I wasn’t sure how to interact with my co-workers at Amnesty. Most of the interns were older women, and they and the staff assumed I was in my twenties. They would invite me to bars and clubs, and I would diffidently explain the state underage curfew made it illegal to be out after midnight. My youth never sank in, and I was always on the receiving end of surprised gasps and comments.
“You’re only sixteen? That’s how old my little brother is!”
“Wait, you’re still in high school? I could’ve sworn you were a grad student! You don’t talk like a high school student, and you certainly don’t look like one. How many sixteen-year-olds can grow a beard?”
One weekend, a few of us volunteered to run the Amnesty booth at a punk rock festival. By the time we arrived, someone had already vomited at our booth, and the stench quickly mixed with the smell of hundreds of sweaty bodies packed tightly together. The humid Georgia heat was in full force, and we soon ran out of water.
The only consolation was our location by the main stage. Our crew had eclectic tastes in music: One intern loved country music; another was into country and synth-pop; and a few were into heavy metal and punk rock. Many were just thrilled at the opportunity to attend the festival for free.
I’d never listened to punk rock, and my only formulation of the genre came from a few images of the Ramones—thin, young men with tight clothes and long hair. There was something appealing about the style; it was exactly the type of music my father would disapprove of.
It was only after the music began playing that our diverse views coalesced into one concrete opinion: these guys were terrible. Rather than being our saving grace, our proximity to the main stage ensured headaches brought on by the harsh, jarring tunes from a slew of lousy bands.
Our mission for the day was to collect as many signatures as possible for Amnesty’s campaigns. We had an extra tent, and passersby agreed to sign the petitions in exchange for a seat beneath the tent’s precious shade.
“It’s like we’re running a refugee camp,” another intern commented before returning to sweaty silence and fanning herself with her shirt.
An hour after we arrived, a girl in her late teens or early twenties appeared at our table. She sported glasses with thick, black frames and blond hair. “Is this the Amnesty International table?” she asked.
“That’s us,” an intern replied with mock enthusiasm.
“My name is Chelsea. I’m member of an Amnesty student group. I signed up as a volunteer for this table.” She sat down in an empty seat next to me. She shifted a few times in the plastic chair, trying to get comfortable before releasing an exasperated sigh and giving up.
“What student group are you part of?” I asked.
“I go to college in North Carolina,” she said. “University of North Carolina Greensboro. I run the Amnesty chapter up there. My parents are from Atlanta, so I’m back here for the summer.”
“Cool,” I said, trying to sound interested. If only I’d inherited my mother’s ability to make small talk and friendships with strangers.
“How many of these types of concerts have you been to?” she asked.
“I’ve never been to a concert.”
“What?” Her surprise was evident in her voice. “You’ve never been to a concert? You have to go! Promise me you’ll go to one before the summer’s over.”
“Aren’t they usually pretty expensive?” I asked. “I barely listen to music at home.”
“Trust me, they’re worth it! I’ll go with you if that’s what it takes to get you to go!” She laughed and stretched her arms back. She was wearing jean shorts that extended to her mid-thigh. As she stretched, the shorts shifted, revealing a confused medley of thin, white scars, each extending a few inches.
I recognized those scars. They were the same ones on Priya’s wrists and arms after she cut herself. What darkness brewed beneath Chelsea’s bubbly exterior?