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This piece is inspired by my sisters and I and the year we were all in high school together. The characters are loosely based on my sisters and I and the story shows how sometimes we feel inadequate when compared to the others and we get jealous of one another, but also that being with each other is the most comfortable we can be. I hope this piece helps people see that being themselves is the best they can be and that once you find your people, whether that be your sisters or your neighbor or your childhood best friend, you should stick with them.
I don't know what I thought senior year pep rallies were going to be like (maybe like actually fun?) but it was better than this. I’m walking into the gym next to my two best friends since elementary school, because this is Hudson, the stereotypical small town where everyone remembers when you cried on stage dressed as a bee during the third grade play. I’m watching both of my sisters, who are cheerleaders (why why why would you ever want to be a cheerleader), and talking to Bailee about her latest drama.
Bailee really should just be grateful she knows where she’s going to school. Why keep worrying about high school stuff if she knows she’ll be out of here soon? If I knew where I was going to college or what I wanted to do, that would be all I’d think about.
Bailee and Ryan, who already have a certain future ahead of them, and I make our way to the senior section and get a seat about halfway up the bleachers, not too close so that you’re not right in the action, not too far that you’re left out. Eleanor and Corinne, my younger sisters, are lackadaisically dancing along to the band, giggling when they mess up. I admire them for getting up in front of the whole school, but I would admire them more if it weren’t for cheerleading. This morning they were practicing in our kitchen and I was about to pull their hair out. With them, it's cheer 24/7 even though they are actually cool people who do more interesting things than cheerleading, like paint murals and write for the school newspaper. If I had those kinds of talents, I wouldn’t waste my time with cheerleading.
Once everyone gets seated, Sarah Lyle, the student body president who is already committed to the University of North Carolina for tennis, makes her way to the center of the gym floor and holds the mic up to her impossibly wide, falsely cheery smile. She begins to tap the mic in the universal “Is this thing on?” way people do. (Why do people do that? Why don’t they just start talking instead of assaulting our ears with the booming of their hand coming down on the mic?) As soon as she starts to speak, a burst of static erupts, once again making us all deaf. We all clap our hands over our ears like the high school robots we are as Sarah pulls the mic away from her mouth and waits for the static to die out before continuing to welcome us all to the Homecoming Pep Rally.
“Is it working? Ok, cool. Hello everybody! I am your captain, your general, your fearless leader, your Commander in Chief, yes...your student body president, Sarah Lyle!” she says grandly, looking at us expectantly.
I don’t know if she was expecting an explosion of applause or an outburst of laughter so I just roll my eyes while my friends snicker beside me (at her expense rather than with her). After she flatters herself a little more in an obviously lame attempt to be funny, Sarah introduces the cheerleaders and signals for the music to start playing once they all get set for their performance. Though I don’t agree with my sisters’ decision to spend their time cheering for mediocre adolescent football players, I have to admit they are good at what they do. Towards the end my attention piques as they begin doing tumbling passes, the one part of cheerleading that is actually cool. Eleanor, the last to go, stands in the corner and shrugs her shoulders. She runs for a couple of steps and then does a roundoff, back handspring, whip, two more back handsprings to a layout (I only know the terms from years of BORING gymnastic and cheer competitions). My friends and I cheer along with the rest of the crowd.
“Wow that was really cool. I didn’t know she could do stuff like that.” Ryan says.
I nod in agreement. I have to admit, it was pretty impressive. Eleanor is annoyingly afraid of everyone, but at least she has talent.
If I could do crazy flips like that, I wouldn’t waste time worrying what people thought of me. I would just backflip over them if they dared to disrespect me.
Eleanor lands, pulls down her skirt (this is why athletes shouldn’t wear skirts), turns to the crowd and waves, her face pink and smiling. The cheerleaders finally finish up the performance and shortly, the music ends. We all clap politely and then wait for Sarah to get back on the mic and embarrass herself.
After being prompted by Sarah, we give another predictable and insincere round of applause for the cheerleaders (“Wow give it up for them, that was awesome!”). Then Sarah starts explaining a relay race game where they bring down audience members to play and no surprise: it’s the same one we’ve played every year. You’d think being elected to student council, people would be a little more creative and hardworking, but of course our student council is just as lazy and tradition-crazy as everyone here in Hudson. It’s hard to hear Sarah over the chatter of already disinterested teenagers (and honestly I’m not really listening either) but I already know how it works. However, towards the end I hear the word “diaper” and look down to see that the last person in the relay will have to eat chocolate pudding out of a diaper so that it looks like they are eating poop (high schoolers are real mature). That’s about as interesting as things get here in Hudson: humiliating yourself by eating pudding out of a diaper for the enjoyment of the student body.
Sarah starts calling people down with unnecessary pep, starting with the freshman.
“For the freshman we have Jamie Tallentire, Patrick Stewart, and Katie King!”
