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CIA wife tells life story in 'My Spy'

book cover

March 24, 2000
Web posted at: 2:58 p.m. EST (1958 GMT)

(CNN) -- Who wouldn't want to know more about the secret life of a CIA covert operative? Bina Cady Kiyonaga may have led a quiet life as a child, but her marriage to her husband Joe was anything but dull. In "My Spy: Memoir of a CIA Wife," Kiyonaga tells the story of her life and her marriage to a secret agent.

Published by Avon, "My Spy" arrived in bookstores March 17.

Chapter One: Bina's Story

I was pronounced dead on arrival.

While the hospital staff swarmed around my mother, I was baptized, placed on a gurney and ignored. I screamed my way back to life.

When my mother and father took me home to Harlem Avenue in Baltimore, I was still screaming. My mother had been trained as a nurse and approached baby care with nurse-like dispatch. She later claimed I was no problem. She put me in the back bedroom, shut the door and let me scream. I screamed for four or five nights unceasingly, and then gave up. I could have given up the ghost-but I was no problem.

My problems surfaced later.

Never impudent or disobedient, I was simply contrary. Denied a wish, I would promptly throw myself on the floor, stiffen and stop breathing. Once my wish was granted, I would come out of it. Disturbed, my parents took me to see a Dr. Richards, chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins. I was three years old and still cute, with auburn ringlets and freckles. Dr. Richards suggested that she see me alone, since parents can be an inhibiting factor. It seems she lifted me onto her lap and began visiting with me very kindly. I kept my head down - I was having none of it. Finally, she addressed me directly.

"Now, Bina, I think you've been a naughty girl. You've made your mother and daddy very sad. What do you have to say to that? Bina, I'm speaking to you." (I remember. She was just too patronizing to suit me.)


I lifted my head, looked her full in the face and slapped her as hard as I could.

Later testing proved that I was normal, only too imaginative for my own good. It seems that I was dissatisfied with my parents, my surroundings, and, most especially, with my older sister and only sibling, Mary Ann. Once I'd come to terms with my environment, I'd come around.

Mine was a quiet, uneventful childhood-peaceful but dull. It didn't help that we were smack in the middle of the Depression and Prohibition. (Talk about a double whammy-first, you lose your job, then you can't even get a drink.) I remember a lot of potato soup at home, along with canned peas, canned pears, canned everything.

Fun for me was going with Daddy on Saturdays to the Lexington Market, a great Baltimore institution, for hand-cut potato chips and a horseradish-spiked crab-cake sandwich, followed by a chocolate Coke at Ludwig's Drug Store. Or visiting the dank dungeons of Fort McHenry, home of "The Star-Spangled Banner," in Baltimore Harbor. The big night was Friday night-I'd watch my parents play "Russian Bank, " a two-handed card game, while listening to One Man's Family, the radio soap opera.

I felt certain that there had to be excitement just around the corner, but there sure wasn't any on our block. So I took it upon myself to liven things up.

At three, I started with my catatonic fits. Mother was told to sprinkle cold water on my face, to no avail. Next, she was to pour cold water over my face-still no success. Finally, she was told to ignore me. That I couldn't stand. I snapped out of it.

And anyway, by age four, I'd discovered stuttering. I picked it up from Edward, the boy next door. Stuttering made everything he said seem so important. I think my parents were onto me by then. They patiently and silently forebore my halting efforts to get out even my own name: "B-b-b-bina C-c-c-cady." (I was really overdoing it.) Interestingly enough, it didn't hobble my singing at all. I could belt out a decent rendition of the World War I classic, "K-k-k-katy, Beautiful Katy." I'd learned it from my father, who had been jokingly serenaded with the tune by his Army buddies (being that his surname was Cady). Suddenly, one morning I was back to normal and never stuttered again.

Then the nightmares started. They were terrible. I can still see those little people as they'd troop across my bed. I'd squeeze them and they'd dissolve into blood in my hands. I found a sympathetic audience in my father. Daddy would sit on the edge of my bed, hold my hand and comfort me.

My nightmares stopped around age five. My parents were relieved-I'd finally "come to terms" with my environment.

Or maybe I was just biding my time.

I was pretty much of a loner, though I came to enjoy my solitude. (To this day I often talk to myself.) I was not close to Mary Ann, five years my senior. I always had the feeling she was ashamed of me. My strategy was to bribe her to keep me company. I would save my allowance and invite her to the Mickey Mouse show on Saturdays, and then she wouldn't even sit with me. She was everything I was not - short, cute, and popular, The only things we had in common were auburn hair and parents.

Mary Ann and I weren't just five years apart, we were light-years apart. We shared a bedroom, and when our grandmothers would visit (which was often), we shared a bed. At bedtime, Mary Ann would draw an imaginary line down the middle of the bed, and admonish me not to cross it. Occasionally, she'd wake me up during the night to let me know that I'd crossed it.

I suppose it was tough for Mary Ann to have a little sister who always wanted to tag along. Despite that, we rarely argued we weren't close enough. Much the same applied to Mother.

Thank God for Suzy, our cleaning lady. I would keep her company in the basement while she ironed, and help her pull the wash through the wringer. She would braid my hair into a mass of little pigtails. (I was way ahead of Bo Derek.) She braided my hair so tight that it hurt-but I thought I was the "cat's pajamas." The neighborhood kids branded me a "pickaninny." I didn't care. I was Suzy's pickaninny.

This excerpt reproduced with express permission of Avon Books. Copyright © 2000 Bina Cady Kiyonaga.

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