"

The word "like" contributes nothing to the sentence, making it a filler word. At one point the speaker uses like twice in one line, it's almost comical.

The use of filler words in conversations can also be observed in the dialogue of the protagonist, Cher Horowitz in the 1995 film, Clueless. After being abandoned at a gas station, Cher is robbed at gunpoint. The gunman instructs Cher to get on the ground and count to one hundred. At first, Cher refuses because she doesn't want to ruin her dress. "It's an Alaia". Confused and angry, still pointing the gun he says " an a-what-a?" Cher responds, "It's like... a very important designer, Alaia." Here, we see a Valley Girl in a near-death situation concerned about material things rather than life itself, hinting at the poor moral values of the social group. He contributes to the stigma that Valley girls are shallow and materialistic. Additionally, the use of like in this context is a filler word, but there is a chance it can be justified. As mentioned before, filler words can be caused by nervousness and there is no doubt that Cher was nervous after being abandoned and approached by a gunman.

This overuse of filler is observed yet again during Cher's debate speech, which is arguably the best representation of Valspeak in the entire film as it features filler words, slang, and intonation (see bold words), and evidence of the California Vowel Shift. In the Yellow plaid set, the blonde twirls her hair and says:

"So, O.K. Like, right now, for example, the Haitians need to come to America. But some people are all, What about the strain on our resources? Then it's like, when I had this garden party for my father's birthday, right? I said RSVP because it was a sit-down dinner. But people came that, like, did not RSVP, so I was, like, totally buggin'. I had to haul ass to the kitchen, redistribute the food, and squish in extra place settings. But by the end of the day, it was, like, the merrier. And so if the government could just get to the kitchen, rearrange some things, we could certainly party with the Haitians. And in conclusion may I please remind you that it does not say RSVP on the Statue of Liberty?"

The use of filler words could be attributed to nervousness since Cher was giving a speech in front of the entire class, but this theory is doubtful considering that she is at the top of the social pyramid and she's naturally outgoing. The use of filler words is more prevalent because she's speaking about a topic that she is not well versed in. This is a way of "holding the floor", to maintain her attention since the debate was supposed to be about immigration for refugees, but instead, she connected to a dinner party whisk it's not necessarily correct, the analogy works. To make sure that the audience follows her (strange, yet clever) argument, she uses discourse marker words to seek confirmation from the audience.

Valspeak may also be characterized by the way its speakers pronounce certain vowel sounds, which can be attributed to the vowel shift that took place in their home state during the 1980s. Essentially, the shift is a counterclockwise movement featuring the lowering of front vowels as well as the fronting of back vowels (Habasque. San Franciscan English is viewed in a different scope than "standard" Californian EnglishThe California Vowel Shift (CVS) is distinguished by "a lowering of the front vowels, a backing of the back vowels, a merger of the low back vowels, the fronting of the STRUT vowel" and a 'nasal split" whereby TRAP before nasals (BAN) raises (Hall-Lew, Saigusa, Purse 1). Traces of the CVS have been found in the speech of both men and women, but women appear to be leading the shift. In her study, Holland , 63) stated that southern California women were "the source of the three most back mean LOT1 values." (Habasque

This is the case with several other markers of Valspeak. In a recent study conducted by Lauren Hall-Lew, Julie Saigusa, and Ruaridh Purse, it was determined that factors like age, binary gender, and race/ethnic background play a significant role in how prevalent the vowel shift is. The experiment aimed to provide an acoustic analysis for front vowels in San Francisco English(Valspeak). A sample of twenty-four "(near-)native San Franciscans were taken from a wider study Speakers were asked to read a word list and reading passage after having completed an ethnographic interview about their identity, social practices, and experiences in San Francisco"(Hall-Lew, Saigusa, Purse 2).