I look around as people start to stand up when they are called, others cheering for their friends. I don’t expect that any of my friends will get called, because it always seems to be the same people (the friends of student council members). But then I jolt my head up as Sarah calls the last name.
“And lastly for the seniors, we need...Liza Nelson!”
Bailee and Ryan start laughing hysterically as I head down the noisy bleachers, wondering why I still have to participate in ridiculous things like this.
Maggie Wilson walks toward me to explain the game again, and then gives the other seniors, Christina Hanes and Andrew Black, and I our positions.
“Ok so Tina, you’re going to do the tights. Andrew, you’re going to do dizzy bat and Liza will eat the pudding!” Maggie says.
Tina and Andrew look at me and laugh. I just look at Maggie, waiting for her to say she’s joking. When she doesn’t, I fold my arms across my chest and shrug. If this is what I have to do in order to get out of here, then get me some pudding.
Soon, Sarah is slowly counting down from three, her voice booming so dramatically to build suspense that I see a couple of kids cover their ears, and then yells “GO!” Tina takes off with all of the other students with tights on their heads. She starts out great, knocking over the first two bottles with ease. She’s clearly ahead of the other teams. But then, tragedy strikes. She struggles with the last bottle, and the junior and sophomore surpass her; but she’s close behind. Tina tags Andrew and he sprints to the other side of the court, grabs the bat from Maggie forcefully, attempting to take back the lead; he spins as fast as possible, getting done shortly after the juniors who are now in first place. Andrew stumbles for a moment, but recovers while the junior team member is swerving into the sophomore. The crowd erupts in laughter as both the junior and sophomore go down. While they attempt to untangle themselves, Andrew sprints into the lead, but he gets too c***y, and the freshman passes him right when he is about to tag me; he realizes his mistake, looks at me panicked, and then slaps my hand hard (it kind of hurt to be honest but I’m not a whiner), signaling that it's my time to shine. When I start running, I am close behind the freshman team member, a girl on the soccer team. She’s fast, but (honestly) I’m faster (thankfully it’s field hockey season, otherwise I would be embarrassing myself). I catch up to her and we reach the diaper at the same time. They’ve given me a poncho so I don’t get pudding on my clothes and I am glad because this freshman girl means business (gotta admire her tenacity); I realize I’m going to have to go hard in order to win this thing. I am not about to let the freshman class beat us. I throw on the poncho, not bothering to stick my arms through the arm holes, fling myself onto the ground, and start eating the pudding with abandon. Students are laughing and shouting in front of me and I have the feeling someone is putting this on their Snapchat Story. Within seconds I finish the pudding and stand up, trying to wipe the chocolate off of my face. The senior class erupts in cheers (though it really wasn’t that big of a deal, I have to admit, my blood is pumping too). The other classes finish up and I clean myself off before heading back to my seat. Bailee and Ryan just look at me, clearly amused, and I just shrug before we all turn our attention back to Sarah.
After congratulating the seniors for winning, “once again,” she moves on to announcing the winners of the Homecoming banners. I’m slightly anxious to hear the results because Corinne pretty much made the banner herself. The freshman's theme was “The Lion King” and she painted the scene on Pride Rock where Simba is lifted up and all of the animals are bowing. It took her forever, but it looks incredible. I’ve definitely never seen a freshman banner look so well-done. As much as I want the seniors to win because, senior year and everything, Corinne’s banner is clearly better than the rest. She has such a great future as an artist ahead of her, even though she’s just a freshman. The jealousy rages within me and I can’t help but think about how untalented I am.
You’re not artistic enough, or smart enough, or driven enough. You’re not good at anything. You’ll never get into college. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.
Surely enough, only three horrible jokes later, Sarah is announcing that sophomores have won third, seniors are second and....
“For the first time in Hudson history, the freshman win the banner competition!”
To the annoyance of my booing classmates, my friends and I join the cacophony of the freshman cheers. A freshman boy runs up to Sarah, grabs the mic and says “Just wanted to give a shout out to Corinne Nelson for single handedly securing this victory for the freshman class. This one’s for you!” Sarah manages to glare at him and swipe the mic back.
I look over at Corinne and see her face turn pink, embarrassed with all of the attention, but I can also tell she is really pleased. I feel happy for her, but still feel a twinge of jealousy. I wish I could be as blushingly cute as she is and have the artistic talent she does. It’s a familiar sensation, and it leaves me feeling inadequate. She’s my younger sister and the fact that she is more talented than me makes me envy her. Corinne is only a freshman and already has amazing artistic talent. And then there’s me: a senior, who is supposed to go to college next year and still has no idea what she wants to do, with pudding on her face.
I smile frantically, trying to play off the mistake I just made. I’m dancing along to the band, still a little out of breath from rushing to change into my uniform after being dismissed from class for the pep rally. I’m almost certain people are looking right at me and laughing at me.
Did Jay just look at me? Is he talking about me?
I think I just saw Mrs. Mackley giggle. She’s totally laughing at my mistake.
I can’t believe I just messed up in front of the whole school.
