“Me? Oh, no,” I replied. “No. When I was a little kid, I wanted to be an astronaut, but these” – I pointed to my high-prescription-strength glasses – “put an end to that. But I found something else that was much, much better.”
“What was that?” another student asked.
In the summer of 1982, my family’s last day on Guam was spent at a hotel, with friends having one last party – a good-bye party – at the hotel pool. We kids swam until it got dark, and then the party ended. All of our friends, our little village of people who were like family, went home, and my family headed back up, to our hotel room. We were leaving in early June, when school just ended, in order to have a month visiting family, first in the Philippines and then California, before making the long drive from San Diego to Grand Prairie, Texas.
My siblings, tired out, went to bed early, but I couldn’t get to sleep. I was too excited, too anxious. I stayed up, watching two cable-provided movies on the hotel TV with Mom and Pa, and somewhere at the end of the movie was when Mom and Pa broke the news.
Pa said. “Rufel, you’ll have to stay a few more days on Guam, with Auntie Tess and Uncle Carl.”
I stared at both of them, the second movie muted in the background. “Why?”
“Eh, your papers weren’t in order yet – it will take just three more days, and it will be all right.”
“But,” I asked, “why weren’t my papers in order yet?” I had no idea what “my papers” meant – I just knew that it sounded bad.
“Ay naku,” Mom sighed. “Rufel, your passport needed to be updated because you’re adopted.” Then, for the first time, she showed me my passport.
It was green. It was a Taiwanese passport, with a black and white toddler picture in it. My name was printed as “WANG, SU-FONG, ALSO KNOWN AS RUSEL RAMOS.” Since only Pa was an American citizen at the time, and I was born to a single, Taiwanese national, my citizenship was still mish-mashed with Taiwan.
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
“We adopted you when you were a baby,” Mom said, sounding guilty, “but you will always be our daughter.”
“I will always be your Pa, and your Mom will always be your Mom,” Pa added.
“We will always love you,” Mom said.
“But,” Pa declared with reluctance, “but not everyone in the Philippines knows you were adopted.”
“Just keep this quiet, okay, Rufel?” Mom said.
I just stared at them, that movie finishing in the background. “Okay, Mom. Okay, Pa.”
“You’re a good girl,” Mom said, turning off the TV.
“You’ll be okay,” Pa said. “One of your uncles will be your official guardian on the airplane ride to the Philippines. See, here’s the affidavit.” Pa showed me a signed and notarized letter as proof.
“We’ll pick you up at the airport,” Mom said. “You’ll be lucky. You’ll be flying on a nice Pan Am airplane while we go by military transport plane.”
Then we all got ready for bed, and then Mom and Pa went to sleep.
Oh, and the two movies that were playing that night? The first one was Chariots of Fire.
The second was Mommy Dearest.
I truly wish that I was making that up.
To say that my ten-year-old self had abandonment issues would be an understatement.
Thanks to the Childcraft book Guide to Parents, I was familiar with adoption, so I knew that my biological parents gave me up, left me behind. As my family – “Are they my family?” I thought back then – went to the airport, leaving me behind, I went with Auntie and Uncle to spend two nights and three days at their house.
Absolutely speaking, Auntie and Uncle (who were actually not related to Mom and Pa but were their close friends) were as familiar and warm to me as my own family, their two daughters were fun and friendly playmates, and their house was large, airy, and open to me. During the day, around them, I smiled, I played, and I thanked their kind company. During the night, when they were asleep, I fought with the double demons of fear and grief. After the second day, when I woke up to the third morning after a fitful night of not-sleeping, I was ready to leave.
The entire family came with me to the airport, and they made sure my legal guardian – a man whom Pa said I should consider as “Uncle” even though he was a complete stranger to me – met me at the departure gate. This was before the days of 9/11, so Auntie, Uncle, and their daughters accompanied me through security, all the way to my departure gate. I only had a carry-on, as my other luggage was with Mom and Pa at the Philippines.
After saying my goodbyes, realizing that I would likely never see them again, I followed my guardian onto the jetway and then onto the plane. The white and blue of Pan American World Airways were everywhere in the cabin, and I sat in a window seat, my carry-on tucked in front of me. My guardian sat next to me, in an aisle seat. Try as I might, I cannot recall what my guardian looked like – not even his ethnicity. My insomnia, fear, and grief knocked out my ability to retain the image of this man who had full legal responsibility for me during the time I was in his care.
