I met Amy in the place where many great love stories blossomed: a Jewish overnight camp. She was ten years old, the kind of person that radiated confidence in a way I never could. She was a dancer and an actress; she loved animals and music and books; she had every color of nail polish, and she could french braid anyone’s hair. At eleven years old, I decided that I had to hate her. I hated how effortless she was, how gawky and unwieldy my body felt next to hers. I hated the way she always knew the perfect thing to say in every situation, the way she never yelled or cried. I hated the way she always talked about boys, the ease with which she understood herself and the world around her. I hated her, and even so, she was the kindest person I’d ever met. She took my scowling in stride, asked to braid my hair and paint my nails, grabbed my hands and danced with me at song session. She taught me how to make friendship bracelets and caught lightning bugs for me, cradling them in her small hands. She was kind, generous, beautiful, and I had to hate her, because the alternative was too terrifying to think about.
Looking back at that first summer, it is obvious now that my hatred of Amy was more about me than anything else. I was young and awkward, so deep in the closet that I didn’t even know that I was in the closet at all. I realize now that I didn’t ever hate Amy or her braids or her friendship bracelets – hatred was simply more digestible than what I felt for her. I couldn’t put a name to the pang I felt in my stomach when she grabbed my hands or the ache in my chest when she talked about the boys in the other cabins. It was easier to call these things disgust or jealousy than to see them for what they truly were because if I admitted that those feelings were love, then what did that make me?
To this day, I still struggle to describe what I feel for Amy. I don’t understand why, eight years later, I still feel the indent of her in my life. I don’t know why I think of her when my friends talk about their first kisses, their first relationships, their first heartbreaks when she was none of those things to me. I think of that summer, of that blur of mosquito-bitten legs and nail polish and the hum of cicadas, and I am an eleven-year-old girl, afraid of her own shadow once again. Maybe these feelings are girlhood; maybe to become a woman, we all must feel that pang in our chest at another hand in our own, that unspoken longing. Maybe love is as simple as lightning bugs and french braids.
Annie Wyner (she/her) is a student at Oberlin College, where she is pursuing her BA in Comparative Literature. She is originally from Cleveland, Ohio, where she lives with her parents, twin brother, and dog.