I feel awkward dancing in front of everyone, and can’t help but think everyone else is thinking about how uncool I am, though I really shouldn’t because that's what I signed up for in being a cheerleader. I love all all of the parts of cheerleading that are not typically associated with the sport. I don’t like performing at pep rallies, unless I’m tumbling, I don’t like making locker signs or giving football players goodie bags. I’d much rather be competing at a cheerleading competition than standing on the sidelines cheering for adolescent football players, and I do not enjoy being peppy. But I love the performing aspect of it. Performing in cheerleading is the only time I feel comfortable in my own skin. Except in moments like this, where I keep making mistakes and failing to shake them off. The only thing that makes me feel better is laughing with Corinne, my younger sister, when she misses a whole eight count. I glance up and see Liza, my older sister, in the stands, also laughing at Corinne. My sisters always help me feel better.
Soon enough, the awkwardness is over and a senior named Sarah Lyle, that I know Liza finds incredibly irritating, is welcoming everyone to the Homecoming pep rally, though it's hard to hear her because the mic has terrible quality. I don’t understand the last part of what she says but it must be something about our performance because the rest of the cheerleaders are standing up and walking out to the middle of the mats.
I take my place in the third line with all of the other sophomores and wait for the music to turn on. I hear Corinne’s familiarly loud laughter and glance back to see her standing over her friend Jamie. I assume Corinne knocked her over and shake my head at her, amused but also slightly embarrassed. Now is not the time for her antics. Anytime she does something a little out of step, I get second hand embarrassment because she’s my sister and I feel some responsibility for her actions. As I turn back around, “This Is What You Came For” starts softly playing. I can hear everyone commenting on our performance or just completing ignoring us and having their own conversations, making it even more uncomfortable to dance in front of all my teachers and peers. However, the tumbling section, my favorite part, is coming up. I hit the pose ending the first section and stride towards the back right corner of the mat. I have the last pass, which is saved for the most difficult and impressive tumbling. I was surprised in practice when Coach called my name (I assumed the spot would be given to one of the seniors) but I was also really pleased that my hard work had been recognized. Brooklyn Miller, the second to last to go, shrugs her shoulders and I take a deep breath to prepare myself. Once she gets to the center of the mat and does her round off, I shrug my shoulders on my assigned count and start running into my pass. The adrenaline from being watched is making my tumbling fast and powerful. I do a roundoff, arabian, roundoff, back handspring, whip through to a full. I can hear my teammates cheering me on, making me punch the floor even harder. My full is much higher than normal, allowing me to land almost standing straight up rather than hunched over like usual. I’m usually pretty self-conscious, but tumbling makes me feel powerful and confident, so it’s the only time I really show-off.
Pleased with myself and breathing a little hard, I quickly pull down my skirt (why oh why do we wear skirts?) and wave up at the crowd, catching Liza’s eye and smiling at her. Though I know she hates cheerleading, she’s smiling too, which gives me an extra burst of joy and confidence. Sometimes I feel like I can do anything just because my sisters believe in me, but this feeling always fades, and fast. They applaud as we finish the performance, the music ends, and we scream “ACES!” while hitting the ending pose. After holding our pose for a few seconds, we all jump up, wave at the crowd and spirit off the mats to sit on the side of the gym as Sarah comes back out with the mic. All of my previous confidence dissipates.
What if people think I’m dumb because I’m a cheerleader?
Were people laughing at us?
I’m almost positive Lindsay Moore just looked at me and turned to Jack Ryan to talk about me.
Sarah begins announcing the next game, which, if I heard her correctly, includes eating pudding out of a diaper. Sarah calls up the freshman, and quickly follows with the sophomores. My heart starts beating really fast, terrified I will have to go up and make a fool of myself in front of the whole school. But thankfully, they call up Melissa Jones, a girl in my grade that is friends with Liza. Then they call up Colin Sams and Mara Miller. I release the breath I was unconsciously holding and wait to see if any of my friends or sisters will be summoned. Corinne isn’t, but I laugh along with her as her friends’ names are called, and they stand, looking annoyed and embarrassed. They tend to call up pretty outgoing people, so I don’t know why I was worried. When they call the last person, I have a mini heart attack because they said “Nelson,” my last name. But then I realize that they said Liza Nelson. I look over at her as she descends the bleachers. My face would be bright red from embarrassment and I would be walking as quickly and as lightly as possible down the bleachers, trying not to make any noise, but, as always, she is totally unfazed. She bounds down the bleachers, shaking the whole stands in the same way she shakes up everyone’s world. I hope for her sake that she won't have to eat the pudding.
The chatter of the crowd swells as people anticipate the events of the game and laugh at their friends on the floor below. I watch Liza, who is listening intently to Maggie Wilson explain the game and her role. I see the other seniors selected to play, Andrew Black and Christina Hanes, erupt in laughter at the last thing Maggie says and I see a flash of dismay on Liza’s face before she assumes her typical, confident, arms crossed and chin up stance that seems to say Bring it on. I take this to mean she has to eat the pudding out of the diaper. I turn to Corinne beside me to tell her this but it gets lost in the shouts after Sarah yells “GO!”