As the plane lifted off for the long, three-hour flight to Manila International Airport, I stared out the window, seeing the Earth fall below me. From above I could see the funny, crooked shape of what had been my little island home and felt keenly the loss of that idyllic childhood on Guam. Staring at the vast, blue ocean stretch before me, I felt the loss of my family. I felt the loss of my friends. But, most of all, I felt the loss of my innocence.
For the first time of my life, I felt totally alone. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t – not on a plane with a bunch of strangers, including the one sitting next to me. Instead, I looked at the seat pocket in front of me and, behind a safety brochure and a barf bag, was a slim magazine. Pulling it out, I saw that it was a copy of Cricket, an illustrated literary magazine for older kids. I absent-mindedly flipped through the pages until I stopped at a little black and white illustration of a faun and a little pig-tailed girl, walking together under the same umbrella. I read “Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well.”
Those were the first words of The Chronicles of Narnia, from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, that I ever read.
I barely remember the three days I spent before that flight, I don’t remember my guardian at all, and I don’t remember what happened when I arrived – safe and sound – at Manila International Airport, when my family and extended family met me with open arms. Instead, I remember meeting Lucy Pevensie and Mr. Tumnus for the first time, through the pages of Cricket magazine, on an airplane several thousands of feet above the deep, dark Pacific Ocean. Lucy’s meeting with Mr. Tumnus made me forget my own troubles, and that was when I realized the power of story and the power of the author behind the story, C. S. Lewis. After reading the book excerpt (which ended with “And so Lucy found herself walking through the wood arm in arm with this strange creature as if they had known one another all their lives”), I found myself again, for Lewis reminded me of one unshakeable truth about who I was.
I was a reader.
And for the next two years, I would often feel like Lucy, having stumbled in a strange, new world and figuring out how to adapt and fit in while she’s there.
After a long bus ride from the crazy throng of metro Manila to San Fernando, La Union, up north, we arrived at Pa’s childhood home on the close-quartered houses on Bonifacio Street. For about the first week of June, my family and I stayed there – a two-story wooden house with electricity throughout but no air conditioning. Since the only running water was in the kitchen, the toilet was pretty much an attached outhouse on the first floor.
Even though we had regularly visited this same house when we were living on Taiwan, I had no memory of that to prepare me for this visit. The weather was so hot and steamy that I developed prickly heat rashes in the inner bend of my elbows and the back of my knees. My siblings and I would sleep on top of the blankets, upstairs in one of the bedrooms, with a fan constantly on us. Since the nearest and only McDonalds to us was in Manila (it was 1982, after all), my brother Eric (who was five years old at the time) had to get used to eating adobo chicken whenever he whined for chicken nuggets.
As my family’s books were on a transport ship on route to the States and I didn’t find any books in English in my grandparents’ house (my grandparents chided Mom and Pa for not raising their kids bilingual), I didn’t read much when we were in the Philippines. However, we had plenty to do. The house of my apong baket (grandmother) and apong lakay (grandfather) had a black sandy beach as its backyard, and we all swam in the warm waters of the South China Sea. Afterwards, we would bathe outside in our swimming suits, using cake soap and cold water hand-pumped from the communal water pump. We would visit our relatives’ homes, and there was always a huge fiesta, with the familiar massive amount of food, drinking, singing, and playing, at each house we would visit. We would sight-see at nearby Baguio, a sprawling town spread around the misty, green mountain ranges of that area. After a while, it all became a blur.
One of my twenty-something year old cousins even took me to a wedding reception that she had been invited to, and the only concrete memory I have of that reception was a piñata that was filled with little candies and little, postage-stamp sized cards with a tiny bauble glued to it and a fortune-cookie type saying printed in English underneath the bauble. The one I got (and still have) had a plaster, gold-painted clown-face, and the fortune was “A little boy will be your first pride and joy.” While strange for a ten-year old kid to get, it was a wedding reception, after all.
After a week, we took the long bus ride to metro Manila. Mom then decided that I needed to get my hair cut before flying out to the States. So while one of my cousins who worked in Manila acted as a tour guide to Pa and my siblings, Mom took me to a hair salon. I tried not to stare in the mirror as an overly flamboyant, skinny young man in a halter top and short-shorts washed, cut, and styled my hair.
