04 January, 2011

The Cheerleader

            He wasn't staring at the cheerleaders.  That would be creepy.  No, it was just her.  That she happened to be a cheerleader, practicing there with the rest of her team on that Wednesday afternoon, after school in the warm September sun, was merely coincidence.  Were it Tuesday she'd be at home watching MTV with one of her friends.  Were it Thursday she'd be at her piano lesson.  But he never watched her at those places.  He never watched her anywhere else, for that matter.  No, it was just here.  On Wednesdays.  Cheerleading.  Even he'd admit it seemed creepy.  Staring at the cheerleaders.  Seemed creepy, you see, because he wasn't staring at the cheerleaders.  Not the rest of them, anyway.  No, it was just her.
It had been six weeks since the first time he saw her, since they started practicing on the football field every Wednesday after school.  He was walking home from the park, and absentmindedly looked over and saw them in a haphazard pyramid, balanced precariously on each other on large blue training mats near the southern goal post.  And there she was, at the peak of that triangle, shining in the then hot August sun.  And she shone.  So much brighter than anything he'd ever seen before.  Beams of light, god-rays of the dying sun, shot around her head, under her arms and through her legs.  They did, actually, but he knew it wasn't just the god-rays.  He always saw her that way.  With that same energy, that same light.  And so it was, every Wednesday, as August became September, that he watched her, ever as bright, as he knew she would be.
He wondered if what he did would be considered stalking. Probably, if anyone saw him, although he honestly didn't think of it that way. He never followed her anywhere else. Never knew she watched MTV or played the piano. He only watched her here. On Wednesdays. Cheerleading. But no matter his schedule, he was here to see her. He stood under the shade of the oak across the street, dropped his backpack off his shoulder, leaned against the low brick wall there, and watched her. It bothered him, to some degree, that he did this. Every Wednesday. Not so much that he stopped, but it did bother him. He wasn't the type to stalk, if what he did was considered that;  and he would, admittedly, look at anyone else that did this with a certain veiled disgust. But despite the realization that he did what he did, he continued doing it, unable to turn away, to leave, to stop. And that bothered him even more.
          For what was the attraction to her? He didn't even know her name. He called her Christina, but only because he already had a rich history with that name.  Not only was it the name of the heroine in his favorite book, but it – just a short, simple love story – was his favorite because Christina was the name of the first girl he ever kissed.  It was in his best friend's tree house during a birthday party.  A part of him would forever love that Christina, and so he gave a part of her to all the girls he met or read-about or dreamt-of.  And so he gave her name to this cheerleader now. But he didn't know the cheerleader's real name. And he only knew her face from fifty yards away, never venturing closer than the shade of the oak across the street. And he'd never heard her voice, per se, unable to distinguish it from the other girls' as they called out their cheers. And he didn't know the color of her eyes, for he was too far away to distinguish them;  though that, more than anything else about her, he wished he knew.
          She wasn't the most beautiful young woman on the cheerleading team, nor was she the most beautiful young woman he’d ever seen. So what was it about her? Was it because she was at the top of the pyramid that first day? Would he have focused on whomever had been at the top? No. The light around her was too bright. And not just the god-rays. The energy that shot from inside her was what captured his attention, spawned this addiction. He believed that despite knowing so little about her, despite having only a vague idea of specific features, he'd be able to spot her no matter where they were. And that was why he found her to be beautiful, more so than any of the other cheerleaders, more so than any young woman he'd ever seen.
          He thought she'd smiled at him. Once. It was two weeks ago. He'd walked more quickly than usual that day, from the park to practice, as he came to call what he did now. Going to practice. He believed it took the creepy vibe away, or at least helped him come to terms with it. Not that he ever mentioned it to anyone. If anyone were to ask where he was going or where he'd been, he'd lie. For no matter what he believed, the creepy vibe would remain until he stopped going and put her behind him and never so much as thought about her again. But the more he thought about her, the more his beliefs helped him come to terms with it, and so it didn't seem creepy at all when she smiled at him. When he thought she'd smiled at him, anyway.
          It's difficult to gauge if someone's smiling at you from fifty yards away. And when infatuation plays as big a role as it did here, it's even more difficult. After all, the want for something to have happened will override what has actually happened. So, as she did indeed smile his way, he couldn't be entirely sure it was at him. She looked his way, paused, and smiled. He smiled back, entirely sure she couldn't see it, and when she turned back to her friends he looked around as if to find who else might be there.  But of course he was alone, as was even the most general vicinity around the oak tree, so infatuation helped him believe she'd smiled at him. Never during the two weeks that followed had she smiled again. Which, he rationalized, wasn't necessarily a bad thing, because at least it meant that she hadn't seen him stalking her watching observing going to practice.