Liza stays where she is so I turn my attention to my team, the sophomores. Mara is racing down the court with tights on her head, trying to knock over water bottles with the ball in the toe of the tights. She struggles with the first one, taking more tries than the other teams to get it down. Even though she’s supposed to look ridiculous with the tights on her head, she manages to look carefree and pretty even in such a compromising situation. I could never do that. My face would be as red as a firetruck and hot to the touch, flaming with embarrassment, my head swirling with the knowledge that people must be making fun of me.
The seniors are currently in the lead, but Mara knocks down the other two water bottles easily and catches up as the senior misses the last bottle. Mara tags Colin, who races down the court, trying to take the lead; he reaches the end, grabs the bat and starts spinning rapidly. Once he comes up, he starts running even faster than before, but suddenly, he careens to the left and collides with a junior. By the time they get themselves untangled, Melissa, Liza, and Katie King are already sprinting towards the diapers. Liza and Katie are neck and neck. They both throw themselves on the ground and start chowing down on the pudding with such a confident abandon I could never have. Corinne and I switch between cheering Liza on and laughing so hard my stomach starts to hurt as I gasp for breath and wipe away the tears streaming down my face. Everytime I catch my breath, I start to laugh all over again like a crazy person. Corinne covers her mouth and stomps her feet, practically cackling. The seniors and freshmen are all on their feet, cheering for their team like this is the Olympics. Then, Liza licks up the last bite and stands up, looking around to see if she won with pudding all over her face, making her like a five year old after eating a chocolate ice cream cone in the heat of July. The senior section erupts, chanting “LIZ-A, LIZ-A, LIZ-A” as she laughs and nonchalantly wipes the pudding off of her face (and a grin you could see only from my angle) with a wet wipe she was given. Though I’m smiling for her, the thoughts swirling around my head make me want to run away and cry.
Everyone loves Liza. No one likes you. You’re not confident enough. You’re not funny enough. You’re not cool enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.
Only Liza could be so calm, cool, and composed after eating out of a diaper. I would be embarrassed if I had the pudding on my face, but I also would be on Cloud Nine if people were chanting my name. I would be so caught up in what people were thinking, as I always am, but she just does not care whether people love her or look down on her. The girl is fearless. I desperately wished I had her self-confidence. She’s always telling me it’s “dumb” that I’m afraid of people and if I “act confident no one will question you.” Liza is the picture of cool confidence and enviable self-image. And then there’s me: a lowly, self-conscious sophomore jealous of someone eating out of a diaper.
I am in pain. My cheeks are starting to hurt from smiling and my sides are aching from laughing too much. I’m at my very first high school pep rally, dancing to the band next to my older sister Eleanor. I see Liza, my oldest sister, and get so distracted trying to get her attention that I miss the signal meaning we are starting one of our band dances. So much is happening I can’t keep track of what I’m supposed to be doing! I finally catch Eleanor in my peripheral vision and see that I am the only one standing still, so I quickly join in with the dance, though it takes me a little bit to figure out how to. I keep giggling, tickled by the excitement. I am finally in high school! Ok yeah, it's nothing like High School Musical, but it’s still tons of fun. Also, I CANNOT wait until Saturday, my first Homecoming dance! I’ve heard so much about high school from my sisters and now I am actually living it!
After we do a few more dances (and mess up a lot more, making Liza and her friends in the audience laugh) some senior girl, Sarah I think, gets on the mic and I follow the rest of the cheerleaders to sit on the side of the gym. I start laughing hysterically as soon as Sarah starts talking, slapping Eleanor sitting next to me, on the leg. She gives me a look like Really? But I don’t understand how she doesn’t find this girl funny. The mic starts getting fuzzy, making it hard to hear her, so I try (and fail) to get Liza’s attention again. My mind wanders, thinking about how I want Liza to do my hair for Homecoming. I’ve been looking on Pinterest for a pretty and cool all-up style because all of my friends are doing their hair down so I want to be a little different. My parents are starting to get mad at me for being on my phone so late because I don’t get enough sleep, which makes me irritable and whiny. But I wouldn’t be able to sleep anyway because I can’t stop obsessing over what I’ll wear or how I’ll do my makeup. It’s my first high school dance! What do they expect?
I’m pulled out of my daze by Eleanor who is gesturing to the rest of the cheerleaders making their way to the center of the mats. I get up, realizing it's time for our performance, and head towards the back of the mat, bumping into my friend Jamie to express my excitement on the way and then letting out a shriek of laughter before covering my mouth to stifle it when she dramatically falls over. I see Eleanor look at me sternly (which honestly just makes me want to laugh harder) and look up to see Liza laughing too. I wave at her and do my best to stifle anymore giggles while helping Jamie up and then getting to my spot.
