It’s been eight years since I graduated from high school, and they’re still doing the same old, tired cheers.
“I don’t see one white girl,” my older sister Anita whispers to me.
“Basketball cheerleading squads are predominantly black. They’re like step teams. Even at some of the white schools, unless they’re those preppy white schools. The white girls cheer during football season.” I wonder if I assume this is true because of my Sociology degree, or if it only applies to my small, North Carolina hometown.
We are seated in the small gymnasium of Ben L. Smith High School to watch my nephew Domenic play in the final game of the season before playoffs. He’s a freshman playing on the varsity team, and is one of the leading scorers. The game is deep in the third quarter and the opposing Page Pirates have just come back from a fifteen point deficit at the half to take the lead, but I can’t seem to take my eyes off the cheerleaders.
They are sitting in the first three rows of the middle section of the bleachers. There are nine or ten of them, all black. When they say their cheers, slapping their thighs and stomping so loud, the bleachers shake, their voices are so deep and gruff, it’s as if they were yelling at the players instead of cheering them on. An occassional high-pitched chirp exists the mouth of one of the girls, though I still can’t pin point which one it is. Maybe it’s one of the skinnier girls on the end, with the long black weave—the AKA in training.
Their green uniforms are tight—too tight for underaged high school girls. They don’t have to bend over too far for anyone to see their butts. The two biggest girls on the squad look to be wrapped in seaweed. Their stomachs poke through their waist high skirts like the pouch of an older woman who has had at least four kids. When they step onto the court to do toe touches for made free throw shots, I cry for the strained seams. At least they’re sitting down for most of their cheers, though. The girls on the dance team moving with the marching band on the other end of the gymnasium are only wearing tights and t-shits, and they’ve been romp shaking and dropping it like it’s hot since halftime.
Were we that raunchy in high school? I can’t remember. Maybe the kids in my class were just as grown as these girls are. I wasn’t among them, though. I was always that mousey girl who faded into the background and observed everyone else having fun around her. I still am.
The boys are just as intimidating—and they’re tall. Why are they so tall? I feel as if I’ve reverted back into my awkward teenage years, hunched under a bookbag twice my size and hiding behind a book to avoid all eye contact with anyone who may feel invited to tease me. A boy wearing a snapback, sagging skinny jeans, and a gray t-shirt sits in front of me. He reminds me of the guy I lost my virginity to junior year. Wayne Allred was his name. Wayne had the reputation of turning all the good girls out, and junior year he had his eyes set for me. I would say the sex was consensual, but I didn’t have much of a choice. He had a reputation to keep, and whether we did it or not, he was still going to brag about it in the locker room to the guys. So I let him lead me to the balcony of the auditorium after school while the theatre students rehearsed Hamlet on the stage below. It wasn’t pleasant at all—nothing like the movies. He was rough. He covered my mouth with his sweaty t-shirt to muffle my yelps. A week later my guidance counselor called me into her office to talk about a boy I’d been hanging out with after school. She hinted that she knew more than she was letting on, but she wanted me to tell her myself. I didn’t say a word. The rest of the year I went straight home when the final bell rang.
“I’m gonna get some nachos,” I say to Anita. I walk along the sidelines, ducking just as a blocked ball comes hurling my way. Despite not getting hit, the students in the bleachers burst into laughter, and I feel all eyes on me. I scurry out of the gym to the concession stand in the lobby.
“Nachos with cheese,” I tell the PTA member behind the counter. I slide her a wrinkled five dollar bill. She puts the money in the register, gets the last nachos tray from the rack behind her, and hands it to me. I pick up one nacho, the hot, melted cheese dripping from the chip, and, sticking my tongue out, I put it in my mouth and chew slowly, savoring the saltiness from the nacho and the smoothness from the cheese. When I look up, two teenage boys are staring at me.
“What’s up girl,” one says. He pulls up his oversized pants and licks his lips.
“Hello,” I say. I lower my head and turn towards the gym, but he grabs my arm.
“Wait. What you in a hurry for? You got a name?”
“Ok, Raquel.” He rubs his chin, as if he had a beard to finger through. “My homie wanna holla at you.” He points to his silent friend next to him wearing a faded Robert Griffin III Washington Redskins jersey.
“I’m too old for you.”
“Oooh,” Oversized Jeans says, teasing his friend.
“Man, whatever. I don’t want her ass,” Jersey Boy says, waving me off as he walks away.
“All you had to say was that you wanted me,” Oversized Jeans says to me. “So, what’s good?” He holds out his arms, inviting me in.
“I’m too old for you,” I repeat, though I really don’t feel like I am. I feel as though I’m shrinking into a younger, more timid self. This boy’s hold on my arm makes me nervous. His grip is tight like Wayne Allred’s when he lead me up the stairs to my shameful deflowering.
“What’s too old?” he asks.
“You ain’t no damn 26,” the friend says, returning to the conversation.
I look at the SRO standing next to the door to the gym. He intentionally doesn’t look our way. What’s the point in having police officers in schools if they don’t bother to intervene when someone’s getting harassed?
“Let go of my arm,” I whine.
“You really 26?” Oversized Jeans asks. “You don’t look it.”
I guess I wouldn’t when half of the girls at this school look and dress older than I do. While in the gym, I saw a girl wearing jeans with large cutouts at the thighs, revealing fishnet stockings underneath. Another had a baby on her hip. A part of me hoped the child was just a younger sibling, but I knew better. Anita herself had Domenic young, but at least she was 21.
I snatch my arm from the boy’s grip and start towards the gym. I can feel them walking behind me, their eyes examining me. I know they’re going to follow me to my seat, sit directly behind me. They’ll talk and joke about the way I look loud enough so that I can hear. They’ll debate about what sexual positions I like, and what new things I might have learned since graduating high school—territory they haven’t yet discovered. They’ll dare each other to make a move on me. Oversized Jeans will stay behind after the game, and on Monday, brag to Jersey Boy, that I let him hit after everyone left. They’ll compare my 26-year-old vagina to that of the girls they’ve had sex with or imagined having sex with. Eight years later, and I’m still the subject of teenage male sexual exploration.
I turn away from the gym and instead walk out of the front doors to the parking lot. Anita will just have to text me the score and how many points Domenic made later. I’ve had enough of high school.
Featured photo courtesy of Krossover.com