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Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops Cover - Allison Hong MerrillBook Title:

Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops: A Memoir


Allison Hong Merrill

Publishing Information:

She Writes Press, 2021

Link to Buy Book:



A powerful true story of a Taiwanese immigrant bride––disowned by her father, abandoned by her American husband; homeless, penniless, and inarticulate in English––defies cultural expectations and creates her own destiny. An award-winning memoir, Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops is for anyone who has struggled with gender inequality, racism, and immigrant injustice. Ultimately, it’s about a strong woman of color determined to create her own path.

Author Bio:

Allison is a loveaholic, a Taiwanese immigrant, and an award-winning author who shares her Chinese culture with strong storytelling skills to create empowering books, to build understanding and love. She earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work appears in the New York Times. Her debut memoir, Ninety-Nine Fire Hoops, has won over 40 independent book awards. She is a keynote speaker, instructor, and panelist at various writer’s conferences nationwide and in Asia. She also appears on TV, radio, and podcasts; in magazines, newspapers, and journals. Visit her at to sign up for her monthly email.

Book Excerpt:





I discovered that I became a starter wife from a light switch.

Not a light bulb, like I had a big idea. A light switch. A light switch in my apartment that I flipped on and off but the living room remained dark, and that darkness caused a pricking, tingling sensation in my hands and feet.

When I left the apartment two hours earlier, the lights worked, the heater ran, and Cameron––my husband of sixteen months––was doing homework on our bed. Lately we kept fighting about investing in the boat his father planned to purchase. I said no, and we had been giving each other the cold shoulder for days. Tired of our never-ending arguments, now I wanted reconciliation. This particular day, around dinnertime, I went to seek marriage advice from my classmate, a fellow Taiwanese student. Before leaving, I stood before Cameron and said good-bye. If he heard me, he acted otherwise. So I wrote I love you, Cam on a Post-in note and left it on the inside of the front door. It wasn’t there now.

Now I had to feel my way to the bedroom.

Felt the bed.

Felt one pillow.

Felt a chill.

I didn’t need to keep feeling anymore. Didn’t need to avoid bumping into the desk, or the chairs, or Cameron’s bike. They weren’t in the dark with me.

In the dark, there was no warmth.

No gas for the heater.

No electricity.

No telephone.

No food.

My heartbeat quickened and thundered in my ears.

What happened? Am I in the wrong apartment? Must be. All the units look the same on the outside .  .  .

I felt my way out of the apartment and double-checked the gold number nailed to the door: 21. My apartment, no mistake.

No!–-no, no, no, no, no! Where’s Cameron?

I tucked my hands under my armpits in the November evening chills. My legs trembled as I paced in a circle in small steps. The windows of other units in the building glowed in golden light. Through my next-door neighbors’ blinds, I noticed them sitting around the coffee table, Seinfeld playing on TV, the waft of their gumbo dinner in the air. It looked warm and inviting where they were. I stood in the cold, dark night, staring past my door into the abyss. For tonight’s dinner I’d planned to make chicken stir-fry. Cameron would’ve enjoyed it on the couch right there, over there, there, there, there, where it was nothing but emptiness now.

The black of the apartment reminded me of a summer night, three months earlier, when the power had gone out in the entire complex. That night Cameron drove back to his parents’ home, in the next town, for an air-conditioned room. I didn’t go with him because I would’ve rather eaten dog food than see my in-laws. To say they were bad people would be telling only half the truth. A big part of the problem was me––I avoided them to avoid speaking English.

I was born and raised in Taiwan and was only confident speaking Mandarin Chinese. On this fateful night, I was a fresh-off-the-boat immigrant––having been in the U.S. for only sixteen months––and heavily dependent on Cameron’s Chinese-speaking prowess for almost everything. For example, underwear shopping: he had to tag along to tell the lingerie store clerk I wished to get my size measured in the metric system. America’s customary system didn’t mean anything to me. Another time, I accidentally cut my finger with a rusty utility knife while opening a package. Cameron had to explain to the emergency room nurse why I needed a tetanus shot. For me to carry on English conversations wasn’t just a linguistic challenge or an intellectual evaluation; it was an insurmountable task.

Of course, avoiding my in-laws couldn’t possibly be healthy for my marriage. But there were other contributing factors to my shaky relationship with Cameron too. To say it was all my doing would be giving me more credit than I deserve. After all, there are always two people in a relationship; one simply can’t start a marital war alone. However, I’ll say, my short marriage to Cameron helped shorten the emotional distance between him and his father.

