Nine months in a womb and a baby will develop; nine months in an arts boarding school and a family will take shape. In the summer after my junior year, I deplaned at LAX with two of my closest friends and toured Los Angeles for a week. In search of the Hollywood sign, which would fulfill our tourist bucket list, we found ourselves at the pop-up Museum of Broken Relationships. Inside the glossy white two-story, we perused as many plaques as possible in the hour before closing. Passing by artifacts (a wedding dress in a jar, a purple printed graph charting the pulse of a star), I couldn’t help but think: If one day our relationship is broken, what would I display to encapsulate the heartbreak?
When I first headed to boarding school, I was given a trendy potted succulent as a going away present. It sat in a yellow, lemon-shaped container on my windowsill and did not thrive. My mother says this failure to grow was a result of a shallow root system and a disorienting displacement.
Perhaps this is the reason for my failures as well. I am unwilling to grow beyond the roots I put down junior year, when I left early for Christmas vacation and asked a friend to water the plant in my absence. She kept it alive but revealed my affinity for gardening at the lunch table. When I returned, I was greeted by lighthearted jokes about my lack of a green thumb. I felt exposed. Everyone was now privy to a part of me I previously kept locked in my dorm room; a gentle, whimsical side that I tried to hide. Openness, however, creates intimacy, and I am grateful that it cultivated sincere relationships. Hopefully, the friendships that urged me to grow will be enough to feed me for just a few months longer. They are my Miracle-Gro.
People here are impermanent fixtures, like art installations. I knew this junior year when my friend Georgia’s roommate left for a rehab center on “emotional leave.” My friendship with Georgia grew in the place her roommate left behind. For a month, we had sleepovers. I took the uninhabited top bunk. It was neat, pink, and ruffled. A black and white Marilyn Monroe poster hung below a string of fairy lights. Under the covers, I uncovered the roommate’s intimates, as my friends had found my potted jade. It seemed we all hid pieces of ourselves in our rooms, and they were uncovered in our absence. A lace bra—I imagine she left in such a flurry she did not have time to collect her delicates—was stuffed under the cotton pillowcase.
If Georgia and I were sisters, we were raised by our mom, Malia, who wore oversized black sweaters every day despite having a closet full of high-end clothing. She swore it was all thrifted. Next to her bunk, she kept a bucket of snack food: freeze-dried strawberries, freshly picked limes, the works. If you were crying, “try some organic chocolate.” If you were sick, “here’s a plastic bear full of honey, a tea bag, and a mug.” One night, when Malia was gone, we emptied her drawers and peeled statement pieces from their hangers. In true childish fashion, we paraded around the room to jazz tunes like toddlers dressing up in their mother’s high heels. I donned my favorite unworn item of hers, a faux fur leopard jacket. Laying on the floor, I felt like a movie star and our friendship like a big-budget film, the ones our classmates are promised to win Oscars for. Somehow, it still seems that I am her child. Someone is always asking, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Aerial silks hung from an oak tree like Makai’s prom dress kept pressed and wrapped in plastic in her closet.
This was in the middle of the Michigan woods, at the graduation party of a friend, a hippie birthed from between two thigh-gapped mountains in Oregon. Her mother, a West Coast aerialist, taught us how to wrap our bare legs in silk, how to backbend, how to spin, all before supper time. But this was not the only balancing act I have performed at boarding school. Without friends to act as temporary caregivers, it became easy to neglect myself. Senior year I found I disappeared from campus more frequently, leaving the same intimate legacy of abandoned bra straps and neglected gardens.