After Mom paid and we left the salon I asked, “Mom, why does that man look like that?”
Mom shrugged and murmured, “He’s baklâ.” She waved her hand.
“Ay naku,” Mom sighed. “It’s a man who wants to be a woman.”
“But why –”
“Watch where you’re going!” Mom said, pulling me back as an errant jeepney (a gaudily decorated public bus in which riders entered in the back through a door-less entryway) careened to a stop in front of us. We got into the jeepney, Mom calling out where to go, and sat on one of the pairs of bench seats that ran the whole length of the bus. I sat next to her and then noticed that an old, crazy-eyed woman with blue-gray hair who sat across from me was grinning at me with no teeth and tobacco-stained gums.
My first baklâ and my first crazy old lady – that was when I realized that some things in real life can be much stranger than anything in a book. I haven’t been to the Philippines since then, and I can still see them in my mind.
Like the last time we were in California five years ago, my family visited our various far-flung relatives in the Los Angeles, San Jose, and then San Diego areas. Sleeping in other people’s homes, meeting relatives that I barely remembered, smiling dumbly as they talked to me in Ilocano or Tagalog, and sweating in a rental car during the hot California days almost became routine. A few of those relatives felt as if they barely tolerated us – a rather large family of six ascending on them like locusts. But most were like the family-like community on Guam, and I was reluctant to leave when it was time to go.
After spending most of the month of June in California, we spent the last night at San Diego. All of that time, I hadn’t read anything, so when I couldn’t sleep that last night, I looked around in the bedroom that I was sharing with Wendy and found a copy of Reader’s Digest. The only article I remember reading was this maudlin “based on a true story” account of a twelve-year old girl who became pregnant with her very first boyfriend, a fourteen year old boy in her school. Her parents scandalized, they shipped her off to a group home for pregnant teen girls like her, until she gave birth, whereupon the staff of that group home took away her baby, to be put up for adoption. The girl returned home, but she had to keep secret that she was ever pregnant and everything that happened to her for the previous months.
In the wee hours of the early morning, I was horrified yet fascinated with this story. Here was a girl who was only two years older than I was. The idea that a kid could have a kid was inconceivable to me, and even I recognized that she didn’t have the wherewithal to take care of a baby. Giving up the baby for adoption was the right thing to do. Still reeling from my own adoption revelation, however, I also felt angry, for the girl letting herself get into this situation in the first place, for the parents pressuring her to make the problem go away, as if the pregnancy and birth never happened.
“Ugh,” I whispered and put the magazine away. This was not the best way to prepare for a long, family road trip and a new life in Texas. That was when I really, really missed my books and regretted that my cousins didn’t have Cricket lying around.
By this time, our station wagon had arrived in the States, so that was our road trip car. It was like the South Carolina road trip in reverse, except that we would be stopping halfway through the United States. My family left San Diego not too soon after I finished reading the article, the morning still dark and surprisingly chilly. Pa decided to drive straight through from California to Texas, only stopping for gas, restroom breaks, gas station provisions, like food and water. I was wonky with sleep, so I barely remember the marathon trip except throwing up somewhere on the Sonoran Desert in Arizona when I got car sick and Pa stopped for gas. When we entered Texas at El Paso, I thought, “We’re in Texas,” but then discovered just how big Texas was when I asked, “How far are we to Dallas?”
Pa laughed. “We’re only halfway there.”
From the front seat, Mom groaned.
When we arrived in Grand Prairie, Texas (“Not Dallas,” Mom would remind me), we couldn’t move right into our house. First, our stuff hadn’t arrived from Guam yet. Second, since there was no family military housing and my parents didn’t want to rent, my parents bought their first home – a four-year old one-story, three bedroom, two bath Fox & Jacobs brick house with a two-car garage in the back. But in visiting our new house – it felt huge to me as my siblings and I ran from one empty room to the next – Mom wanted the hideous burnt orange shag carpet, which was in every room, replaced. Fortunately, through family and Navy connections, we stayed with a Navy family for a few days and then a local Filipino family for a few days more. When we finally moved into our house – Wendy and I sharing a room, little Eric and Cheryl sharing another – our house felt both familiar and foreign. It was familiar with our stuff, but it was foreign because it was a civilian house, in a civilian neighborhood, as far away from my Navy and Guamanian community as could possibly be.