          Christina, the real one, the one to spawn the rest;  he couldn't remember her last name. They used to go to school together. And they would eye each other across the classroom and recess yard. He remembered that but questioned its validity, suddenly wondering if kids at their age eyed each other across any distance at all. He doubted it, no matter that he remembered it. But he clearly remembered, as he would always remember, that she was the first girl he ever noticed. That made him feel that way. The way girls as an entire species only incalculable seconds before were unable to make him feel, now that this new world had suddenly opened up to him, well, she was the only one in it. And so, weeks after eyeing each other across desks and gymnasium floors, when they found themselves alone in that tree house at that birthday party, she looked directly at him, and he looked directly at her, and they kissed. It was peckish and awkward, but, as it is with all first kisses, unforgettable. They dated only a short while, breaking up not one week later, when her parents moved away and she along with them. But – as all first loves inevitably end – he swore he'd never love another.  And – as true magic so rarely lets these things end – he never has. So perhaps it's no surprise that he continued to chase her, as he did in all the women he met or read-about or dreamt-of since.  Even as he did in this cheerleader now.
          But how far would he chase her? How far would he go to grab hold of that tenuous element he himself projected?  He couldn't place it, couldn't see it, couldn't identify it. Not even during the late nights he sat beneath the covers with his flashlight, content and alone, trying to find grown-up answers to the child-like questions he had;  answers that somehow always remained unattainable. Even if they remained there, in front of him, taunting him, teasing him, begging for him to chase them. And even though he was able to rationalize this mental merry-go-round, this masturbation of basic desire, he still chased the projection. And, as always, still failed to catch it. But, then, simply identifying a situation doesn't automatically solve its problem.  Hmmmm, he thought.  Something else to bury himself under the covers with the flashlight and think about.
          He looked over at the field and they were running The Tomahawk. Oh no.  He wasn't upset that they were running that particular cheer (it was the only one of nine that, after only six short weeks of practice, they hadn't perfected yet), nor that the cheer was called The Tomahawk (their school mascot was The Indian and, what with the way the girls' pattern windmilled, it indeed resembled one).  What upset him was that he knew the cheer's name. That he was able to differentiate them.  That he’d been watching them her that long.
          He looked at his watch. It was ten to six. The girls would be done soon and Christina'd be heading home. He assumed it was home, but maybe it was somewhere else. He honestly didn't know.  She usually caught a ride with the red head and curly brunette (it was tough to differentiate the girls by anything but their hair color, although, despite all the blondes, he was always able to quickly pick Christina out). She sometimes walked but it was rare. The Tomahawk ended and the girls clapped for each other and then grouped in a circle and put their hands in the middle. They yelled something and Christina walked off with the red head and they grabbed their backpacks from the bleachers. A couple of other girls called after them (but he still couldn't -- could never -- catch her name) and they said goodbye. Then Christina and the red head walked out of the gate and up the street and away from him.
          He stepped to the corner, into the sun, and had to put his sunglasses on to see her walk along the length of the school, away from him, until she and the red head turned a corner and disappeared. Then he pressed the walk button and waited for the red light to change. When it did, he started across the street, west to her north, and wondered again when this would end. Because it had to. Nothing good could come of it. So why continue it at all? He didn't know. He really didn't.  All he knew was that he had to stop.  He had to.  Stop.  He had to.
       He did, startled from his reverie, and looked up at a little old lady standing next to him. It was a lucky thing she was there. He'd almost stepped off the curb, into traffic, while his light was still red. A car honked and he waved sheepishly at it. Then he looked up at the little old lady again and said, "Sorry."
          She looked down at him and smiled kindly. "That's okay.  Just be more careful."
          "Yes, ma'am.  Thank you."
          She smiled and the light changed and they both walked on, he already ahead of her.
          The little old lady watched him go. "What a polite young man," she said to herself.
          And Billy Jameson, an eleven year old child prodigy, walked home.

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