Glad to have helped!


Upon discovering the non-working light switch, I realized I needed to overcome my dependence on Cameron as my mouthpiece, as well as the fear that crippled my ability to communicate with English speakers, and go immediately to the apartment office in the next building to talk with the manager.

“Hi, I’m Allison.” My voice shocked myself more than it did the manager, Jane––an overweight woman in her late fifties whose eyes at this moment were as huge as tennis balls. She’d never heard me speak. In fact, she’d probably never really looked at me before. I was always behind Cameron, who did all the talking with his proud Texan accent and charismatic humor. But the real surprise was hearing myself say the name that my tenth-grade English teacher had given me the way Americans do, without mixing up the L and R––one of the English-language learning curves that most Chinese people struggle with. Not Ayhreesong. I said Allison. The parting of my lips + the tip of my tongue kicking off the back of my upper front teeth + the soft dropping of my tongue + short hissing sss juxtaposed with the nasal ending = Allison. I said that.

Jane took off her reading glasses. “Forgot somethin’?”

I shook my head. “Cam––Cameron gone.”

“Well, o’course. So should you. Why you still here?”

I knew what she said but didn’t understand what she meant. I blurted out “yes” but immediately felt idiotic and frustrated to be stuck with it. “My house, cold.” I pointed in the direction of my apartment and hugged myself. I shivered exaggeratedly and chattered my teeth purposely.

Jane shook her head. “K––ma’am, I’m confused. Why you still here anyway? Weren’t Cameron’s parents here earlier to move you guys out?”

Weren’t Cameron’s parents here earlier to move you guys out?

Weren’t Cameron’s parents here earlier to move you guys out?

Weren’t Cameron’s parents here earlier to move you guys out?


“Really?” I exclaimed, not caring about mixing up my L and R.

Jane pushed her office chair away with her bottom and walked to a wall cabinet behind her seat. She fished out a key from rows of hooks and waved it in the air. “See? Number 21. Your apartment. Cameron turned in the key.” She put her other hand on her hip and leaned forward. “Question, ma’am: Why you still here?”

I was still here, in the apartment manager’s office, in Edinburg, in Texas, in the U.S.A., and I was mighty lost.

“Sorry,” I said, my scalp starting to feel numb. “Please, one week”––I held up my index finger––“I find help. I want stay––myself.”

I hoped she would not only understand but also have mercy on me. My cheeks and earlobes were burning. My throat was tight, as though I were dry-swallowing a pill. And my head was so heavy I could only look down at my shoes. At this point, everything about my life shared the same theme of emptiness: empty apartment, empty pockets, empty hands––palms up––asking for empathy.

Maybe Jane detected an unusual sense of urgency in the abandoned foreigner on her premises; maybe she fathomed the depth of my trouble and grasped the serious reality that, at this moment, she was the only one who could make the situation a little more bearable for me. Whatever it was, she slumped into her chair, clicked her tongue, pushed a pile of papers on her desk from one side to another, stroked her temple, and then, with her seemingly softened heart, said, “Ay––you stay.”


Back at the apartment, I didn’t take off my shoes before entering. No need now. It wasn’t sacred ground anymore, as Chinese culture had taught me what a home was. I’d convinced Cameron to leave his shoes by the door whenever he came back to this place––our place. He probably didn’t do it earlier when he and his parents were here deliberately ruining my life. This space was likely soiled now.

 From now on, my life would be divided into before and after becoming a starter wife. My steps would chart a seam between two periods on my life’s timeline: one ending, one beginning, right here where Cameron left nothing behind.

 But that wasn’t entirely true. He did leave behind the bed we’d bought together at a yard sale. I lay on it and curled into a ball. The utilities couldn’t be reconnected at this late hour. No heat. No light. Through the naked mattress, a biting chill seeped into my kidneys, my lungs, my head. I probably would see my breath if I could see anything, but I couldn’t even see my fingers when I waved them in front of me. I didn’t see it coming, all of this––Cameron teaming up with his parents for the blindside––and now I was in the dark, not knowing what to do next. It was just me here now. A twenty-three-year-old immigrant with a three-year-old’s English vocabulary. A newlywed, dumped.

I could cry.

I could curse.

I could scream.

But whatever I did, I would do it all alone.

I––what a lonely word to be left alone with!


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