S A YOUNG TEENAGER, I USUALLY SPENT MY SUMMERS NURSING CRUSHES ON TEEN IDOLS THAT I FOUND IN Teen Beat
MAGAZINE, and scotch taping pictures of Ricky Shroder, Rob Lowe, and eventually Axle Rose all over my bedroom walls. When I finally realized that these men were not within my reach, I moved on to more tangible crushes - boys in high school who made fun of my unshaved legs and faint, but noticeable, mustache. I wasted hours in the bathroom pasting scotch tape to my upper lip and ripping it off the way my mother did with the Sally Hansen wax strips she bought from Woolworth’s. When my mother realized that my interests were limited to scotch tape and the occasional magazine, she decided to send me away to an Armenian summer camp in Connecticut for two weeks. The agreement was that if I liked it there, I could stay longer.
The night before we were leaving I went into the living room where my mother was watching T.V. I braced myself before asking her the one most important question that had been on my mind since she had told me she was carting me off to this place.
Some of the campers were familiar to me because I knew them from the small community of Armenians in New York. When no one spoke to me on the bus, I chalked it up to the fact that they were waiting out the formalities until we reached the campsite.
“Can I please shave my legs?” I blurted out.
Instead of yelling at me to drop it like she usually did, she stared at the television screen and dipped her hand into a bag of salted watermelon seeds and cracked one between her teeth. An old-fashioned Lebanese-Armenian woman, my mother believed that girls should not shave their legs until they reached the age of fifteen. Where this number was derived from is still a mystery to me, and what made it worse - I was still a year away from it.
“Please?” I asked.
She usually had two reactions during these moments: she either screamed at me to stop asking stupid questions and disappear, or ignore me. I stood there waiting for an answer, and, after a few minutes, I also became absorbed with the entanglements of the characters in Knots Landing
, as Paige Mattheson walked across the screen wearing a pink mini-skirt. When I shave my legs, I’m going to buy that mini-skirt and wear it on the weekends, I promised myself.
After our bus pulled in and unloaded, I found myself sitting on an enormous rock and watching campers running over to each other, shooting questions back and forth in rapid succession, “How are you?” “When did your bus pull in?” “What cabin number are you?” “Who’s your counselor?” Some of the campers were familiar to me because I knew them from the small community of Armenians in New York. When no one spoke to me on the bus, I chalked it up to the fact that they were waiting out the formalities until we reached the campsite.
Eventually, all the campers and counselors had evacuated the main area and I had the campsite to myself. I started walking around, unconcerned of my whereabouts, although I was experiencing the nagging sensation that I had misplaced myself. Finally a random counselor spotted me and said, “Are you lost?” I wasn’t sure how to answer. I was lost, in fact, but was unbothered by it.
“I’m not sure where everyone is,” I said.
“Well, what’s your cabin number?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, feeling the usual humiliation reddening my face.
“Who’s your counselor?” she asked, a bit more perturbed.
“I don’t know,” I repeated, panicking. My lovely nature walk had turned into an annoying interrogation.
“Hang on,” she said. There was the vague scent of Charlie perfume in the air, her charm bracelets jingling as she flipped through the pages on her clipboard.
“What’s your name?”
“Toni,” I said, surprising myself. “Toni with an ‘i’.”
“Last name, please,” she said, more irritated and without looking up at me.
After a few moments she said, “I see an Aida Zilelian here, but not a Toni Zilelian.”
“Aida’s my middle name,” I said, correcting her, “but I guess my mother put it down like that.”
“Okay, Toni,” she said, and because I was so elated by the sound of my newfound identity I didn’t pay attention to a word she was saying.
“ - and that’s where you’ll find your counselor, so if you have any questions you can ask her.”
“What was my cabin number again?” I asked.
Toni with an I continues...