It’s a good thing too because right when I get there, “This Is What You Came For” by Calvin Harris featuring Rihanna, one of my favorite songs at the moment, starts playing. I bop my head slightly as I anticipate the count that starts our routine, mouthing the words even though I’m not supposed to. I mean how am I supposed to just not sing? This is my favorite song! I do the first part of the routine fine, only missing a motion once, and then I walk to the side as the older girls line up for their tumbling pass. I watch with interest, but then get distracted trying to get Liza’s attention again as I “nugget” at the back of the mat, which is really just the funniest word ever. Who came up with that? Nugget? Really? I watch Eleanor go, she does awesome as usual, and fill a pit of jealousy drop in my stomach as the crowd cheers for her. Eleanor is infuriating.
I wish I could tumble like her.
It is just sooo easy for her, it's so unfair!
She made varsity her sophomore year and I’m going to be stuck on JV for the rest of my life!
We finish up the dance and then make our way back to the side of the gym to watch the other festivities, I bump into Jamie again, trying to shake off my bad feelings towards Eleanor, and smirk at her when she glares at me, managing to keep her balance. Sarah starts calling people’s names to play some kind of game (I wasn’t really paying attention) and when they say “Jamie Tallentire” I start laughing hysterically, pointing at her and gasping for breath as she stands up, scrunching up her face like she always does when she’s annoyed. I can’t stop laughing and I can’t hear the rest of the names. I hold my stomach as it squeezes painfully every time I laugh, but I still can’t stop. When I finally collect myself, I hear them say “Liza Nelson,” sending me back into hysterics as I see Liza walk down the bleachers.
Sarah shouts “Let the games begin!” and then the first team members are racing towards water bottles set on the ground with tights on their heads. Turns out they have to knock over three water bottles with a ball in the end of the tights, which is just hilarious. Who comes up with this stuff? Jamie was chosen for this role and she is doing terribly. I can’t stop laughing because I can see the scrunched up, determined look on her face which is just so funny in general, even when she doesn’t have tights on her head. I lose track of the game as I try to stop laughing, though as soon as I do, a sophomore collides with a junior after dizzy bat, sending me into another fit of giggles. When I finally recover, I realize that Liza is up and sprinting down the court like a tiny cheetah, right next to the freshman team member, Katie King. Liza is crazy confident and can be kind of intense, which is coming in handy in this moment. My heart starts racing from all of the excitement and I become seriously invested in Liza winning. Sisters root for sisters. Liza and Katie make it to the end and, for the first time, I notice there are diapers lying there with brown stuff in them, pudding maybe or little nuggets (just thinking this word again sends a flurry of giggles out of my mouth) of stuff...it can’t be poop, they wouldn’t do that (would they???).
They both hit the deck and start eating the pudding so forcefully I would feel a little sick if I weren’t laughing so hard. I forget that I’m supposed to be cheering for the freshman team and yell “YEAH LIZA!” in between fits of laughter. I shut my eyes tight as I laugh uncontrollably and when I get them open, I see Liza doing a very athletic looking maneuver to get herself to her feet. She won!!! I can’t believe it! I stand up and yell “THAT’S MY SISTER!” while Eleanor beside me just smiles and claps, always the calm and reserved one. The gym erupts with cheers for Liza, who just smirks, flips her hair over her shoulder, and shrugs, her signature move.
After everyone calms down, Sarah starts announcing the places for the banner competition. I’ve been looking forward to helping make the Homecoming banner since I was in sixth grade when Liza started high school and told me all about it. Art is kinda my thing, so this has been a dream come true. I’m really proud of the finished product and I hope we do well, even though Liza told me freshman never win. I can tell Eleanor is getting anxious for me because she starts twisting a hair tie around her finger, a nervous tick. I’m watching her do this and zoning out a little while Sarah is talking. I expect the freshman got last because Liza knows how high school works and I trust her. But then I hear Sarah say “For the first time in Hudson history, the freshman win the banner competition!”
Eleanor turns to me with a huge smile on her face, dropping her hair tie, which is when I realize what Sarah just said. I one-arm hug her and then look at Liza who is giving me the thumbs up. Jamie is cheering along with the freshman beside me, who are going crazy. I honestly can’t believe I helped the freshman win something for the first time! This is way better than High School Musical.
In the back of my mind though, I’m still not over Eleanor’s tumbling pass.
You’re not good enough to be on varsity. You’re not good enough to ever be in the center. You’re not good enough to ever be lastpass. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough.
Eleanor is such a talented cheerleader, and super humble, which makes it even more infuriating to be her sister. I have been trying for years to just get a back handspring, the first real tumbling skill, and I barely made JV this year. She got on varsity her sophomore year and is given the last pass, traditionally left for seniors, in everything, and then there’s me: a lowly, bottom of the food chain freshman who is never going to make varsity because she can’t even do the most basic tumbling skill.
