By Leslie Pantaleon & Lauren Hesse
Starting the program in my freshman year of high school meant I grew up with Girls Write Now. Although saying goodbye is difficult, it brings me great joy to present our history.
YEAR 1: 2016-2017
At orientation, I am introduced to my mentor, a kind woman named Lauren with warm eyes. She walks me to the library after our first Girls Write Now orientation and meets my mom. On the way there, we talk about Upton Sinclair and the tragic misunderstandings that occur between the public and a writer’s work.
At orientation, I am introduced to my mentee, a thoughtful young woman named Leslie with a kind smile. I ask if it’s okay to meet Leslie’s mom, with whom she shares a deep bond. On the way, Leslie talks to me about Upton Sinclair and I jokingly text my mentor friend: “my mentee is smarter than me.”
I walk into Little Skips for the first time and the grungy adult atmosphere disturbs me. I will not summon the courage to order anything for the first time until at least a year from now. Lauren and I play getting-to-know-you games with Skittles and M&Ms. I become less nervous about sharing my writing with a stranger.
I am a little nervous that the café I picked will scare my mentee. When I get there, I ask if she wants anything. A fast “no thanks,” makes me think that, with time, she will let me treat her; after four years, no such chance. I bring candy with me for a fun icebreaker game I hope will make her feel more comfortable.
YEAR 2: 2017-2018
My great-grandmother dies suddenly, and I visit Mexico for the first time for her funeral. In the small rural village where my grandmother grew up, there is only a dial-up computer that I email and coordinate Girls Write Now Anthology deadlines with Lauren from. She sends me love and support, and understands when I tell her I won’t be able to use proper grammar because the keyboard only has Spanish characters.
I receive a beautiful but grammatically off email from Leslie, who I send love to during this time of mourning for her and her family. We are both inspired by these events, especially as I begin to think more about how we as humans grieve.
Lauren experiences a career change. She starts taking on more, and seems more stressed than usual. I am inspired by her grace and tranquility during this time in her life.
My transition into nonprofit work takes a strain on my mental health, which I notice during my pair sessions with Leslie. I try to be more conscious of curbing my distraction when we’re together, but I am grateful for her patience and understanding while I take this leap during my career.
YEAR 3: 2018-2019
Lauren is “mean” to a tourist outside the Whitney who is confused about why it is so packed on a sunny Sunday afternoon following the opening of its Andy Warhol exhibition. I am reminded of Lauren’s intrinsic conscientious ability toward thoughtfulness and kindness.
I feel a little bit guilty after snapping at an innocent question from a nice woman who probably didn’t know any better. I feel worse that it was in front of Leslie, who I fear is less impressionable than judgmental at this age, despite her protests that I did nothing wrong.
Lauren joins my mom and me for our yearly dinner at the Shake Shack up the block from the New York Historical Society, where they team up in their loving attempts to get me to sleep more. My favorite story about Lauren occurs: When someone offers to take her tray for her, she exclaims “Amazing!”
I have dinner with Leslie and her mom at their annual Post-CHAPTERS Shake Shack. While we discuss Leslie’s terrible sleeping habits over fries, I think about how proud I am of Leslie, who is officially one year from graduating.
YEAR 4: 2019-2020
Lauren and I establish a routine that cements an internal writing clock for me, even when we don’t meet. Sunday mornings are impressed with her presence. Not writing on Sunday mornings disturbs my week; it feels incomplete.
A free-write at the beginning of every session helps us both focus as we settle into our coffee cups and check-ins about the week. The session, always thought-provoking, follows an easygoing pattern, from my subtle-not-so-subtle cue “what do you want to work on today?” to our weekly agenda planning for deadlines and other program requirements.
As Lauren and I prepare end-of-year deadlines and I reflect on our dynamic relationship and most significant moments, I cannot begin to express the deep and meaningful effect she has had on my life and the kind of woman I want to be in the future.
Our connection has been one that was special from the beginning. Like each other, it will continue to grow and evolve.
Leslie Pantaleon is a class of 2020 Girls Write Now mentee based in Brooklyn, NY.