I was 16 years old and I was madly, hopelessly in love with the books of Ray Bradbury. My first Bradbury paperback was given to me by my 7th grade English teacher, who recognized that the assigned reading material was below my reading and comprehension level. I know this sounds like I'm bragging, but books had been a huge part of my childhood and adolescence...something which I credit my mother for, and appreciate immensely. I can honestly say that there has never been a time in my life where I haven't been in the middle of a book.
The book I was given by my teacher was Dandelion Wine...and I loved it. From there I read and reread any work by Ray Bradbury I could get my hands on. I don't know what it was about his books that enthralled me so, but I think it has something to do with the strange, mysterious, and fantastical plots seeming so much more feasible and realistic than everyday life did. Like at any point I could be zapped into another dimension, and it would be the most normal thing in the world and make more sense than my miserable, suburban life did. I've only ever felt that from one other author (Haruki Murakami). I've always been a daydreamer...these books just fueled that.
So at 16, when I read in the paper that Ray Bradbury would be speaking at the UCLA book fair, well I freaked the fuck out. Although it was weeks away, I didn't stop thinking about it once. I wrote a 3 page letter to Mr. Bradbury, detailing what his books meant to me, and how they affected me. Although I didn't have a driver's license yet, my mother agreed to let me take her car so that I could take the hour trip to Los Angeles alone. That was something I was adamant about: taking this trip by myself. My best friend offered to accompany me, but I knew I wanted to remember that day as a solo experience.
The day of my trip was sunny and beautiful. I wore my very favorite vintage dress, with my hair in two cute buns, and my sister's vintage platform wedges. I got to UCLA right as Mr. Bradbury's forum was starting. Although it was free, the hall was full and the security guard said he couldn't let me in. I felt my heart drop, then out of nowhere blurted "my mother is inside, I just need to grab something from her". He probably knew I was lying, but to his credit, he let me in. I sat transfixed as Ray Freaking Bradbury spoke about writing, sci-fi, his childhood, and answered questions from the audience. My heart was pounding as I knew I would have to build up my courage shortly to hand him my letter.
When the forum ended, and the hall had cleared out, I approached the stage where he was answering questions from a smattering of journalists. I waited patiently until he looked my way, and I handed him my letter with a huge grin on my face. He took it, thanked me, and I walked away. I carried my shoes and walked barefoot to the car, as my feet were killing me...but honestly, I was floating on air.
Two weeks later I received a package in the mail from Mr. Bradbury. Inside was a sweet note telling me he appreciated my letter, as well as a few books including his own Zen and the Art of Writing, in which he had inscribed "Onward Georgia!".