First of all, I'm supposed to be inspiring them, right? Those adorable little 12- to 14-year-olds with a passion for writing and art. A week, I have them, ostensibly to create something, to light a fire within them that will keep them warm when the summer's sun has run its course and the reality of winter--and school--has hit.
Bounced around like an eraser thrown at a wall, one girl, 15 going on 40, poisoned everything she touched, drew the other little girls to her like sparkly moths to her dark flame. "She'll find it hard to not smoke at the camp," her CAS worker confided as she dropped her off, "she's been at it for the last five years."
I watched her turn her self-loathing inside out, wear it like spiked armour. All eye rolls and sighs, tight skirts and bad home bleach. Black nail polish bitten like hot tar. Look harder (I told myself). Feel first, judge later. The last slide show, end of camp, when all was said and done and felt: a series of pictures. Her smiling in spite of herself. I hadn't caught her in those moments, yet there they were.
Maybe she couldn't allow herself to like where she was, because she never liked where she was, and if she liked it--if she permitted herself to like it--she would feel the camp's loss more keenly when she went back to the place where she smoked and bleached and cut. "I don't want to be here," she said more than once. "I just want to do nothing. Isn't that what summer's for?"
I came home last night optimistic; hard not to when the advance cheque from SkyHorse was right there, black and white proof that life is, indeed, good. I can allow myself to enjoy the moment. It's been a long time coming.
She taught me that, even though she had not learned it herself.