Finally Sarah gets off the mic, the clock turns to 2: 50 pm, and like scurrying ants we all hurry out to our cars, the freshman heading back to their lockers because they don’t know yet to take their backpack to assemblies. I round up Eleanor and Corrine, and push them towards the door, trying to beat the traffic and get out of here as fast as possible. I try (and fail) to keep my jealousy in check when I congratulate Corrine on winning the banner competition, but I don’t think she notices the envious lilt in my voice.
We race over to my red 1999 Honda CR-V, Eleanor, as always, struggling to keep up. The girl already is bent over her phone, but she’s not texting or scrolling through social media. I can tell she’s reading by the intent expression on her face. I yell at her “Eleanor, lets go!” but she doesn’t even seem to hear me. I unlock it and throw open the door. Corinne yells “I call shotgun!” but Eleanor hardly notices, settling into the back where she can read her book in peace.
I start the car and whip out of the spot, trying to beat everyone to the stop sign. Eleanor braces herself and whips her head up.
“Liza! Slow down,” she says with an expression that is a cross between terrified and exasperated.
“Well Eleanor if you had been a little bit quicker getting to the car instead of reading and moving at a snail’s pace, then I wouldn’t have to go so fast!” I say and then immediately see the dubious look on her face.
“Ok you’re right, I would still speed even if you had walked faster,” I say giggling at the look on her face. She is frowning and scrunching up her face more than I thought humanly possible, producing wrinkles between her eyebrows. Eleanor makes the weirdest faces sometimes.
I turn on the radio and it blares, making all three of us scream bloody murder. Corinne turns it down and we dissolve into giggles over our overreaction. I switch it to the CD and then put in 1989. Hate on me all you want, Taylor Swift is the bomb. Corinne and I start singing along at the top of our lungs, prompting Eleanor to look up from her book and start singing along too.
“Hey, hey, hey. Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats in the world. YOU COULD’VE BEEN GETTIN DOWN TO THIS SICK BEAT.”
I belt along to T. Swizzle, swiveling my hips along to the music and pounding on the steering wheel along with the beat. This sends Eleanor into a fit of giggles, and Corinne starts videotaping me on her phone, probably putting me on her Snapchat Story. I turn to her and sing even more dramatically (Who cares if my sister’s little freshman friends see me singing ridiculously?). Corinne turns the camera around to Eleanor who doesn’t notice at first and continues to belt at the top of her lungs and swing her hair around. When she opens her eyes, she immediately stops, laughing nervously at herself and turning red in the face.
“Corinne stop! You know I don’t like to be recorded without my knowledge!”
“Ok ok, geez.”
Corinne looks back down at her phone, posting the video on her Snapchat Story. A few seconds later she says “Hey!” and I look up, seeing Eleanor jump in the rearview mirror.
“What Corinne? You’re going to make us crash one day if you keep yelling like that at nothing.”
“Calm down Eleanor.” She looks to me, laughing. “You’re all over Snapchat! Everyone posted stories of you eating the pudding out of the diaper. And I keep getting tagged by my friends in tweets about you. Everyone is talking about how awesome you are! Listen to this: “Liza Nelson is seriously awesome. Eating ‘poop’ and bringing home the gold for #senioryear Mad respect for her.” That was Brad Koops. There’s even a hashtag starting! #LizaRules”
I can tell she is exhilarated at the attention she’s getting. I roll my eyes at her.
“They don’t think I’m awesome. They just think what I did was awesome. Which it was.”
Now Eleanor is rolling her eyes at me. After a little bit, she pipes up, telling Corinne pictures of her banner are all over Instagram and VSCO.
“Ashley posted your banner on VSCO and it already has 1,000 republishes!” Eleanor says a bit later.
That darn green eyed monster flares up in the pit of my stomach, but when I turn to Corinne and see the innocent wonder in her eyes, it fades into pride for my sister.
“Yeah Corinne, that banner was really awesome. You’re going to be a seriously cool artist,” I say to her. She blushes and shakes her head. Seeing her so happy makes my jealousy disappear.
“I still can’t get over you winning that game. The image of you eating out of that diaper is permanently ingrained in my mind. I can’t believe how confident you were,” Corinne says.
“Yeah me either, and Twitter won’t let me forget it either,” Eleanor adds. “You were really brave.”
I laugh at her comment. Brave? No, that was just a silly high school game. But when I look at her in the rearview, I see how much she really means it. Eleanor is totally intimidated by everyone, which I just don’t get. The sincerity of her comment sinks in, which I don’t usually let happen. I guess in high school, having the confidence to eat pudding out of a diaper in front of the entire student body is no small feat, especially to someone like Eleanor. I hope my confidence encourages her. She is really funny and silly once she lets her guard down.
“Thanks El. Just remember: act confident and no one will question you.” Thankfully she smiles. I smile back at her and feel the peace of a weekend spread out in front of me with my sisters by my side, willing to belt out songs and laugh endlessly. And it feels right.
