So I went back to school yesterday. Not for writing. Not for social studies. No, I pulled up to the back parking lot of Oceanside High School shaking with anticipation for…wait for it…cheerleading practice.
For some of you who didn’t know me when—or don’t really know me now—it may come as a surprise that I was, in fact, a cheerleader in high school back in the early ’90s. And not just any cheerleader. Captain. Of Varsity. Check it:
Call me naive, but I don’t think I ever really fit the traditional stereotype of a cheerleader. Sure, I was peppy and eager and enthusiastic. I’d work for hours on dance routines, be a bit of a slave driver at practice, wear my uniform to school on game days and God forbid I dropped the Spirit Stick. (Yes, they do exist.)
But I was also a bit of a stoner and a drama geek, which is to say I wasn’t necessarily “popular.” And let’s face it, popularity is usually a pre-requisite for being a cheerleader. At least in stereotypical movie terms (see: Wieners, Gretchen). I was always just a degree or two outside the “in” crowd, which was almost worse than being completely outside of it. See in middle school, when all the elementary schools were merging, I so desperately wanted to be a part of those running the show. But desperation breeds insecurity, which I suppose they sensed because instead of being embraced I was ridiculed and backstabbed and prank called. All. The. Time. Once high school rolled around, I finally got with the program and focused more on those who did like me (shout out to Amy!) rather than those who didn’t. In doing so, I learned to like and listen to myself, too.
Eventually, it no longer mattered who wrote “I hate Sara Lieberman” in black permanent marker on the second floor south stairwell of my middle school.
Don’t believe me? Well done. You called my bluff. I still cared. But I held my head high and maintained this Dr. Seuss quote as my motto (and subsequent yearbook quote):
“Be who you are, say what you want, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
In a way, I’m thankful for all the pre-bully bullying. It toughened me up to be badass and brave. Well, that and sleeping on the ground with scorpions in the Australian outback. But that’s a story for another time.
Right, so fast-forward 20-something years to a week or so ago when my former co-captain, who I recently reconnected with in Miami when I was down there for Art Basel, sent me a Facebook message calling for alumni to participate in a routine for the alumni football game on June 7. The first of four practices was Monday, May 12 when I planned to be home on Long Island anyway.
While I ended up having the time of my life in high school—especially once I embraced my non-top-tier-coolness—the idea of going back to it didn’t so much appeal to me. Been there, done that, moved on. Then I remembered my recent proclamation: There’s little I won’t do in the Name of Blog. I tried to recruit a few cheerleaders I’m still in touch with to join me, but most of them live in the city and had no interest in bringing it (back) on.
So I chose my Lululemon ensemble carefully, made sure my curls were in tact, applied some mascara and foundation to cover up a blemish (as if it really were 1996!) and off I went on my own.
I sat in the parking lot and called both of my best friends from high school for moral support, but neither of them answered. I then nervously watched the time tick and tock until it seemed appropriate to go inside. I wasn’t worried so much about my ability; despite a really tight left hamstring, I’m fairly flexi and have continued to shimmy and shake both at the gym in dance classes and late into the night at various weddings over the years. (The days of Twilo, Limelight and the Roxy are long gone.) But more so who would be there and how I would measure up to them—and would any of it matter. Or, rather, would I let any of it matter.
Well, turns out alumni can mean any graduate. Even, say, from the year before. As in 2013. As in they were born in…1995. My junior year. Which made me oldest person there until, thankfully, the two captains from the year above me showed up.
The three of us exchanged the requisite catch-up pleasantries—140-character style (ie. super briefly)—and soon enough we were giggling and misbehaving like we did way back when. We stuck together during “practice,” which involved learning a new cheer and a dance. It also involved relearning our left from our right, how to clap and, in one case, how to turn and roll on the floor. My how things have changed. Thank goodness there was no twerking.
There was, however, a lot of laughing, knee-creaking and hip-popping. We did our best trying to keep up with the other bouncy “alumni” with their white cheer sneakers still in tact and super limber limbs that kicked high and flipped backwards. We reminisced about…well, we couldn’t remember much except for one cheer and the fact that none of us knew what it even meant:
“First and ten get to it,
Sailors, just do it!”
First and ten? Huh? We were totally the cheer squad yelling defense when we our guys were headed for the goal. (In that case, I guess we did fit the stereotype!)
The pair of them left early—they have kids to feed, homework to help with and baths to give. I stayed on until the end, being who I am, with my ring-less finger and baby-less body, and trying hard not to let any of it matter. After all, I was happily there “on assignment”—if even just for myself. And as expected of high school, it was humbling and awkward, but also super fun.
I done gone and brought it. I might even bring it again.