What always really impressed me were the girls who knew exactly who they were. At thirteen, I was a frantic bundle of self-consciousness and doubt — and, let’s be real, not a lot had changed since then – so the ones who did as they liked and didn’t care what anyone else thought were the ones I was drawn to.
Amanda would bring a book to canteen some nights, wait in line for a snack with everyone else, and then plop down at a picnic table amidst the crowds of teenagers shimmying to Usher and read as she ate. The rest of the camp was busy with their prepubescent mating rituals, but Amanda couldn’t be bothered with that bullshit. She wanted a slice of pizza as she read Ender’s Game, thank you very fucking much, and wasn’t about to let the world make her think that was weird or wrong. Gemma rarely bothered to go at all – she thought it was stupid. She was perfectly content to grab an ice cream and retreat back to the bunk for a night of Apples to Apples and dumb quizzes out of J-14.
Hayley was absolutely gorgeous, in a really iconic way: long red hair, bright blue eyes, tanner than any 14-year-old has the right to be. Along with the prettiness came the obvious boy obsession – she always went to canteen. She had a life to live, suitors to entertain. There was one night she made it back to the cabin well before curfew, though – she flung herself onto her bed, sobbing, right as I was getting out of the shower. It took a fair amount of time to calm her down enough to get a coherent explanation: she’d been making out with a boy on one of the tennis courts (oops, summer camp), when he’d begun to unbutton her shorts and shove his grimy, teenage boy hand down her pants. Hayley had jumped up in a panic and made up some excuse about needing to get back to he friends before sprinting off.
She was terrified he would tell everyone. “The entire camp will know I’m a prude by tomorrow morning,” she choked out between sobs.
“Dude, who cares?!” I said. “Do you not realize how awesome what you just did is? You weren’t ready, and you didn’t let him trick you into thinking you were ready. You basically yelled, ‘FUCK YOU, I’M FOURTEEN!’ at him and ran away, which is so cool. You don’t even understand how cool.”
She smeared away her mascara-soaked tears and looked up at me, blue eyes wide and only beginning to comprehend the kickass precedent she’d set for herself. She crinkled her nose. “I mean… it was on a field.”
Lizzie did magic, even though it was widely regarded throughout camp as super lame. Nora corrected the grammar on a One Direction poster someone had hung up in the bathroom with a Sharpie. Maggie made stop-motion movies under the moniker “Interrobang Productions” but hid and cried when the bunk took a group photo without her.
It’s hard to be weird when you’re thirteen. That was what I tried most to teach them: it wouldn’t always be like that. Their world would grow huger and their tribe would emerge and they’d find their place, really and truly. Someday soon. Just not in the eighth grade.