After the pep rally is over, (my first high school pep rally-already over!) Liza urges Eleanor and I to book it to her car. I wave bye to my freshman friends, a little smug as a I head out with all of the upperclassmen to the parking lot, our backpacks already in hand. I make sure to call shotgun as soon as the car is in sight, per our family rules, even though Eleanor seems too distracted by a book on her phone to be bothered. We all jump in the car and the music starts blaring as soon as Liza turns on the stereo, making us all scream bloody murder. I giggle at our silliness (why are we so easily scared?) as Liza switches to a CD. I immediately start dancing along to T. Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
“Hey, hey, hey. Just think while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats in the world. YOU COULD’VE BEEN GETTIN DOWN TO THIS SICK BEAT,” Liza absolutely belts out the lyrics, her voice breaking at least three times. This makes me laugh hysterically. I grab my phone and start recording her. Videos of Liza being silly are very popular among my Snapchat followers. I turn the camera on Eleanor when she’s not looking.
“Corinne stop! You know I don’t like to be recorded without my knowledge!” she screams at me in a real shrill voice.
“Ok ok, geez.” I say.
I post the video to my story anyway, Eleanor didn’t say I couldn’t post it, she just said she didn’t like to be recorded. Then I start tapping through everyone else’s Snapchat stories. A bunch of them are of Liza doing the relay game. As always, people are a fan of her.
“Hey!” I say,
“What Corinne? You’re going to make us crash one day if you keep yelling like that at something small.”
“Calm down Eleanor.” I say. She is such a Mom. I direct my attention back to Liza. “You’re all over Snapchat! Everyone posted stories of you eating the pudding out of the diaper. And I keep getting tagged by my friends in tweets about you. Everyone is talking about how awesome you are!”
I start scrolling through Twitter and see a lot more people talking about Liza. Some of them are ridiculous, but also admittedly funny.
“Welp. That’s something I never thought I’d see….especially at school. Shout out to Liza for #killinit and winning it for the senior class!! #gethatgirlsomepudding #andshe’llgohard
“I can’t believe that just happened. Liza is my hero!!! #getthatpuddinggurl”
“Liza is #hereforagoodtimenotalongtime”
“They don’t think I’m awesome. They just think what I did was awesome. Which it was.” Liza says. I nod my head in agreement and go back to soaking up the attention my sister is getting on social media. If people are talking about Liza, then they could be talking about me.
“Ashley posted your banner on VSCO and it already has 1,000 republishes!” Eleanor says a bit later.
“Really?!?” I respond, surprised. I can’t believe so many people saw the banner I made! That’s so cool, and my friends will definitely think so too.
“Yeah Corinne, that banner was really awesome. You’re going to be a seriously cool artist,” says Liza. This makes me blush.
“I still can’t get over you winning that game. The image of you eating out of that diaper is permanently ingrained in my mind. I can’t believe how confident you were,” I say to Liza. She has the ability to make anything look cool. I tune out of the conversation a bit but then my attention snaps back when Liza says my name.
“How about that kid Corinne who ran up to the mic, all ‘this one’s for you!’” she says.
“Tyler? Yeah that was funny,” I reply.
“Funny? More like obnoxious, but he was right to thank you for making the banner. Everyone should know you basically made it single-handedly, so I’ll let it slide.” I smile at her, thinking again about how all of the freshman screamed when our banner won. I mean first place? Freshman? As Liza can attest, that never happens.
I can’t believe my first high school Homecoming pep rally has already happened. I reflect over the pep rally so I don’t forget anything, committing the way the stands shook as my classmates cheered for me when our banner won, for Liza when she won the relay game, and for Eleanor when she did her pass to memory. When I think about Eleanor’s pass now, I’m not so jealous anymore. Eleanor is really freaking talented and such a good cheerleader, but maybe I’m really freaking talented too. Maybe cheer isn’t my thing, but art definitely is. I keep watching the videos of Liza eating out of a diaper and start to giggle to myself at first, and then out loud. It gets funnier every time. This reminds me of all the hilarious jokes Sarah Lyle kept making, sending me into another fit of giggles.
It’s finally Friday, my first Homecoming is this weekend, and I get to spend the next four years making memories with my friends and my sisters by my side. Maybe one day I’ll be a senior eating pudding out of a diaper, but for now, I’m just laughing with my sisters and trying not to forget this moment. Because it feels right.
I can tell I’m annoying Liza, trying to walk while reading on my phone, because I’m not going fast enough, but I’m really drawn in. I’m reading Landline by Rainbow Rowell, and it's starting to get really good. Not that it wasn’t good before. Basically it's all just really good and I don’t want to stop reading, even if I really should be making sure a car doesn’t try to run me over. My Dad always says the high school parking lot is the most dangerous place to drive, which probably means its the most dangerous place to be a pedestrian too. But Liza does not care about this. All she wants is to “get out of this hellhole as fast as humanly possible.” I don’t know why she’s always in such a rush. In such a rush to graduate and get out of Hudson and leave us all behind in the dust of her latest great, daring adventure.