Vowels were elicited using a word list and reading passage [9]. A statistical analysis of the results was performed through the use of linear mixed-effects models on normalized first and second formant measurements. Given previous work on San Francisco English, many expected these "variables to show social patterning in line with other documented elements of the California Vowel Shift, such as the fronting of GOOSE and GOAT. In such cases, we might expect to see women leading the change, unless the change is near completion, in which case we would expect no gender difference" (​Hall-Lew, Saigusa, Purse 5). In only one case, was there concrete evidence of a classic sociolinguistic change in progress: a significant correlation with speaker year of birth paired with a significant correlation with speaker gender, such that women are leading the change? Lastly, the survey determined that the vowel pronunciation does not have a direct correlation to speaker ethnicity as a main or interacting effect with any other social variables.

Zappas hit single "Valley Girl" also serves as evidence of the California Shift.

The song includes fronting on words like "totally" and "toenails" as well as /ɪ/ lowering in 'bitchin' (Habasque.

It has been shown that linguistic markers are interpreted in a social context, as they might signal to hearers the speaker's background, hence the development of slang terms. Like many other subcultures, Valspeak formulates its idioms as a means of communication.

The infamous sociolect, Valspeak lexicon is filled with words "expressing high emotional involvement". This involvement translates into the use of maximizers. Maximizers are a subdivision of intensifying adverbs that are used to fully emphasize the highest degree to which an action is conducted. They can also modify adjectives. In Valspeak, maximizers are not used in a literal sense. For example, a nice dress would be considered the best dress ever for a Valspeaker. The use of hyperbole in Valspeak is for dramatic effect or as a way to express extreme emotions. Cher Horowitz is the epitome of a Valley Girl, from her use of uptalk to her use of typical Valspeak lingo including but not limited to "as if", "I know right?", and totally. As it relates to maximizers, Cher's entire dialogue in the film is based around this idea of extreme emotions for other people or because of one of several internal issues she faces, like most adolescents. Cher's verbal style is generally marked by hyperbole, as captured through the constant exaggeration with adverbs (O'Meara 3). Cher claims that she is "brutally rebuffed" by her debate teacher after receiving a low grade. In an attempt to get back in his good graces, she devises a plan to make him "sublimely happy". Once her plan succeeds other adults notice an improvement in their grades as well for which they should be "utterly grateful". The use of maximizers is seen yet again with the substitution of the word "really" with "way" in true Californian style. Cher claims to have "a way of normal life" and Tai's commentary at the end of the film is "way harsh" and her favorite cartoon series, The Ren and Stimpy Show was "way existential" (O'Meara 3).

Heckerling uses Cher and other characters in the film to demonstrate the speech patterns of SoCal's youth. Each character represents a different aspect of these speech patterns. Heckerling uses Cher to represent a tendency for young people to verbally stall. Cher opens her two-minute debate in class with content-free warm-up phrases such as "So, OK, like," and she continues to use up her time with "but it's like" and "So, I was like", and meaningless phrases such as "you know" and "and all". Cher's vernacular, typical of a Valley Girl, affects the way she is perceived as a young woman. Josh, her former brother, takes harsh digs at morals and intelligence, uttering things like "Do you have any idea what you're talking about? And "you don't need to be doing this. Go out and have fun. Go shopping" Despite Cher's kindness, generosity and intelligence, she is reduced to a ditzy blonde because of the way she speaks.

"Cher's verbal style is also marked by ironic contrasts between current slang and historical references, as when she compares Tai to "those Botticelli chicks"(O'Meara 5). As a typical Valley girl, she is presumed to be an airhead, and to a certain extent she is, so when she makes s references to well-known art/pieces it comes off as comical, thus the plight of the Valley Girl.
Furthermore, Heckerling used Christain to paint the phrasing techniques used by Valley Boys, most notably his use of understatement in contrast to Cher's overstated speech. "He downplays impressive things, describing Cher's mansion as a "nice pile of bricks," and is unfazed when Mel attacks him, responding casually, "Hey, man, the protective vibe, I dig." (O'Meara 4). There seems to be a pattern with Valspeakers, they never quite say what they mean. This may be confusing for someone who is not familiar with Valspeak as most sociolects are, but the Valspeaking community can decipher this phrasing as though it were standard speech.

