I can’t decide if it is something to be ashamed of
or proud. It could mean I gave up integrity
for affirmation. That I was pretty and popular
enough. It could undermine my desire for people
in the present to consider me smart. Which is insulting
to me and other cheerleaders and also to my audience.
I had a patch with my name on it and one
with a bullpup because that was our mascot,
I had a letter sweater like it was the 1950s
because I considered letter jackets too bulky
and masculine, and I had designed myself to be
feminine. This was before I understood that gender
was a construct and a performance, when I thought
it was a ticket to love. I have been asked why
I was a cheerleader with a curiosity pretending
to contain no judgment, and I said because I was young,
because I liked to dance, because I wanted to fit in,
because it was fun to stand on the wall at Albi Stadium
and whisper and laugh with the other girls
who had been set apart by our blue and white uniforms.
Don’t pretend you don’t think it’s beneath
or above you. You would have liked Fridays, too,
when we wore our uniforms to school to advertise
for the game, so we didn’t have to sort through
all the other choices of what kind of image we wanted
to project like a film, or the slides my dad
used to show on the dining room wall.
Look at you and Tom when we camped in Banff,
and I tricked you when we hiked all the way up
to the tea house and said I forgot my wallet but really
I had a twenty tucked into my magic belt.
Look at Chris. No one wonders, I guess,
why we’re looking at so many pictures of him
when he was only two and very sick and on medication
that made his face break out and his eyes and lips
always wet from crying. He wore a cute blue sleeper
that had once belonged to his brothers
so he didn’t look so different.
He rode his Toddler Taxi through the kitchen.
Sometimes you can see me in the corner of a picture,
coming in and out because I was so much older
and already a cheerleader.
Sometimes it’s even Friday, and I’m in my uniform
with my name and my bullpup
and the promise of the evening hovering in front of me
like the horizon. I didn’t understand the horizon.
Sometimes I would run and run far from the house,
trying to get closer to its vibrating light,
but this proved impossible, which I guess is science.
Maybe you think, what a cheerleader move,
not understanding the horizon.
Or maybe I’m projecting.
It’s important to put everything up on the wall.
from Rattle #68, Summer 2020
Laura Read: “I wrote ‘The Cheerleader’ because my friends were teasing me about how I always try to work the fact that I was one into conversation when all along I thought it had been something I’d been hiding!”