While Pa reported for duty at Naval Air Station Dallas in July 1982, Mom, my siblings, and I tried to adjust to our new life in Texas. My first summer in Texas was an awful culture and climate shock, with the summer heat feeling like an oven on preheat, with discovering the hard way just how painful fire ant bites could be (only closed toe shoes outside from now on), and seeing no kids playing outside at all, even though there was a middle school and an adjacent park just across the street from my house.
It was just too hot.
The greatest culture shock would be when I started fifth grade at my new school, Dickinson Elementary School. The school was only a fifteen minute walk from the house, Mom drove Wendy, Eric (who would start half-day morning kindergarten), and me to the school. When I found my homeroom classroom – Mr. Gilmore’s fifth grade class – I was the last one to arrive and also the only new kid in class. For that first day, the desks were arranged so that the girls sat in one side of the room, the boys on the other, with their names labeled on the desks. I quickly realized that 1) my name must be unusual for a girl and 2) my new teacher didn’t read his student information roll too closely because 3) my desk was in the boys’ side.
After that, I don’t remember much about my first day in fifth grade. But by the end of fifth grade, I had gotten over my culture shock. I got used to wearing jeans (I got my first pair of jeans sometime after that first day), got used to wearing layers in the fall and winter (I didn’t know that Texas did get cold until it did), got used to having only one recess (New Piti had three – one before class, one after lunch, and one before the end of the day), and got used to being one of the few brown people in a sunburned sea of white people. I never realized I was a minority, until I moved to Texas. I never realized how rare it was to be Filipino, until I moved to Texas. I never realized how different military kids were from civilian ones – until I moved to Texas.
Fortunately, because I was tested as “Gifted and Talented” when I was on Guam (which I didn’t know until Mr. Gilmore informed me), I had that label in my school record when I was assigned my reading teacher. (That was another adjustment – having more than one teacher.) It was in the fifth grade advanced reading class that the teacher, Mr. Smith – recognizing that I was finishing my reading assignments far earlier than everyone else – lent me a young adult novel that supposedly fifth graders weren’t mature enough to read yet, but he trusted that I was ready. While I liked the book overall (it was Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes), the story itself was a little too close to my own emotional issues, and I wouldn’t read another YA “problem” novel until middle school – which leads me to sixth grade.
Sixth grade at Truman Middle School was just another culture shock to get over – seven classes, lockers with combination locks, hauling backpacks when the next class was too far away, gender-segregated PE, and “puberty” films that prepared the girls for menstruation (I had no idea what the boys’ version was back then). I responded to this culture shock by watching an early morning anime cartoon called Star Blazers by the first bell (which I could hear across the street from my house), doing my assignments, checking out a library book to occupy myself when I finished classwork early (usually teen girl-centric novels, like Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen), speaking very seldom, and hurrying across the street to my house at the last bell. Not surprisingly, this did very little for my social life. (How I managed to make a friend – her name was Jill – during this time is a miracle to me.)
Also during this time, I got into the habit of carrying around a seventy-sheet spiral wide-ruled paper notebook with a #2 pencil tucked in its spine, along with my usual Trapper Keeper binder and textbooks. At first I just drew doodles and little word balloons and captions – just like my little kid “JUDO IS FUN!” days. I even got into the habit of drawing covers of imaginary books – sort of like a big kid version of an imaginary friend. But one day those words became sentences and paragraphs, and I found myself writing a story.
The title was “Dana Strikes Back.” While one would assume that I would write about being adopted, I didn’t. My adoption was still a within-the-family-only secret thing, and since only two years had passed when I found out, I was still figuring out what it meant to be adopted. Also, I could’ve written about my amazing time in Guam or all the traveling I did as a Navy kid, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to write anything about that, maybe because all that was too weird and different from what everyone at school was like and I was now trying to figure out how to fit in.
So I wrote a made-up story about a big sister who resented having to be the good, responsible one in her family while her siblings seemed to have it easy. Dana was eleven years old, she read a lot, she lived in the suburbs not really knowing her neighbors too well, and she wished she didn’t have to wear ugly glasses. In other words, Dana stood in for me. I hadn’t heard of the writer’s advice “Write what you know” at the time, but that’s what I naturally did. However, because she was made up, she could do things that I wanted to do but was too scared to do in real life.
