The first time I walked into the science laboratory at Broad Ripple Magnet School for Butler Writers, I had no idea what to expect. I had done all of our assigned course readings up to this point; gotten reacquainted with my angst-ridden, twelve-year-old self; said some prayers; and ridden the ten-minute car ride from my campus to theirs in a sort of curious state of mind. I met what felt like hundreds of new faces that day. The students at Broad Ripple have loud, extravagant personalities, and they want to know everything about newcomers.
“Are you married?” someone asked me.
“What do you study?” someone else said.
Or, more commonly: “What’s your favorite color?”
As an introvert, it took me a while to become acclimated to this environment. If I were a middle-school student once more, one of the peers in this laboratory, I would likely be the one sitting by herself in a corner, writing quietly and thinking diligently.
I would be, or at least I would hope to be, like D—.
I met D— on that first day when the two of us exchanged a polite smile, mine with teeth and hers without. The second trip to the school, however, I spent the entire afternoon with her. I read our prompt to her, but (as I would catch on to the more time we spent together) D—already had a piece of writing percolating in her imagination. She thinks deeply about anything that comes to mind, and anything she does, she does wholeheartedly. We spent about twenty minutes of our time together in silence that day, each of us writing our thoughts down. I peered over at her every now and then, making sure she was okay on her own. She was.
After those twenty minutes, she put her pencil down and held her notebook out at arm’s length to examine the piece in its entirety.
“Done?” I asked her.
She nodded. She writes many but says few words. She handed the notebook to me so that I could read what she had written. In eighth-grade handwriting, I read about life from D—’s perspective. She wants people to treat each other better in middle school. She wants the girls to have more confidence in themselves. She wants everyone to recognize their potential and believe in it. I was almost in tears when I reached the last line and she said, “I’ll read it at Open Mic, but I don’t want to use my name.”
I nodded, thinking a moment about the best solution. I agreed, sharing such deep thoughts amongst one’s peers is terrifying.
“What about an alias?” I asked her.
“An alias?!” She was incredulous. “What is an alias?”
I explained to her that sometimes, when people write about things they don’t want attributed to their real names, they use fake ones. I told D— that her story was strong, and written by a strong young woman, and the name should reflect that.
I remembered that I would be seeing Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, later that evening at the Indianapolis Public Library downtown. Immediately, a flurry of similarities between D—, the author, and Roxane, the author, flooded to my mind. I suggested the option, telling D— that Roxane was a wonderful feminist.
In true middle-school-curiosity fashion, she delightfully asked me what a feminist was.
“A feminist is…” I thought for a moment before beginning again. “A feminist is someone who believes in equal rights for both men and women. A feminist thinks that men and women should make the same amount of money for doing the same job.”
“A feminist wants all women to treat each other with love and respect. She always encourages the women and girls around her.”
She nodded again, tapping her chin with her index finger. Thinking deeply.
“Roxane,” she said. “I like it.”
Then, in the loudest voice I have since heard her muster, D— yelled with arms raised, “I’M A FEMINIST!”
She read her story aloud at our Open Mic later that afternoon under her alias. She only did so after proudly explaining to her classmates what this new word meant. They were amazed and all wanted their own aliases like Roxane. I couldn’t help smiling. I fell in love with the school and its students that day. These kids are funny and bright and their hearts full of gold.
On my way out the door that day, D— rushed up to me as if she had forgotten to tell me something. I expected her to ask if I would be back next week, or maybe if she could leave to use the restroom before the buses arrived. Instead, she said nothing and pulled me in for a hug. Even if she forgets about aliases or Roxane Gay or the piece she wrote, I know I never will. D— and her peers have touched my heart deeply, and the hours I spend with them each week I consider priceless.
Sarah Coffing is a senior English major.