Wednesday, September 9, 2020



I know what you're all thinking, and you're right. It's true. I was a junior high cheerleader. 

I thought it was the answer to all of my prayers when they announced my name. This was it. This was all I needed. And it ways I couldn't even imagine. But it took the form of a curse that would haunt me nearly every single day of my prison term in that short, pleated skirt. 

I didn't step-clap correctly. I talked too much about my sister. And I always asked how much things cost. "Why did you even try out if you couldn't afford it?" was their elitist response as they ordered me to go buy the bum cheek exposing pair of shorts for our day uniform.

A couple of weeks into it, we were told by the captain that we'd need to gather $400 plus so we could go to cheer camp. To the other girls on the squad, this was nothing. Most of their mothers lived vicariously through them in their cheer years and thrilled at the prospect of spending a hundred bucks on white Nikes. My mother didn't care how high I could jump split and $400 was our family's grocery budget for a month. 

I told my parents about the request. "We can't afford it and that's the same week as girl's camp," they said.

"I know. But they'll hate me if I don't go."

Long story short, I didn't go. 

And yes, they hated me. 

They even went so far as to make a pact that none of them would teach me the dance for the opening assembly. But one girl took pity on me. She had 20 minutes before her mom picked her up and with angelic help I learned that frickin' dance in 17 minutes flat. Thank you, Jesus.

The others were really ticked. They wanted to punish me for not conforming. And when it turned out this wasn't in their control, they spent the rest of the year belittling, mocking and eye rolling everything I did and said. Every other day I'd open a folded note that looked benign only to have ugly words tumble off the lined paper, or a "friend" would pull me aside and say, "Guess who hates you?" and my heart would drop into my stomach. Wretches. My skin got thicker and my poker face straighter until I could finally experience the greatest relief I'd ever felt, at least up to age 14, as I put those shredded pom poms in the Halloween costume box and was released from my year long lesson in loneliness. But by damn, I knew how to stand.

Now here I am, staring at the adult version of junior high having been thrown back into the mire, this time in public service. "Guess who hates you" is now a tag in a facebook post. And folded notes have become emails sent from "concerned citizens" who tell me to "do what we tell you to" right after calling me apathetic, corrupt, stupid and gutless. It's super fun. Kind of like when someone pinches your upper arm fat. 

But forty years later, I've learned some things. Like, I totally know how to step clap, so super confident there. Also, I will talk about my sister whether you want to hear about her or not. But, even now, I haven't stopped caring about how much things cost. Specifically fully staffed fire departments, traffic units and merit pay for our police, and parks and recreational space for an ever growing city, to name a few. But highest on my list is how much it costs for a young family to live, well, anywhere in Utah, really. But most especially, here in our city. 

"Why do you even try to live here if you can't afford it?" Is their elitist response, as they order them to buy a house and a piece of land that exposes their empty bank accounts and student loan debt. 

Their empathy is negligible, their discernment is limited and their insistence that the world doesn't change fuels their indignation toward anyone who says otherwise. 

"You're ruining my view!" 

"We are a farming community!"

"All developers are greedy!"

Actually, let's tell it like it is. You ruined my view, you shop at the grocery store and you live in a home provided by a developer. Your car is on my road, your house sits in my field, your children crowd my schools. And never once have I told you that your kind doesn't belong here, that you are corrupt or that you have ruined my city. 

Go ahead and throw your heads back like human Pez dispensers at everything I say. You can belittle, mock and eye roll until the Second Coming, but I won't conform. I don't need your vote, I'm not 13 and if I am forced to do junior high over again, I'll do it on my terms. Because after 50 plus years on this earth, by damn, I know how to stand. 

And yes, Hilly Holbrook, I am talking about you.