I teach at a writing camp for middle school students in the summer. Boys. Girls. Black. White. City. Outskirts. Comfortable. Underserved. All enamored with the sparks of magic between their pens and lined paper.
For the past three summers, Samantha has been one of the half dozen perennial students in the class. My first year, Sam’s name was one that I never forgot. Partly, because I’ve always thought boys’ names on girls was super cool. Mostly, though, it was her satirical humor and irrepressible spunk. Small enough to fold herself in two within the slim perimeter of table edge and plastic chairs, the small knots of her knees would peek above the table to balance her composition notebook. Above those pages, her brown hair dipped into a voluminous bob just above her ears and her large, dark eyes.
Sam was excited to share the industry happening inside her head, always asking questions to carve permissions for some outlying idea. She talked fast too, her S’s leaking through the sides of her smile. I recognized right away that the flare she kept sending up to her new teacher was to say I’m smarter than your average bear cub.
Indeed, she was.
Sam’s writing is still clever and deliberate, now matured with a dimension of subtlety. This summer, however, I was not fixated with her descriptions or metaphors. This year, my attention was wholly seized by the bobby pin in her hair.
“Is that a bobby pin in Sam’s hair?” I asked the camp director. She looked and nodded. And so it begins, our satisfied smiles agreed.
Summers tend to evolve girls her age. After three summers together, basic biology would have dictated the elongated limbs, the stretching height and rounded brassiere. But this was a bobby pin, and it came to camp with Sam everyday to hold that new panel of hair into place above her eye. Her spirit was still wonderfully irreverent, even though she was less assertive than summers past. Her sense of fashion was still stitched counter culture, although the belt buckles, hoodies and bracelets seemed placed with more strategy. She still reads aloud at lightening speed, but her hand does not thrust anxiously into the air these days. That hand, instead, was occupied with her new hair, tracing the contours and twisting the straightened brown length around her fingers. I imagined numerous experimental hours in front of a mirror with that bobby pin and fist of hair.
Once I adjusted to the shock, I took note of how aware she seemed to be with this new girlified version of herself. I wonder if she has embraced this new moon, or if its afterglow is engulfing her unaware. Maybe this nascent femininity washed over her in indecipherable degrees. Maybe her bathroom mirror doesn’t articulate the softening of features and delicate curvatures in her face. Maybe she’s already lost count of the times her fingers have raked through her hair or adjusted her sk8tergirl tee.
Sam is distinctly pretty now. I wonder if she sees that. Personally, I remember stumbling awkwardly over each seemingly abrupt new terrain of woman: training bras, mascara, sanitary pads, exchanging phone numbers, shaving, gossip, perfume, endless investments into nail and hair products and earrings that dangled. These requisite milestones were easy. It was the nuanced stroll from young girl to young woman that tripped me along the way. Had I rolled those pop rock moments across my tongue, delighting in my own mini bursts of newness, I’m confident that my arrival into womanhood would have felt less like a crash landing.
I can see, now, how getting lost in the fingering of curls or renegotiating the mechanics of long, heavy limbs would have helped me actually exist through my transformation, not simply emerge disoriented from the butterfly process. I’m wishing this for Sam right now. More than crisp stanzas or plot arcs, I hope Sam feels the thin wings that are yawning open behind her and that she’s stamping permanent memories with every new marking. I hope she’s aware of the young, vibrant woman inside preparing to take flight and dance metaphors into the wind.
Dancing, with a bobby pin in her hair.