Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Cheerleaders

     You are a freshman.  It is the home meet.  You just finished the C-team race, and you did well.  You feel well.  You feel great.   Now it is time to cheer on the Varsity team.  Your top five girls are fast, strong, and at the head of the pack.  You cheer your loudest for them.  You stay in the same spot for the last two girls.  The sixth girl ran by and not far from her was the seventh.  You cheer your loudest, but now your speech is deteriorating.
     The seventh girl ran by.  Your speech slipped.  Where there should have been two syllables, there was one.  Where there should have been a ‘z,’ there was an ‘sh.’  It was a nonsense sound, but it should have been a name.
     Two cheerleaders were near you.  They heard your slip.  They walked over to you – one put her arm around you.  They corrected you, cooing “See that girl over there.  Her name is –.”  Numbly, you nodded your head.  They were seniors, probably with good intentions, yet so, so mean.
     They continued cheering on their friend, but you were breaking.  You plummeted from high to low.  You turned so they wouldn’t see your tears.  You walked, trotted, ran away to a tree, a big, far-off tree. You sobbed in the safety of that tree.
     You needed a tissue.  The meet was out doors, and there was a line for the port-a-potty.  You tried to maintain a calm composure, but there was no hiding your red eyes, your puffy cheeks.  You grabbed a handful of toilet paper and left for the tree again, ignoring the next race, the spectators.
      A friend noticed you.  You couldn’t talk.  She hugged you.  When you calmed down, you two walked on the racecourse together, cheering on the last race.  You told her what had happened.  She said not to worry about it, the cheerleaders acted stupidly.   You could not take her words to heart, but thank God for that friend.  She comforted you at your lowest and helped you back on your feet.
     This was four foxtrot years ago! It's a true story.  I thought I had gotten over it, but when I was listening to another story of mean ol’ cheerleaders, all the emotions came flooding in.  The pain of my mistake was enough on its own, but the cheerleaders added to my guilt and turned it into grief and trauma.
     It was accidental on the part of the cheerleaders, but they did many things wrong that day.  They were complete strangers, even though we were part of the same, small school and all of us were in our school’s athletic garbs.   They dared hug me when correcting me on a mistake.  They patronized me as if I was a toddler, not even a freshwoman.  They did not know the long-term effect that meeting would have.  After that meet, I rarely called anyone by his or her first name, until a year ago.  At meets, at practice, I never used names, instead cheering on groups and using encouraging, but still generic, pep talks, until a year ago.
     A year ago, I decided that I was becoming too distant and I was too fearful to talk to people.  Names are very powerful, just remembering a name can do a lot for a healthy relationship, and I was refusing to say a single name.  That had to change.  There was a remarkable improvement in my social life once I made effort to greet everyone by name, to cheer on people individually, to talk to people.  The cheerleaders had a far greater impact on me, than anyone should ever have.

P.S. My mom told me after this event, "Don't let anyone take your mojo." I should listen to her more often.