One of the most notable aspects of Valspeak is the jargon. At one point certain terms were only used about a certain generation of Southern Californians (now Gen-X), but now Valspeak is used to reference an entire decade(the 1980s). The 1995 film features staple phrases in Valspeak including "Monet", "Betty", "Baldwin", "What-ever" the infamous "as if". Though the sociolect is carefree and youthful, it should still be taken seriously as a linguistic style. I would argue that this is one of the most impressive sociolect dates. It requires a certain type of concentration, sorting through the filler words and creaky tone, to truly appreciate the cultural haven that these adolescents created. There are many phonetic and technical aspects of the language, but because it was initially introduced to the world via satirical pop songs, people tend to look down and overlook the way of speech, characterizing its speakers as insipid and scatterbrained.

As mentioned, the Zappas helped Valspeak spread thanks to the commercial success of the song (Kozak: 1982, 8), but neither Frank nor Moon particularly enjoyed Valspeak or Valley Girls. The former repeatedly stated that he thought Valley Girls were "disgusting" (quoted in Hogrefe: and "airheads" (quoted in Woodard: while the latter lamented: "It's ridiculous that anyone would consciously try to imitate this style, dress up and be proud of it. [...] I just get mad because I'm identified with this thing". Valley Girls, introduced to the world by the Zappas, were being stereotyped and stigmatized before they even had a chance to grow and defend themselves as a subculture. The negative views expressed by the Zappas also translate into how individual Valspeak markers may be perceived (Habasque.

Various studies have shown that such markers may be heavily stigmatized. Some consider the quotative use of 'like' as stigmatized, ungrammatical, and typical of Valley Girls. In terms of vowel quality and intonation, it slows down the rate at which one speaks, making the speaker sound as though they; are struggling to find the words/ form a thought. Furthermore, the habitual use of vocal fry has been shown to undermine the success of women in the labor market (Anderson et al.:, as businessmen have a hard time taking a woman seriously if she employs any of the linguistic markers associated with Valspeak, especially discourse markers, to be a "Valley Girl ". Zappa's satirical pop song did more than popularize Valspeak- they tainted the reputation of the Valley Girl. Every other verse alternated between a nonsensical monologue by Moon Zappa and a biting insult by Frank:

"Tosses her head

And flips her hair

She got a whole bunch of nothing in there"

The song portrays valley girls in a negative light, making it so that young women, from other regions, who incorporate linguistic markers associated with Valspeak such as filler words, uptalk, or Valley slang, are seen as "airheads".

The High Rise Terminal is also negatively perceived in a similar context. Connie Chung did a segment in 1994, dedicated to the "crisis" of uptalk. Chung makes it known early on where she stands on the subject, saying "[everything sounds] as if it were a question it doesn't bother me that much unless they do it a lot and it gets annoying."It's important to note that Chung used intonation throughout the interview to get the point across. She concludes the segment by advising viewers " if you know people who are doing it, I think you should make them stop. Otherwise, we'll be a nation of only questions and no answers." When young women use uptalk, they are perceived to be unsure of themselves or generally confused about topic conversion, supporting the idea that Val Speakers are unintelligent.

Though Valspeak markers may be used to evoke traits like "fun,' 'laid-back,' and 'carefree'" (Podesva:, as has been shown in the previous section, they can be heavily stigmatized as well. Since Valley Girls are, by definition, girls, it is argued that stigmatizing their speech may have to do with the fact that they deviate from androcentric norms. The term 'linguistic misogyny' differs from the concept of 'sexist language' used by feminist linguists such as Cameron or Romaine. 'Sexist language' refers to sexism that is baked in a language. For instance, a double standard may exist in the connotations of some similar lexical items that can be disparaging to women but not to men. Though the term 'Valspeak' first referred to a sociolect spoken by female Californian adolescents in the 1980s, linguistic misogyny contributed to the inclusion of markers that were not originally part of it in its scope (vocal fry, non-quotative use of 'like'). This broadened (and dramatized)version of Valspeak, which includes markers that were introduced after the 1980s, will be referred to as 'neo-Valspeak'.