I kept writing and writing – in pre-teen girl cursive, writing on every blue line, keeping within the red-lined margins, and filling out both front and back of each sheet of that spiral notebook. I wrote in class before the bell rung and when I was finished early with my classwork. I wrote during lunchtime when my new friend Jill – who was as introverted as I was — was absent and I didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone else. I wrote during free days in PE. I wrote when I didn’t have homework or finished homework early. I wrote when I was in my bedroom, on top of the new bunk bed I shared with Wendy, when dinners were eaten and chores were done. When school was out for the holidays, I wrote; when I wasn’t babysitting my siblings or neighbors’ little kids for money over the weekend (gigs that my ever entrepreneurial mom would set up), I wrote.
I wrote all the time.
Doing that got the attention of another girl who mostly sat by herself at lunchtime. One day she asked, “What are you doing?”
“Huh? Oh – I’m writing a book.”
“Really! That’s so cool!” she moved closer to where I sat. “What’s it about?”
“Uh… it’s about a girl having bratty younger brothers and sisters and being sick and tired of it.”
“Oh,” she said. She thought a bit. “Can I read it?”
“It’s not done.”
“Can I read it when it’s done?”
Then Jill came over with her lunch tray. “Sorry for being late, Rufel – hey, who are you?” she said to the new girl.
“Ummmm….” I looked at both girls.
As new a friend Jill was, she knew me enough. “You wanna keep writing through lunch, do you.”
“Nah, don’t worry,” she said, setting her tray next to me and across from Stephanie. “But promise me you’ll let me read it first.”
“And me,” Stephanie piped up.
“But it’s not done.”
Jill glanced over at my tiny, pencil scribbles. “It will be.”
I was at home when I finished, having filled every available piece of paper of that spiral notebook with penciled paragraphs. When I numbered the pages, making it look like a real book, the last page had an impressive-looking “104” on the top right corner.
“Wow,” I said. “I wrote a novel.” I closed the notebook. “I wonder if it’s any good?” I had no idea if it was since it felt too much like a diary, in fiction form, and therefore too private. What if the story was bad? What if it sounded stupid?
I really didn’t want to show it to anyone just yet. But I promised Jill and Stephanie I would.
So I did.
“Where’s Stephanie?” I asked at lunchtime.
Jill shrugged. She handed back the notebook that I gave her in homeroom.
“That was fast,” I said.
“I read fast.” She pointed at the notebook with her forkful of chicken-fried steak. “The story’s pretty good, especially the main character – Dana. You use a lot of big words.”
“Is that bad?”
“Not too bad – I just noticed you use a lot of big words. ‘Vermillion’ instead of ‘red.’ Also, you probably have some grammar and spelling mistakes in there, but I don’t wanna fix ‘em.”
“You wanna do my homework for me?”
“Well, there you go.”
I sighed and turned when Stephanie arrived.
“Hi, guys,” she said.
“Rufel’s done,” Jill announced.
“Really?” She set down her tray. “Can I see it?”
I gave it to Stephanie, and she admired the cover.
“You even made a book cover!” She flipped through the pages. “Is it okay if I bring this home with me?”
“Uh….” I hesitated. “It’s my only copy.”
“You should type this up,” Jill said. “I might help fix the mistakes if it was typed up.”
“But I don’t have a typewriter.” I couldn’t help whining. “And I don’t even know how.”
“Oooh, I can,” Stephanie said. “I mean, my mom can. She has a typewriter. I can ask her.”
“You sure?” I asked.
“Sure! It’s no problem.”
“Well… okay.” I smiled. “Thanks.”
Every time I saw Stephanie I would ask, “Is your mom done yet?” and Stephanie would reply, “Not yet. But she’ll be done soon.” As the Christmas holidays were looming, I grew anxious, asking “Is your mom done yet?” and Stephanie replying, “She’s been busy, but she should be done after Christmas.” My second Christmas in Texas was not full of happy holidays, as I worried about my little novel. When school resumed in January, I looked for Stephanie, but she was gone.
“Where’s Stephanie?” I asked when I saw Jill before our PE class.
“You don’t know? Her parents got a divorce. Stephanie and her mom moved away.”
