Por by Tania Candiani with Fred Sasaki
They asked me to join their cheerleading team because I wasn’t yet five feet, did not weigh in triple digits. They needed someone to throw as high up as the field goal, and it did not matter about her face. It did not matter if she had black hair or if her freckles clashed with the white uniform. It only mattered that she did not grow. They taught me all the cheers. They said when we say green, you say gold. First in ten, do it again. They spelled out our mascot’s name, and then they spelled the name of our school. They showed me the toe touch and the basket toss, the deadman, the herkie, their halftime routine. They said to do a Liberty, this is what you cannot do: don’t bend your legs, don’t lock your knees, don’t twist your back, don’t not smile. They told me which brand of toothpaste whitens best and how to cover a zit with finger paint. They said you’re so tiny you’re like a doll do you even have your period yet? They said that’s okay don’t feel bad we all have to shave our pits every day. We all have to wear these ridiculous bras. They said don’t eat pepperoni if you want to be a girl. If your grandpa dies, you can miss one game but if you have to cry, don’t do it on the field. Think of every little puppy you know and wink. They said our school might be named after Adlai E. Stevenson, but that doesn’t make it okay to lose. They threw me up into the air and promised they would catch me. They cradled their arms and kept their eyes on my bloomers. I shut mine tight and hoped for the best. I dreamed of falling into the tall girl’s arms, the one with all her hairs waxed clean. She said first she bleached them, but that didn’t work. Her nails were painted just like my mom’s. They said when the players are on the field, we have to be 100%. If a man gets injured, we must take a knee. If they score a touchdown, lose your freaking mind. You’ll be able to tell by the numbers going up. These pom pons are for real, they said—they will hypnotize the crowd. Have you ever been in love, they asked? It’s just like that but without the despair. Do you have a brighter lipstick? We can barely see you you’re so pale. That’s okay you can use one of ours as long as you wipe off the end once you’re done. At the end of the first half, run onto the field. Do the routine we taught you, they said. Don’t even think about getting a snack. You are our little flyer, they told me. Whatever you do, don’t look down. When you jump into our hands, we will handle the rest. Don’t you worry about a thing. Just relax. Just don’t mess up. Do not make us feel regret. That is not a shade that looks good on anyone. When you kick a leg, kick it high, they said. When we say number, you say one.
MOLLY TOLSKY is a fiction writer from Chicago, currently living in New York. Her work has appeared in The Collagist, The Fiddleback, MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine, Pindeldyboz and elsewhere. She has zero football knowledge or understanding, which made her a highly qualified cheerleader in high school.
Illustration by Dean Rank