"Neo-Valspeak' may be used in a parodic performance to portray idiotic, Valley-Girl-like, teenage, female characters by relying on the misogyny of folk-linguistic stereotypes" (Habasque. Neovalspeak can be observed in the SNL skit "GAP GIRLS", starring Chris Farley (Cindy), Adam Sandler(Lucy), and Kevin Spade (Christy). The trio exercised all linguistic markers associated with Valspeak, making it clear that they were Valley Girls. The skit begins with Christy claiming to have Carpal tunnel syndrome from folding sweaters at The Gap, mistakenly calling it "Carpal Tunnel Syndrome." Lucy tells her that she "can only catch it from a computer", which is completely incorrect, thus the basis of the joke and implying thatThe Valley girls lack common knowledge. Additionally, the skit perpetuates the stereotype that Valley girls don't understand the world around them. It's first seen when Farley's character makes a joke regarding the child sexual abuse accusations against Micheal Jackson:

Cindy: "I heard Micheal Jackson went shopping at K-Mart because there was a sale"

Christy: "You screwed it up, dumbo

Cindy: "He went shopping at K-mart because he heard a little boy's pants were half off."

Lucy: "That's not fair. You guys already convicted him. All his charges are based on hearsay and conjecture. It's all circumstantial and anecdotal evidence"

Immediately after her speech Christy asks " Do you even know what those words mean?", to which Lucy responds with a cheerful "No!" and the three erupt into laughter. Next Lucy attempts to discuss the ongoing Mendez trial, butchers the name m-eh-n-an-n-end-ehz instead of m-EH-a-n-d-eh-z, fueling the idea that Val Speakers are idiotic. Instead of discussing the facts of the trials, the girls focused on the Lawyer's poorly permed hair, before switching topics to French fries.

As per the SNL skit, Valley Girls are unfocused and spacey. It's almost painful to hear them start up a conversation about anything of substance because we know that they won't be able to keep up or have much to say unless the conversation has pertained to food, hair, or clothes. This negative portrayal of the Valley Girl and Valspeak can be observed in other pop culture mediums like "White Chicks" and "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, both of which make the Valley Girl's the butt of the joke. So, O.K. Like, right now, for example, Valspeak is being used all over the world. But some people are all, What about the discourse markers and uptalk? Then it's, like, totally normal. When Frank Zappa made that song "Valley Girl" in 1982, right? Everyone was buggin'. They were all like they're so stupid and all they do is, like, shop and stuff? But, a bunch of people started to learn about Valspeak and incorporate elements into spoken English and it became this major deal! Today, characteristics of the linguistic style like intonation, vocal fry, and jargon, are relevant. We don't notice that we do it, it's so weird. But at the end of the day, it was, like, the merrier. So if we all just accept that we use Valspeak in everyday language and stop reducing it to the language of the brain-dead ditz, we could certainly party with Valley Girls. And in conclusion, may I please remind you that Valspeak is more than a fad, it's a cultural landmark.

A Memoir For My Father

Tabula Rasa is the theory that we are born without mental content, and therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception. As someone who has made many mistakes in my life, it gives me reassurance that I am simply going through stages of life, making mistakes accordingly. I am not just a girl with horrible decision making skills. In my toddlerhood, I seemed to make "mistakes" every single day. Don't worry it was just little things: biting my sister, cutting my hair with kitchen scissors, you know, just normal things. When you're a child, people are willing to let things slide because you're still learning, but my parents drew the line when I committed a crime.

Every Sunday night, my father took a trip to our local CVS. That was his time to restock on beer, milk, gum, cereal and any other "necessities". I frequently accompanied my father on these trips. Resting my back on the cracked leather seats, driving over poorly paved roads, while Jay-Z's 1999 album played on a loop; it gave me a thrill. Of course, I was much too young to sing the lyrics to any Jay Z song, so I would just nod in silence. Signaling to my father that I too could appreciate the lyricism of Sean Carter, even though I had no idea what it meant to be Big Pimpin'.

First came the bass drums, which were followed by melodic flute whistles, then came the muffled ad libs. Approximately twenty seven seconds later, Jay Z declares his status as a man of many women, a casanova if you will. And when he's through with all of the "thuggin and loving", to put it lightly, he leaves immediately. Why? "Cause he doesn't [expletive] need 'em". I glanced over to see affirming head nods and finger pointing from the man behind the wheel. How could he possibly agree with misogynistic logic? This was a father of two girls after all. But there's more... Jay Z claims to keep said women "in the cut"... "til he needs to beat the guts" and only then does he call. How romantic.

