She Rises: An Eighth Grade Gathering

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By Carrie Kuba | Instagram: @carriekubawrites

The bleachers were cold. As I sat in my green and white cheerleading uniform, constantly realigning the pleats of my skirt, I watched the boys’ 8th grade basketball team enter the gym in single file. They sat in front of me in metal chairs that clanked and scraped the floor.

The game was five minutes from starting and the rest of my cheerleading squad had yet to show up. Where were they? We had worked so hard the last couple weeks on a new dance to a very cool song by the Thompson Twins. We planned to perform it after the first two quarters during the half time break. I went over all the steps in my head and tried not to focus on the fact that I was the only one there. The refs showed up, the whistle blew and I was still the only cheerleader on that cold bleacher.

Trying out for the cheerleading squad was tough for me. The Beautiful Girls had also tried out for the squad. That was the name given to the group of girls that had it all−wealth, beauty, and boyfriends. They were also brutally cruel to anyone they chose not to like. I wanted to try out for cheerleading because I loved dancing and music and, well, it wouldn’t hurt to become friends with those girls instead of being the recipient of their viciousness. I had been their target for two years.

I peeled myself off the bleachers and quickly checked outside, in the girls restroom, and in the parking lot to see if the rest of the cheerleading squad had gathered for a last minute practice of our routine. They were nowhere to be found.

I returned to my seat as the referee blew the whistle. I could tell something was up by the looks on the faces of some of my classmates spread across the bleachers. Rumors sure spread quickly among middle schoolers. It wasn’t even half time before I found out why I was the only cheerleader at the game. The entire thing had been planned. The rest of the cheerleaders had a sleepover the night before and conspired to not show up at the basketball game so I would be the only one there.

Alone.
In my uniform.
Humiliated.
Left out.

They knew the cool boys on the basketball team would know this as well. All the kids in the bleachers knew it. And their families knew it. Their looks, a mixture of pity and amusement, felt unbearable.

I had a choice. I could sneak out during the halftime break and call my mom to come and pick me up, and certainly everyone would know why. Or I could stay, do my job, and cheer on my team. I mean, I was already wearing my cheer uniform, so why not? Could it possibly get any worse than it felt at that moment?

And that’s what I did.

I cheered my heart out for four quarters and our team won. Then came Monday morning. It was brutal.

There was snickering and note passing in class and snide smiles greeted me in the hallways. I’m pretty sure even my teachers knew because I was offered extra patience and kindness and allowed more than the allotted trips to the restroom to thwart the tears from flowing.

Lunch came and I headed to my locker, planning out in my head how to quickly proceed to the far table in the library and hide my lunch on my lap while I kept out of sight and read.

When I got to my locker, I found the entire 8th grade boys basketball team gathered. Was something wrong? Were they going to tease me? Were they going to kick me off the cheerleading squad? Could they do that? It didn’t matter−I wasn’t going to cheer anymore anyway. Maybe I could transfer schools. I felt like I was going to pass out.

They formed a semi-circle around me and I could see a crowd gathered behind them−including all the other girls of my cheerleading squad. These boys were the coolest of cool on our campus, so when they gathered, everyone else did as well.

The team captain had a bouquet of roses and a card in his hands. He gave both to me. Wait, what? Was this a joke and I was the punch line?

I opened the card to find a photo of a dozen eggs in a carton on the front of the card, with a red heart in place of one of the eggs.

The card read, “You are not like all the others.”

Every team member had signed the card. The team captain said, “Carrie, we just want to thank you for showing up and cheering us on during the game. We couldn’t have won the game without you and we think you’re really awesome for showing up and staying the entire game.”

And then the team cheered. I mean, they cheered so loud the lockers were rattling. I felt like that girl from one of my favorite 80’s movies.

The snide smiles I endured all morning were absent all afternoon.

That day changed the trajectory of middle school for me. The gathering of those boys became my protection and safety after over two years of bullying. It led to friendships that stayed with me through high school. I began to trust the strength I had to rise above cruelty and pain, not allowing it to define or paralyze me.

I still have that card to this day as a reminder of what it feels like to have people gather around me in support and encouragement−their very presence a sign that everything will be okay−as I rise. It’s a reminder as to how I might gather around others as they rise, too.

________________

About Carrie:
I am a writer, a mother of a medically fragile kiddo and a Habesha, a wife to a Czech Renaissance man, an activist, a friend. I am on a journey to live authentically. You can find a piece of my heart at www.raindropsandrivers.com. Follow her on Instagram at @carriekubawrites and on Twitter at @bellinka09.

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