“Where’d that world go, that world where you’re a kid, and now I can’t remember noticing anything, not the smell of the leaves or the sharp curl of a dried maple on your ankles, walking? I live in cars now, and my own bedroom, the windows sealed shut, my mouth to my phone, hand slick around its neon jelly case, face closed to the world, heart closed to everything.”
There is something wrong with the F train these days, and some nights it actually leaves me near tears, because we all just want to get home, presumably, and we never can, at least not in the time we thought we’d be able to. So last night I’m waiting, and waiting more, and brushing condensation off my forehead, which is just another way of saying I was sweating like crazy, because everyone knows Broadway-Lafayette is the hottest subway station in the world, and did I mention I am ready for summer to be over?
And I’m waiting, in a rush, but no F trains come and when two finally do, they’re so bursting with people that none of us can get on without risking our lives. And even though I desperately want to get on, I enjoy my life a lot, so I don’t push myself in, I don’t make the other sweating, smushed people hate me for smushing them in even tighter.
So I read. I read to distract myself from the heat and the anger and the near-tears.
And then I read that passage above, from Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, and just like that, there is no subway station, there is no New York, there is no long work day and no jerks leering at me and no exhausted pregnant lady next to me (won’t someone just give her their seat already), there is just me and a book, me and my own memories of high school cheerleading, where a new coach came and tried to whip us into better shape, just like in the book; where I took my varsity captainship and shoved it because I had my own awakening at the start of senior year that, wow, I actually hated almost everything that squad had become, and even though I missed the competitions, I missed the lights on my face during pep rallies, my senior year became more about me.
The myth of the cheerleader so often misses the mark — there are complicated layers to cheering, at least to me — the power and the flounce and the ponytails all swirl into something kind of dangerous for a lot of us. We start thinking we’re invincible.
Dare Me is the first book I’ve read where the author gets it. She gets what the cheering is all about, what it’s for. And who.