Some children are introduced to poetry by Doctor Seuss or Shel Silverstein, not me. I got cleverly worded tales of sexual exploits and commitment issues. I'm not complaining. If it weren't for my father's affinity for hip-hop, I wouldn't have random verses stored in my brain. I like to think this makes me smarter.

Finger pointing and all, my father recited his anthem. This performance was nothing new; I'd seen it dozens of times. Directing my attention to anything else, I pressed my face against the window and marveled at the familiar scenery. The two story red colored house adorned with tacky christmas decor, comforted me. It was a nice contrast to the cacophony coming from the radio. From the end of the street, I could see the red glow of the massive letters mounted onto the brick walls. Pulling into a parking lot he says "get something for the both of you", a reference to my two year old sister, who's entire diet consisted of mashed peas and formula. Ignoring his request, I started thinking about what I wanted. Fourteen years later and I still haven't grown out of that phase where you can only think about yourself. It's a toxic trait, trust me I know.

He ever parked close to the doors and so we were faced with the inevitable sixty foot trek. I didn't mind it one bit. If this were a trip to Kohl's perhaps my attitude would've been different. But CVS was my favorite store, they had everything a person could ever need:toiletries, makeup, snacks, jeggings(which I guess could be classified as clothing). My point is, you would never need to go anywhere else.

I didn't understand the concept of automatic doors, so I believed that the doors opened for me, personally, making my visit to CVS all the more meaningful. I zoomed through aisles, startling PTA moms dressed in ill-fitting Juicy Couture tracksuits paired with chunky highlights and botched spray tans(This type of woman was impossible to avoid in Long Island, circa. After ten minutes of shenanigans, I had tired myself out. After grabbing a random item, I made my way back to my father. I held up the useless item, placed it on the counter and the cashier chuckled. My father's disapproving head shake was very telling and I don't blame him. I would be annoyed too, if a bug eyed child made me spend money on backscratchers.

My father is many things, quiet is not one of them. Never missing a chance to chat, he engaged in a superficial conversation with the cashier about kids and how precious they can be. My eyes scanned the shelves searching for something, anything. I ran my fingers along the cold steel rails that held cardboard cases in every color. Red was for cinnamon flavor. Pink was for bubblegum and blue always meant mint. It all made sense. My eyes widened as I gawked at the rainbow before me.

I could hear the conversation coming to a close. "Take care now!, followed by a half smile and a weak hand gesture. My father mimicked her send off and headed for the door. He always does that, mirroring the actions of others. Maybe it's a libra thing, aim to please. I do it too. I must've learned that from him.

Not thinking much of it, I wrapped my fingers around the navy blue pack and shoved it into my coat pocket.

"How exciting ... Now we both have gum,"I thought.

'll be the first to admit my logic was flawed. The desire to mimic another you admire is not a valid reason to commit petty theft. I didn't know it at the time. I was only four.

On the ride back, he played the same song, because we just had to hear Jay Z explain the importance of street life and partaking in affairs with promiscuous women for a second time. I returned to my silent nod, while burying my hands in my pockets clutching my new token.

The rumble of the engine grew quiet. Rubber tires dragged across the cement making a noise similar to Rice Krispies in milk. Eventually the crackling stopped and he parked the car. I didn't stay inside long enough to feel the gears shift. Pushing the door open, I sprinted down the driveway.

"I'll race you to the door"

"Don't run!"

Ignoring my father's protest, I moved with great haste towards the staircase. I stood at the top step hands on my hips and I declared my victory. My excitement was brief, as I realized that I didn't have a key. I watchguard from a distance as he gathered bags from the trunk. Beaming with joy, I rang the doorbell over and over until I saw the slim silhouette approaching the door.

"Did you get me anything?" my mother inquired. I said nothing. She knew better than to ask me a question like that. I planned to wait until my father entered the house before unveiling my prize. I counted down the seconds until I heard the thudding footsteps indicating my fathers arrival.

