It is quiet in the camp cabin. I linger in the back cubby room pretending to neaten up my folded tee shirts and shorts. I am actually cramming them haphazardly in the inadequate cubbies. Shirts fall from the designated space to the floor and I stuff the crumpled balls of fabric in with my mismatched socks.
My clothes are all wrong. Even at ten, I can see they are non-acceptable colors and shapes. There are no floral print shirts with ruffle sleeves. My shorts aren’t tiny cuffed denims designed to showcase the slim limbs of innocent youth.
I don’t have slim limbs. I have ever-lengthening blocky legs and feet that feel embarrassingly large. Even the sneakers I brought to camp just four weeks ago have started to feel snug.
I am not petite. I am not delicate. My hair is not shiny and there is too much of it to wear pulled back at the sides with adorable matching clips.
Even my mother despairs of my hair. Different strands wander in various directions no matter how hard I try to tame the wayward mass. Clearly there is a lot of hair dissent happening on my head. The front pieces want to jump up and to the left. The section just behind my right ear insists on growing straight out. And it is all so frizzy.
I try to convince myself it is like a beautiful halo surrounding my rounded face. But standing next to my fellow campers with their smooth shiny locks, tiny shorts, and cute floral tops, I feel like an alien. I feel different. Profoundly different.
I make my way to the front of the cabin and linger by my bed pretending to smooth down the blankets and correctly place my flashlight on the small shelf.
For the moment, I am alone.
The other girls are outside socializing, tanning, and torturing each other to make sure the cabin pecking order stays in its correct alignment. This is a free hour, and I am determined not to spend it with my “friends”.
I peer through the screen window at the open green assembly field. The central flagpole is surrounded by cabins like the one I am lurking in. I wonder how many other cabins are populated by unhappy girls struggling to fit in.
The hinges of the cabin door squeak as I ease it open. I carefully keep the door from snapping back into place with the usual large bang. I know how to creep out of this place.
I step down the three wooden steps from the porch, duck under the damp towels on the clothes line and move swiftly around the cabin. There are woods back here. Cool woods and a dim path surrounded by vegetation that undoubtedly includes poison ivy.
But I don’t care.
The soft moss of the path yields under my feet as I walk under the maple trees that grow wildly tall in the Poconos of northern New York. The wind passes overhead and the leaves whisper.
I am alone on the path.
Behind me is the place I can never fit into no matter how hard I struggle.
I will have to go back soon. Soon I will return to the strict hierarchy and carefully constructed social order of pre-adolescent girls. Soon I will once again subvert myself to the group.
But for now I am in my between place.
From a distance I hear the echoing voices of other girls – laughing, arguing, playing games.
Here there is only me.
I can be who I want. I can be who I am.
The between time.
I remember this feeling.
Today we have left something behind and are hopefully heading somewhere better. There is probably poison ivy along the path.
But I don’t care.