I suddenly felt sick. That same empty, aching feeling of grief and panic that I last felt two years ago in the Mommy Dearest hotel room hit me as I realized that my book – very first book that had so much of me in it – was gone forever.
“No,” I said. “No.”
“Where are you going?” Jill asked, as I started walking away. “Are you going to the nurse’s office?”
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No.” I waved back, pushing my way through the salmon-run throng of middle-schoolers rushing between classes. “You’ve been absent a lot already. I’ll be okay.”
Of course, I lied.
Knowing that I couldn’t just roam the halls once the bell rang and that I couldn’t just go home without getting into trouble with either the school attendance office or my parents, I went to the library. Some students were already there, so I didn’t look too out of place as I found an empty corner table and sat down. As I sat there, the panicky-grief ache turned into a hot-headed dizziness as my sadness turned into something else.
I was mad. I was teeth-grinding, fist-clenching mad, and if anyone would have spoken to me at that moment, I would’ve lost my mind. Desperate to prevent that, I looked around and saw a display of three paperback books on top of the middle-height stacks near me. The cover of one of them struck me, of a flying, winged centaur (except the wings were the centaur’s arms) with a red-eyed, dour-wrinkled green face in a blue bubble below the centaur. The title was A Wrinkle in Time. When I walked closer, I saw the author’s name, Madeleine L’Engle, and that she was the author of the other two books, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet. I chose the book with the striking centaur cover and returned to my table.
For the next forty-five minutes, Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which took me away from my sorrow and my anger. When the bell rang, I grabbed the other two books along with the one I was reading, grabbed my backpack, and checked out all three from the library. I no longer felt angry or sad, but my head still felt achy and hot.
By the end of the next school day, I did get sent to the nurse’s office with a fever and a small rash. After Mom took me to a Navy doctor on base, she quarantined me in my bedroom, made Wendy sleep on the couch, warned Eric and Cheryl not to bother me, and admonished me not to scratch at my itchy spots.
Chicken pox would keep me away from school and most of my family for the next two weeks, but L’Engle’s three novels kept me company. I read and re-read them as I endured the rash that turned into blisters that popped-open, crusted over, and then turned into scabs. Even when most of the rash started to heal on the second week, a couple of areas got infected, leading to another doctor’s visit, smelly ointments, and thick bandages on my shins. I felt ugly and awful, but the books (as that excerpt of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in Cricket did two years ago) made me forget all that.
When I was cleared to return to school, I was reluctant to return the books, even though they were overdue. Of course, I did (however, one wonders what the librarians did with those chicken-pox exposed books). But when it was near my twelfth birthday and Mom and Pa asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I said, “Three books. By Madeleine L’Engle.”
“That’s all?” Pa asked.
“That’s what I want.”
While Mom and Pa did give me other things as gifts, I have no memory of them. However, I will always remember Mom giving me cash from her babysitting and crocheting. I went to a local, generic bookstore called Century Books in Forum 303 Mall (a shopping mall that would be demolished in 2007), marched straight to the children’s books section, and bought my own copy of those three books that were my companions for those two long, lonely, and itchy weeks.
I still have them today.
“Are you gonna write another book?” Jill asked me when I came back to school after the chicken pox scabs had healed up, leaving white, silvery scars.
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s too hard.”
Jill gave me a withering look. “Stop complaining about that first one. The first one’s always practice, anyways. You’ll write again, and the second one’ll be better.”
“How do you know?”
She shrugged. “I know you. You’re a writer.” She frowned at her school lunch Frito pie.
As it turns out, she was both right and wrong. I did start writing again, in the summer of 1984, as a way to stave off summer boredom and escape from my younger siblings and my chore-finding mom. I would write in that new spiral notebook, my #2 pencil again writing out sentences and paragraphs in neat, legible cursive, front and back of each sheet. I wish I remembered what exactly it was about, but all I can remember is that it involved a young teen girl named Sharley Harris, her friends, and their club that solved mysteries, kind of like an all-girl Three Investigators. I have no memory of plot or dialogue other than the phrase “frog oolong” (more on why I remember that later).
What I do remember, as clear and as sharp as cut crystal, was learning just how little I knew good writing was.
I would learn that in 1985 – the year my personal life went to hell while I succeeded like gangbusters in school.