I was twelve before I learned to do a cartwheel.
And even then, it was a wobbly, uncoordinated twist of unladylike effort.
On lucky days, I landed on my feet. On not-so-lucky days, my hip bones or back side would take the brunt of twirling legs gone awry.
And even after an entire summer of diligent practice, there were days when I'd get a mouth full of grass or a skinned elbow.
But it didn't matter.
I wanted to be a cheerleader.
Teeth full of asphalt or playground sand in my hair would not deter me from my dream.
Apparently the judges overlooked the not-so-perfect pirouettes and the awkward- (almost embarrassing) toe jumps and torturous-looking splits that I presented on Try Outs Day.
Because my eighth grade year- and I became a cheerleader!
That was the epitome of happiness...
...Cheering on the sidelines in my red jumper and white sweater- the big, woven letter"S" sewn tight against my chest like a gold medal...
...Screaming words like "Go! Fight! Win!" till my throat was strained to a whispery croak...
...Going home to bed after beating the Hornets or the Terriers...the smell of popcorn in my hair...the remnants of pompoms on on floor...the memories of half-time buzzers and the cheer of the crowd...
...bus rides...locker rooms...the slap of tennis shoes on the gym floor...
...and once every so often- the thrill of a perfect cartwheel.
I was a cheerleader for one school year. A brief nine months that embedded itself in my memory like a soft cocoon. Pieces of days that shine like treasures- even after all these years.
In high school I envied those girls who stood straight and tall like robots and clapped in unison for the basketball heroes. They were pretty. And popular. And performed perfect toe touches.
...And their hair flipped like golden honey as they cartwheeled across the floor and landed like an agile cat on the free throw line...
While those girls pranced around at pep club assemblies in their pleated skirts and pony tails, I went off to the basement journalism room and helped lay out the school paper.
For years I regretted never having been anything better than a girl with dreams and a head full of poetry and flowery words. I regretted never pushing myself- never trying new things- never traveling outside my comfort zone to a place of ...greatness.
It took years for me to realize that those cheerleaders are just like me now.
They struggle with their weight and their relationships and their identity.
They have money problems and health issues... and they color their gray.
I am still a cheerleader.
I'm on this crazy-imaginary sideline watching my family...
...Cheering them on and jumping for joy- and demanding that they secure their victory in this place called life.
Sometimes I just sit back and watch...and sometimes I am so overtaken with pride and love- that I do perfect cartwheels in my head ...
and my heart leaps with gladness.