My Secret Admirer
by S. Nadja Zajdman
It was summer, long ago. I was ten years old and at camp in southern Ontario. I hated volleyball and hiking because they made my flat feet hurt. I detested wearing shorts because they made my fat legs look even fatter. I dreaded the overnight camping trip. How could I possibly “go in the bushes?” Luckily, we were always rained out and had to come back the same day.
The one spot I loved was the lake. I would wander off and sit on “my hamburger rock—I call it that because it looks like a giant hamburger” (I wrote in a letter I sent home), to watch sunbeams, like sequins, dance on the water, and contemplate the fireflies that flickered in the evenings under a velvet sky studded with stars as large as chunks of ice. I was artistic, unathletic, and my boredom with my bunkmates must’ve showed. They tormented me.
Ryan resided in the boys’ bunk across from ours. He was my age. He would sit on the stoop staring out at no one, and nothing. He was tall, dark, skinny, and I remember him wearing thick, black-framed glasses. He talked to no one; he played with no one. All summer he was perched on the porch of his bunk, like an owl. Little did I or anyone else realize that he was observing and absorbing—everything!
One day, an envelope was slipped under the door of my bunk addressed to “Miss Sharon.” I grabbed the envelope before my bunkmates had a chance to tear it open. I took it down to my hamburger rock. When I was safely alone, I opened it. The letter was written with a cartridge pen in the “real writing” we’d all just learnt (as opposed to print), and it read: “Dear Miss Sharon. The other girls are mean to you because they’re ignorant. They’re jealous of you because you’re better than they are. You are very intelligent, and you are very pretty. You have very nice eyes, and very nice hair. Soon you will get braces, and when your teeth are fixed your smile will be even nicer. And don’t worry, its just baby fat. You’ll grow out of it. When you’re older, you’ll get nicer glasses. Then when you grow up, you will be beautiful. Don’t listen to those other girls. Don’t let them hurt you. You will be fine. Everything will be O.K.” It was signed, to my amazement (and this, in big block letters), “YOUR FRIEND, RYAN.”
I’d barely noticed Ryan, and when I did, like the others, I ignored him. I had a crush on Louis. Louis was an older man. He was sixteen, had blue eyes, blond hair, and didn’t know I existed. Years later, I had occasion to speak to Louis. By then he was two inches shorter than I, and he was booooring.
The next afternoon I saw Ryan, as usual, chin in palm, sitting on the stoop. Shyly, I approached. “Thank you very much for your letter, Ryan. It was really nice.”
Ryan coughed, choked, mumbled, stuttered, and managed to splutter something like “Zokay. You’re welcome.”
I tried to talk to Ryan, but conversation was awkward and clumsy. He was more comfortable on the page, and it was in this intimate place that we conducted a private, enriching relationship in which we both became each other’s mutual secret admirers. This relationship was my introduction to a world I would come to live in as a working writer.
Photo/art by: “Young Love by Tinnaaa Florentina (France) deviantart.com and “A Summer Sunset at the Lake by John De Bord (Colorado, US) jdebordphoto.com.
S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. Her first short story collection, Bent Branches, was published in 2012. Zajdman’s non-fiction, as well as her fiction, has been featured in newspapers, magazines, literary journals, and anthologies across North America, in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. Zajdman has completed work on a second short story collection as well as a memoir of her mother, the pioneering Holocaust educator and activist Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman, who passed away near the end of 2013.