And the locker room smelled of Juniper Breeze

This is happening, and it is glorious. Screen shot 2015-06-04 at 12.59.13 PM I am not the only woman of my generation who has a story to tell about these fragrances. In mine, it always starts with a darkness outside. It's either nighttime, or late afternoon in a deep winter, or a gray day where the sun decided to sleep it off. It always starts with a basketball game in the gym, my bare legs glistening in their Juniper Breeze lotion, the cold air shocking them into goosepimples.

I am 15 and cheering at the game, arms flailing, legs kicking. I am 15 and in my best friend's Geo Tracker, listening to a Beastie Boys cassette. I am 15 and wearing ripped jeans and Doc Martens and my Varsity Cheerleader tee shirt on my way to chemistry lab. I am 15 and driving through the Pine Barrens, or along the coast, or into my parents' driveway, or into the 7-11 parking lot, Tori on the radio. I am 15 and ready for anything, except not really, not at all, because my readiness was just a mask for my general fear about life.

I spent a lot of time in the locker room in high school; changing from gym clothes to my cheerleading uniform; changing from my cheerleading uniform to street clothes; changing from a shy teenager to one who stood in front of a crowd in bare legs, bloomers showing with every stunt. And that locker room smelled of Victoria's Secret, scent mingling with scent -- Plumeria, Cucumber Melon, Raspberry. Body odor. Wet pom-poms. Decades of locker room grime. Thousands of teenage girls.

In that locker room I made fun of a freshman girl who stared at herself in the mirror longer than anyone else, only to learn months later she had been checking to make sure her pregnancy wasn't yet showing. In that locker room I burst into tears when my cheerleading coach, who'd been acting weird for weeks, told us she'd miscarried twins. In that locker room I sank into a corner whenever a certain girl would enter to glare at me, until one day I decided she didn't matter; I wasn't afraid of her.

Sometimes I don't know which memories of the locker room are mine, or which are memories of locker rooms I've stolen from books. But I'll never, ever forget those scents; the signature smells of my locker room stories.



Happy year-end

I’d be alone in the backseat of her Geo Tracker, but surrounded by stuff – Beastie Boys cassette holders, pom poms, duffel bags, water bottles. A stray pair of sunglasses. A scrunchie. I’d be alone, because even though the driver’s and front passenger’s seats were filled, the air would whip through the Tracker so fast it would build a wall between us, rendering me deaf in the backseat. And I would look out the windows and stare, and think. It doesn’t happen too often, but sometimes, these memories of high school flood my canals. Today it’s of a fall day, junior year; of my best friend’s first car; of the country music I didn’t listen to. Of slurpees and study halls, coasting down the pine tree roads. Of a promise of more, more, more; so much more than Jersey offered.

I make fun of it all the time, and I’m allowed to, but the truth is there’s something about southern coastal Jersey that is overly formative. I am sure you can all say that about your hometowns, whether they are Midwestern or Californian or Canadian. I am sure you are feeling a pinch inside as I imply here that mine was different, special. I don’t blame you.

But there is something to a hard blue sky and a horizon of deep green pine trees. There is something to a Jersey Devil legend and unblemished, near-empty beaches. There is something to the cranberry bogs, the duck crossings, the grainy, sandy dirt that blows across empty football fields.

There is something to being a teenage girl riding alone in the raised backseat of her best friend’s car on her way to cheerleading practice, eating her fruit lip gloss off her mouth and wondering what on earth is in store for her.

I haven’t been to my hometown in nearly three months, and since then there’s been a hurricane that ruined some of my favorite places, a couple of holidays, an engagement. This weekend I’ll hitch a ride down the Garden State Parkway and keep my eyes open for the memories I hadn’t realized I’d forgotten.


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Gimme a...

"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.


Last night I did a bridge in yoga class, something I haven't done in literally years, and after the cracking and creaking I settled into it for just a few comfortable seconds before my arms gave up the fight. In high school, doing a front or back walkover was all I needed to stretch my body, and we'd turn them over like four-leaf clovers at any time of day -- on the track, in the gym, in the D-wing hallway after school, wearing jeans and flannels and Doc Martens. Even in college, long after I'd quit cheerleading and dance, on hazy spring nights we'd take to the grass and throw back handsprings and roundoffs and feel out our limberness. In retrospect it all feels very Dancing Shoes-like, when Hilary is learning "roundabouts" in the fields of the English countryside and Rachel is moodily reading some book. (I never know who I like better, by the way: sunny Hilary or scowling, thoughtful Rachel. Maybe Dulcie? Maybe they are each facets of the same?) (Read the book, it's the best.)

I didn't walk into class last night expecting to do a bridge, but I did one and today I'm not feeling so bad, not as sore as I expected, so there's that. What is the lesson, I can feel myself asking. What is the lesson that's not as obvious as the one we're all thinking?

Well, I don't know. I know this: tomorrow morning I'm flying to Charleston, NC, for some sightseeing and eating with my mom and sisters, and I can't wait to get out of New York, which has been bruising me far too often for my liking these days. (Of course, then she goes and delivers a 70-degree day like today, and even though I want to pout -- where is my winter?! -- it just feels glorious.)