“Eleanor, lets go!” Liza says to me, irritation written on her face.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” I say back, hustling the last few steps to the car. I climb in the back, where I can read my book (mostly) undisturbed. I settle into my seat, buckle my seat belt dutifully, and pick up where I left off. I lose my place again when Liza swerves out of the spot, sending me crashing into the window. I bang my head against the glass and let a out a yelp.
“Liza! Slow down,” I say, rubbing the sore spot on my head. She mutters some response about how its my fault. Soon though, I’m drawn back into my book and am tuning out my sister's obnoxious (though admittedly hilarious) singing and dancing. Liza starts belting out Taylor Swift so loud that I have to look up and glare at her, which is when I notice Corinne has pulled out her phone and is capturing the moment, most likely for her ridiculous amount of Snapchat followers. I smile and start to dance along, but then I notice she has turned the camera on me.
“Corinne stop! You know I don’t like to be recorded without my knowledge!” I really wish she wouldn’t videotape me when I’m unprepared. I’m not cool enough to pull off being silly and carefree. I’m just too stuck in my head.
“Ok ok, geez.” She says and I start to relax. I then automatically feel guilty because its not her fault I’m so self-conscious. Honestly, I wish that I could be like Liza and not care what anyone thinks of me, but that simply is not the case. I start twisting my hair band around my fingers, trying to get out my nervous energy as I think about all the people that will see me looking weird on Corinne’s video (because I know she didn’t delete it). I want to tune back into their conversation or lose myself in my book again. Anything to stop from feeling so anxious about what people will think of me that I feel sick to stomach.
What if people think I’m weird?
What if they talk about me?
What if they laugh at me?
The questions swirl around my mind, gathering in volume and velocity. Until, like always, it all comes back to this: What if people don’t like me?
This question consumes my thoughts and paralyzes me. It stuns me into silence, too afraid to speak, that I simply say nothing at all. My quietness is part of my nature, but it is also painful at times. I wish I could shatter my own silence, but the acute awareness of other people’s opinions ties my mouth shut. Everyone knows what it feels like to be silenced. But I have silenced myself. And, as always, my sisters snap me out of my vortex.
“Hey!” Corinne screams, making me jump.
“What Corinne? You’re going to make us crash one day if you keep yelling like that at something small.” I say to her in an exasperated voice. But really, I’m thankful she pulled me out of my self-pity party.
“Calm down Eleanor.” She says to me. If only I could. She starts talking about how Liza is all over social media. Everyone apparently is talking about her. I close out of my book and jump on to Twitter to see what people are saying. Like usual, people are being ridiculous.
“LET’S HEAR IT FOR LIZA NELSON #therealMVP”
“So much respect for Liza chowing down on that pudding. #yougogirl #girlpower”
“I still can’t get over you winning that game,” Corinne says to Liza. “The image of you eating out of that diaper is permanently ingrained in my mind. I can’t believe how confident you were.”
“Yeah me either, and Twitter won’t let me forget it either,” I say, jealousy seeping in my voice. “You were really brave.” I say a little quieter as admiration takes over the envy. Liza just laughs a little, though I’m not sure what about my comment was funny.
“Thanks El. Just remember: act confident and no one will question you.” She says, giving me a sincere smile in the rearview mirror. I can see the seriousness in her eyes. Though I’ve tried to hide it, she knows how much people’s opinions get to me. Sometimes her repeated advice frustrates me. Because if it was that easy, I would’ve have done it already. But this time, I know she’s just trying her best to reassure me. Liza can seem really harsh sometimes. But if you read between the lines, especially when it comes to Corinne and I, love is written there.
I smile back at her and then go back to reading my book. With Liza and Corinne beside me, who cares what people are saying? I make it a couple more pages before I see Corinne wave her hand between my face and my phone. They must have been trying to get my attention while I was zoned in to Landline. I look up and make eye contact with Corinne.
“Hey! We’re trying to tell you how awesome you are and you can’t even pay attention?” Corinne says to me jokingly.
I giggle and say “What?”
“I just wanted to say that your tumbling pass was really cool. Ryan said so too,” Liza says.
“Yeah, El. It was amazing!” Corinne says. I can tell she’s being genuine, but that it hurts a little because tumbling does not come so easy to her.
“Thanks guys.” I say, but I really mean, I love you.
My sisters are truly my best friends in the whole world. They give me a confidence that shocks me out of my self-inflicted silence. I laugh, I dance, I talk in their presence, no matter who is around. They remind me that being myself is the coolest I can be. And that even when its not cool, it's usually funny and that's okay too. The laughter they bring me is a lifeline that pulls me out of my fear and throws me into the sunshine of letting go. Liza and Corinne teach me how to be myself fearlessly and always point me back to my true identity. I’m a worry wart. But I’m also a badass tumbler. I’m a “mom.” I’m a nerd. I’m a beloved sister. And even though I’m still learning, in this moment, being me feels right.