Something about her varsity jacket caught my eye. It was old looking — retro. More Danny Zuko than Pinelands Wildcats circa 1994, like my own varsity jacket. I studied her, because I was intrigued. Who was this girl wearing a lukewarm varsity jacket in 10-degree weather? What was she listening to on that iPod? Was she me, 17 years ago?
On Fridays during football and basketball seasons we cheerleaders had to wear our uniforms — some sort of old-school show of support. (Because, you know, actually cheering at the games wasn’t enough?) By junior year we had convinced our coaches that our street clothes paired with our “Wildcat cheerleader” tee-shirts would suffice, showing enough school spirit without needing to don those awful skirts that were either always too short or too long; too skanky or too ’50s (and we weren’t sure which option was worse). I had discovered thrift stores that summer, tiny warehouses tucked alongside the river in New Hope and Lambertville, and my vintage, ripped jeans matched with my Wildcat Cheerleader tee and my white Vans made me feel like I was giving a teeny, tiny finger to the establishment. I’ll show you cheer, I’d think.
I thought of those Friday outfits as I looked at this girl on the subway. Something I’m always intrigued about is: how would I be different if I had grown up in NYC instead of South Jersey? How would I be the same? Would I have worn my uniform on the subway after a game? And I saw myself in this girl. Her clothes gave it away. She was:
An athlete: besides the jacket she wore track pants with her number stitched into them on the hip. Fourteen.
A student: a thin backpack strapped tight to her shoulders. Pink. I could see the shape of books inside.
A casual thing: Dirty Chucks with no laces; graffiti and doodles etched along the rims.
A teenage girl. Just as I decided this girl was cool; this girl was above it all, she pulled out her phone, wrapped in a Hello Kitty iPhone cover.
Of course, I thought when I saw it. She wasn’t me all those years ago. She was just herself, and all the contradictions that entails.