Cheer It Up!

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By Erin E. McGuff

When Wanda Pollock and Alexa Patton George met a little over a year ago at New York City’s Lit Lounge under the influence of psychedelics and the nodding away of summertime, it wasn’t until after they’d discovered that each was in love with the other’s eyes, danced to drum beats they were sure emanated from the center of the earth, and cleared the floor to teach each other ballet positions and technique they both remembered from when they were in elementary school, it wasn’t until after those shenanigans—and possibly because of the ballet positions—that it hit them both almost exactly at the same time: “Ohmygod, ohmygod! I know you from ‘Cheer-It-Up!’ Holy shit what the fuck.”

Alexa and Wanda both had what people in the theatre world would call “stage moms.” They would call them “dance moms” in the dance world, and, that’s right, “cheer moms” in the cheerleading world. Wanda remembers the time her mother (who hailed from the deep, deep south: Luverne, Alabama, home of the world’s largest peanut boil) whisper-screamed to her backstage before her big ballet solo, “Buttercup, you’re the prettiest little thing in the world. I couldn’t have asked for a better little angel child. Now you do it just the way we practiced, alright? Don’t let all your momma’s hard work go to waste now, honeychild. And—if you could just sorta battement your leg a little higher when you’re next to little Barbie Singer’s face, that would be great. I’ve told her mother a million times to get her daughter’s fat ass outta your way, she can’t even do a tondu. Okie dokie, sugahbaby, give your one-and-only Momma some sugah.” Wanda was three then and still learning how to wipe her own ass. For the record, she didn’t battement Barbie Singer in the face; she didn’t even know what a battement was. That’s the year Mrs. Pollock started taking uppers—the prescribed kind, of course.

Wanda’s dance mom became a cheer mom when she realized that, after meeting his lawyerly father, she wanted her daughter to marry Lance McCallister, the star middle-school quarterback at the Edgewood Magnet School in New Haven, CT. Wanda was twelve and naturally very good at the thing she hated most—dance. She hadn’t yet grown the balls to tell her mother to fuck off, she was going to eat the whole turkey at Thanksgiving if she wanted to, goddammit! No, poor Wanda. At twelve she was a.) still a pussy, b.) very much afraid of her mother, and c.) because of that fear, much too timid to ask for seconds at the dinner table. So, on a Friday in late May when Mrs. Pollock picked her up from school and Wanda saw propped up in the passenger seat a huge megaphone with her name scrawled across it in obnoxiously big, red cursive, she knew that she was about to become a cheerleader. She hated the idea of cheering for anything—especially for boys who lacked even the guts to ask her and her friends out for a burger and fries—but alas, three weeks later, she was in her mother’s car headed for summer cheerleading camp because it was what her mother told her to do, and Wanda, at that time in her life, was very good at doing what she was told.

It was a long, miserable three weeks of chanting and yelling and flipping and flying—not to mention everyone trying to be best friends with everyone else— before Wanda met the only other sane person on the “Cheer-It-Up!” compound: Alexa. It happened in the bathroom during yell practice. To a chorus emanating from the big gymnasium of five hundred twelve-year old girls screaming over and over that they heard a “BOOM! Chick-a-boom!,” Wanda started her period. Having no idea what to do about it—her mother refused to talk about such base things as puberty and menstruation—she crouched over the toilet and cried. She looked at the flowering meadow of hairs that had begun to claim her once soft, smooth, girlish genitals. She felt her breasts and realized finally why for the past week she had seemed to have two heavy, aching, grapefruits hanging off her chest. She stared at her bony thighs sticking out of her cheerleading skirt—thighs that should’ve been much sturdier because of all the dancing she had done every single day of her life since she was three. She stared at her thighs and thought of how much she hated her mother: hated her for scrawling her name in red across that god-awful megaphone, hated her for never letting Wanda eat cake at her friends’ birthday parties, hated her for hating herself so much that she needed her daughter to be perfect in order to prove to herself that her forty-year old life was worth something. In the middle of all of this self-pity, blood, tears, and hating her mother, Wanda heard a soft knock on the stall door. She quickly sniffed her snot back into her nose, glanced down underneath the door, and saw a set of standard, white-and-pink Asics cheerleading sneakers staring back at her. An unsteady but kind voice called to her, “Excuse me, are you, um, okay in there? I don’t mean to bother you, but, um, uh, well… the thing is, see… if you started your period, I just want you to know that I understand how you’re feeling and I have a tampon, if you need it.”