The Day Aaliyah and I Took a Sticker Photo
We didn’t have much time together, but the memory has lasted long after her death
In 2001, I went bowling with Aaliyah. We weren’t friends; it wasn’t a date. The occasion was a Vibe cover story. We’d originally been scheduled to meet in Melbourne, Australia, while she was filming Queen of the Damned, but things don’t always work out the way they’re supposed to — which left me in Australia for four days, alone, with nothing to do.
I was told to wait in my hotel room as long as I could in case I received a call from Aaliyah’s people about the interview, but the call never came. So I wandered the streets of Melbourne, thought that there were more Asians there than I’d expected, and got so bored that I went across the street from the hotel to watch a cricket match. I got even more bored, so bored that I ended up falling asleep in the sun and getting one of the worst sunburns of my life. I did get to explore the food; I ate ostrich and kangaroo on what turned out to be my last night there. Vibe called eventually and told me the interview wasn’t going to happen, at least in Australia, and that they’d rebooked my return ticket for the next day. I rang the front desk and told them to cancel my safari excursion I had planned, as I tried to get the most of my time on the continent.
Later, Aaliyah’s publicist would schedule our bowling session at New York’s Chelsea Piers; the thought was that something relaxed and informal would put us both at ease for the interview. As I waited for the logistics to get locked down, it eventually began to sink in that I was writing a cover story for Vibe. I was born in Korea and immigrated to upstate New York when I was seven, where I was an ESL student. I fell in love with writing in high school when my 11th grade English teacher asked if he could enter an essay I wrote on The Autobiography of Malcolm X in a local contest. A few months later, I received a letter saying I won first place. The grand prize was $300, which at the time was a lot for a 16-year-old. I told everyone in high school that I would write for the Source one day.
Eight years after that essay, at the age of 24, I had the chance to write a cover story for the biggest urban culture and music magazine, a place where I’d interned just…