"Look", I chirped.

My parents did not look. In fact, they struck up a conversation with one another. In the same tone, I repeated my command until they turned around to face me.

"Yes, Naomi"

Half irritated and half intrigued, they reluctantly turned around and gave me their attention. Without any more hesitation, I retrieved the packet, displaying it in my palms.

"Where did you get that? My mother hissed.

"The store," I replied. I thought that part was obvious. Where else would I find an unopened pack of Trident gum?

"When?" The tone of her voice changed from inquisitive to angry.

"Just now"

My parents exchanged horrified glances. Wide eyed and low hanging jaws, not the reaction I was hoping for. The same people, who told me to go after what I wanted in life, were now explaining the importance of rules and restrictions. Speaking through his teeth, my father managed to say " Let's go and bring the gum". I wasn't sure what he was so upset about:perhaps it was wasting gas or the fear of raising the next Bonnie Parker.

The drive back to the store was silent. No more music. Just the occasional side eye. Slumped in my seat I twiddled my thumbs, lightly caressing the pack. At that moment, I hated the color blue. I despised gum. I wished death on the CEO's of Trident. I blamed advertising for making such enticing packages. I hated the managers of CVS for not making clear labels explaining purchase protocol. Some of us didn't understand the concept of money yet, so some clarification would've been helpful.

Pulling into a parking spot , my father told me that I have to return the gum and apologize. "Why?" I asked, tilting my head to the side with a slight pout. I saw it in a movie once. It's supposed to soften the blow and make people feel guilty for being angry with you. The movie lied. My fathers seemed more irritated. He proceeded to give me the "We don't take things that don't belong to us speech".

The luminous red glow was now dark and ominous. I shifted my feet toward the door, hanging my head low, hunching my shoulders; it looked like I was headed for the guillotine.

"Hey didn't I just see you two" , said the brunette behind the counter. Abandoning his sullen moo, my father smiled back at the clerk cheerfully.

"We just had to make...a return". He chuckled while he said that, but his eyes still looked angry.

He looked down at me but I kept my eyes glued to the floor. I wanted to disappear. I wasn't entur;y sure why taking a pack of gum was such a big deal. Why couldn't I just keep it? That would've been easier than driving back to the store. Hell, being hit by a moving bike would've been easier. I truly believe that my fear of humiliation can be traced right back to this moment.

"Naomi" Still looking down at me, my father crossed his arms tightly. I waited for him to say more but I knew he wouldn't. He was waiting for me to right my wrongs or something like that.

"Here" , I said, still unable to make eye contact. I pushed the pack across the counter. I hoped that it would be enough to make him happy. It was not.

"And" , he said firmly. That was my cue to apologize. My last chance to make things right.

"I'm sorry"

"For?" He always wanted more.

Forcing myself to apologize was a learned behavior. I have seen my mother do it doesnes of times and my father does it all the time even now.

"I'm sorry for taking the gum without asking".

The brunette smiled and said nothing at first.

"Aww it's okay hun. You didn't know any better"

We left after that. On the way back to the car, I asked if he was mad. I was expecting him to yell or ignore me but he didn't. Just a simple, "I'm not mad , but you can't do things like that. You'll get in real trouble." He wasn't mad, just disappointed. I wanted forgiveness. Forgiveness is something that you have to earn. The lady at the counter had forgiven me, so why couldn't he? This was my father after all.

The drive back was silent. Where was Jay-Z when I needed him? Void of all fillers, there was no distraction. I had no choice but to think about my actions and suddenly it clicked. I had taken something that wasn't mine and apparently that was bad. I won't lie and say I was overcome with guilt or shame, because I wasn't. I knew that it was only a pack of gum worth less than two dollars. It was the principle of the thing. You shouldn't do bad things just because you can. I shouldn't have put the gum in my pocket, let alone left the store with it. I made a mistake. It's a part of growing up, maybe not committing crime, but certainly learning the difference between right and wrong through experience. As we get older, we are bound to make mistakes. Every path, every interaction, every day can be seen as a chance to learn something new.