Starlight Park Diving Club, 1921

This is a guest post by Marissa. Inspiration for this poem came from this image.

After what seemed like an eternity, school finally let out. I practically ran to the amusement park every day that summer. I couldn’t wait to avoid the nagging drone of my mother’s voice, after her meeting with the principal that spring.

“Samantha excels academically, but she spends far too much of her class time rough housing and making coarse jokes with the boys. A certain amount of tomboy behavior is tolerated among the girls of the lower grades, of course, but Samantha is almost 14 years old now and must learn to socialize with girls her age. If she does not learn to deport herself as befits a young lady of feminine grace and poise, her troubles are only at their beginning, I’m afraid.”

Principal Rautch set her mouth into a firm minus sign and pointed her thick fingers toward my chest for emphasis. “Why, you can see for yourself, Mrs. Desborough, that she is fast approaching womanhood, regardless of how inappropriately she may choose to behave.”

A hot flush of rage crawls up my face just remembering. At the time, I carefully kept my head hung to hide my scowl and my blushing cheeks.

My mother nodded vigorously, “Yes Ma’am, don’t I know it? I assure you, I done my best to bring her up right and ladylike, but she’s always taken after her father. She’s an only child and her pa treated her like the son he never had. When he wasn’t spoiling her like a royal princess, that is. I tell ya, since he passed, it’s only gotten worse. She’s headstrong and it’s all I can do to keep her in dresses and skirts, she’s so full of vinegar and spit.”

“Yes, my sympathies for your loss. I know the loss of a parent is taxing on any family, but we must stay vigilant during this critical age, mustn’t we Mrs. Desborough?”

“Yes certainly, Principal. She’ll be a proper lady before I’m through, I assure you.”

After that, my mother was constantly reminding me to handle myself like a lady. The only relief I had was at the park. My mother only allowed me to go there because I pretended to hang around with other girls. Every day when I returned, I dutifully rattled off fake tidbits of gossip and hair tips to keep her happy.

But when I was actually there, I was free. I ran with the boys more brazenly than ever, as the first and only female member of the Starlight Park Diving Club.

Douglas Quinn tried to tough me out at first. “Why don’t you shove off with the other girls?”

He motioned toward them, dolled up and draped over the sand and along the dock, chewing gum and cringing every time a splash came within a breath of their elegant hair.

I just laughed, “Hang out with those silly harbor seals over there?” I flapped my hands and waddled around, barking until they all cracked up. The women did resemble a crowd of seals, laying out luxuriously and yelling snotty comments back and forth.

Regardless, any objections the boys may have had despite my goofing, vanished when they saw me dive. I was fearless going off even the highest diving board and I was constantly curling my body into stunning new shapes and twists when I dived. No boy could rival the speed of my flips or my crisp form as I slipped into the water.

When I straightened my body out and found the perfect zero point to enter the water, I wasn’t a girl or a boy. I closed my eyes and thought, “I am the torpedo bursting through enemy metal. I am the acrobat catching the trapeze every time. I am deadly as lightning, precise as a knife.”