An Open Letter to Myself When I Was a Cheerleader

Dear Me When I Thought I Knew Myself,

 

I understand that you have a lot of fun with this. You go to school and make C’s to get degrees (a joke you learned from your brother), your crooked lips forming a half U at the sight of your grades, your mouth indolent and content exactly like yourself. Practice with the girls you think are your best friends, join sweaty hand in sweaty hand with them by force and sincerely tell yourself that they are for life. Run home and take your anger out in your journal, your scrawls nearly breaking their way through the page when you relay the multiple scenarios in which they all mistake your name for Alyssa, Abigail, Alice. Everyone around you means well, they truly do. Your “friends” mean well when they use their razor sharp and paper white teeth to smile at how unbearably cute your braces are. Coach K meant well when she gave you apparent “helpful” criticism of your work, her eyes two big bowls of pity served up just for you. Last but not least, your parents mean well by their distant eyes, fingers tapping with impatience when you attempt to make nice with them, discuss The Giver and how much you’re enjoying the story, only to be rebuffed by a simple “Why not just see the movie?”, their exasperated sighs two gusts of wind making your eyes water.

 

When you didn’t make the team in your 7th grade year, it seemed like the end of the world for you. Pack the bags, Dad, my life in Gastonia is over. You created a mental suitcase, an item in it for every taunt thrown your way. However, you fought your way to the top, reasoned with the coach after Spanish class, told her you would work hard, that you’ve never wanted anything more, let the salt from your tears drip into her wounds so she could feel how badly you needed it. You created a spot for yourself on the team within weeks. You are not a fighter by nature, but you fought for this. The real question is; Did you fight for this to please yourself, or someone else?

 

When you get home, late at night from hours of practice, shower the fingerprints of unwanted opinions off your skin and curl into bed with your shiny, brand new copy of The Bell Jar, you experience pure serenity. Lick your finger, turn the page, dive into another girl’s life, feel your feet slip right into her shoes which you prefer much more over your own.

 

Here’s the thing: your life is not a book. You read these novels about lovely girls who have life handed to them on a silver platter. They are not real. They are make believe by the author who also wishes her life was that effortless, albeit she understands that characters in a book are simply deviated versions of real people who experience hurt like yourself. You will never be able to reach their quota of perfection. Stand on your tiptoes, build a ladder, fly an airplane up into the sky and finally realize that you are a real human being. Scribble this down one hundred times in your journal until your fingers ache, you must engrave this onto your brain.

 

No, your life is not a book that you picked up in the library and filled with post-it notes. You cannot morph yourself into an unflawed story character. Stop creating the recipe for your life, grabbing a handful of Gone Girl, a spoonful of The Book Thief, pouring a cup of Delirium into your melting pot of personalities. The world will you eat you up as quick as you can say hello.

 

Your father wants you to become a doctor, a successful one. He wants you to be a kind Christian girl who reads her bible and will one day vote Republican. Your mother needs you to be the cheerleader that she never was. That one boy in math class said he likes cheerleaders, that cheerleaders are cute. He likes when girls wear baby blue, so you spend hours scavenging for that old blue sweater.

 

Your coach wonders why you are not putting in “one hundred and ten” percent during practice and at games. Is it because you just had an off week, or because you took a flight to another land until three in the morning and woke at six to find yourself in a pitiful pool of drool on the pages of your current read?

 

Your junior year of high school is when it will happen. It will build up. Quit cheerleading for good freshman year, the supposedly comforting pats on your back from your parents when you break the news to the coach a simple reminder that you have disappointed them. Your sophomore year, pour your heart out into your writing in English yet drop Creative Writing in order to take Anatomy, a suggestion, a demand from your father. Your best friend will receive high praise in the class for her writing style. Learn that there will always be someone better than you. Drop them when they try to control you, you get enough of this at home. Junior year find your way into an AP English class wherein you hardly know anyone, be alone because this is good opportunity for your writing to excel. Try hard. Try hard not to give up when your professor tells you kindly that some have a knack for writing, others do not. Clench your fists, smile politely, ball up the paper and throw it out. Try again. Produce a piece you are utterly obsessed with and proud of, show it to your stepmother. You will feel your heart soar when she gives you heaps of praise. Here it comes, “Allison, you could really do something in life with your talent for writing, you know?” A sip of coffee. It’s casual talk. But this is your breakthrough.

 

Dad, I want to write. I want to major in English or Creative Writing.

 

“You’re intelligent enough to figure out that won’t make you any money.”

 

“I raised you better than that.”

 

“You’re just a child. No sense of the real world.”

 

Ignore him. Feel your bright eyes sting with tears and ignore him. You are stubborn just like your mother. You are independent, self-serving, strong like your mother. You are not like your father. Tell yourself that he will understand one day. When his eyes meet yours from miles away across the dinner table with disapproving looks, your heart stinging with each of his solemn remarks, breathe in, let the agonizing air fill your lungs and tell him this is your life. You will live it for yourself, or not at all. Let the words drip from your lips without bending over to clean them up. You have finally found the voice that has been buried beneath many others, straining to get out. The voice of you.

 

Best of luck,

The Real You

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