Top of the Bleachers
Sarah is a shitty cheerleader. She’s a self-proclaimed social climber and she neglects her friends when she’s in any semblance of a romantic relationship. She’ll regret these decisions later in life, but for now it’s a Thursday evening and the August sun is creating a hot pink sky over the football field.
Despite Gen Z’s vocal opinions on equality, gender fluidity, and neurodivergent minds, it’s still common to find the majority of freshly puberty-affected teenagers across America playing out their parents’ status-complexes.
Sarah was raised by women who would take turns assigning value to material things, appearances, and most importantly: the company you keep. She doesn't consciously recognize these facts because neither her mom nor her grandmother speak in blatant exposition like poorly fleshed out movie villains. Sarah is also fifteen. The ability to look within her subconscious won’t happen for another ten years, if at all.
A handful of cheerleaders and their hormonal conquest football player partners are smattered on the metal bleachers, floating above their domain 25 feet above the ground—it’s so cliché it’s almost fictitious.
Sarah sits on the lap of her shithead boyfriend, Trevor. He smokes a cigarette, and it’s unclear whether his face is turned away from her to preserve her delicate baby lungs, or because he doesn’t really like her that much. She’ll assume it’s the former and chalk it up to just another one of the “super gentleman-ly” things he does.
At the most top level bleacher is the cheer captain, Lynne. She is genuinely the kindest, most well-rounded girl in school. She is also gorgeous. Lynne excites everyone in a way that you’d feel when meeting your favorite celebrity and they’re not only nice, but they’re also human, and they ask you a question about yourself. An interaction that makes you a forever loyal disciple, spreading the good word of how “real” and “genuine” they are to others who just know them as a tabloid face. Lynne breaks any stereotypes previously created by 90’s movies and nasty things said by the patriarchy. But this story isn’t about her. It’s about Sarah. The shitty one.
Sarah is perched on Trevor’s right leg, bragging about how she knows all the guys in her chemistry class have tried to use the benefit of sitting on lab stools to take peaks up her skirt. Trevor’s left leg shakes with impatience; deep down he feels that a chick talking for more than a minute is “exhausting” or “crazy.” Some of the other cheerleaders and players are listening, some are passing around vapes, Lynne is trying to coordinate her agenda with the guy sitting next to her, like an equal King & Queen with more important matters at hand.
Sarah pauses her chemistry class story to look at Lynne's mise en place of colored pens, post-it notes, and stickers that say "To Do!" or "Important Appointment!" and blurts out extra loud for everyone to hear, "Lynne you're such a dork!"
Sarah goes back to complaining about the pervs in her 5th period when she notices Trevor’s leg shaking impatiently, and places a hand on it as if to politely say, “fucking stop.” They exchange a look of being bothered without being equipped to just kindly talk through their underlying issues regarding mutual respect. Trevor puts a patronizing hand back on her leg as he says, “Can we change the subject?”
“To what? You don’t think it’s a big deal that literally everyone in Chem with a penis is hitting on me?”
“I don’t think it’s everyone. I think you’re imagining a pretty big portion of that.”
“What the fuck? You’re going to gaslight me into thinking there aren’t other guys out there who are being fucking creeps?” Sarah’s learned a key term or two from the “psychology” side of Instagram Reels.
Their escalation has the other kids looking on in amusement—better to be the couple watching the blow up than to be the ones in it.
“I’m just asking to change the subject—I’m sure there are plenty of guys into you, Sar’.”
Sarah stands up, arms crossed, eyes blazing.
“Why do you have to say it like that.”
Trevor yanks her back down to his lap and puts a “quiet down” arm around her waist. Which Sarah will misconceive as “just him trying to soothe me—he’s like the ONLY ONE who can do that.”
“Okay fine,” she giggles—she really can’t fucking read a room or interaction and as an omnipotent narrator I hate that I have to cover any of this.
She continues, “So I read this thing—well it was like a caption on Tik Tok—that said there are over 1,000 different species of palm trees in California.”
To which Trevor responds, “Hah, nerd.”
Look, I think Sarah’s pretty fucking annoying, but I feel bad for her too. Maybe it’s age, maybe it’s upbringing, maybe it’s just whatever planet is out of whack in her cosmos right now, but the guy she’s with sucks, and she can’t see it. Maybe if she wasn’t working so hard to impress a guy who actively puts down her intellect, she’d get excited to grow her intellect. But whatever. Once again, I’m just watching all this happen from above, I can’t say this to Sarah.
Off of Trevor's put down, some of the other kids laugh, because what else do you do with underdeveloped frontal cortexes? (In addition to the fact that several of members of this particular group are affected by sport concussions.)
This reaction, off of that comment, in front of all the people Sarah’s warping herself to impress, breaks her. She flings Trevor’s arm from her waist with such a fervor that his cigarette flies onto the lap of a sophomore girl sitting a few levels below. She yelps as the tiny embers burn her leg, and Lynne looks up from her two planners to ask, “Jess, you ok?”
Before Jess can have her moment—Sarah is fighting to get out of the clutches of a reactive Trevor who is just trying to keep her seated. She pulls herself away but the tricky thing about bleachers is that they really weren’t made for anything but walking in a straight DUI line. Her foot falls through the gap in the slats and her body falls, with the entire motion being stopped by the "BOOM" of her head slamming against the bleacher below her.
The girls are screaming, the football players are stifling laughter if they can—some don’t even bother to hide howls. Lynne pushes past Trevor (who is also trying not to laugh) to help Sarah up.
“YOU’RE SUCH A FUCKING ASSHOLE!” Sarah screams as her face fills with blood before tears.
Sarah climbs down the bleachers and attempts to remain "chill" by power walking to the locker rooms with Lynne right behind her. Sarah makes her way to the bathroom mirror and lets out a dramatic scream. Lynne rounds the corner, and even she has to work her hardest not to laugh or panic.
Sarah’s forehead isn’t bleeding or bruised, but it is sporting a golf ball-sized lump. She looks like a cartoon character after a wallop from a ridiculously sized mallet; the huge bump should be circled by stars or birds right about now. Sarah’s mouth is stuck open and her heart is beating fast.
“Am I going to be stuck like this forever?!”
Lynne’s the smartest girl in school but even she’s never seen anything like this.
“Um, um—get some cold water on it,” she offers before rushing to the nurse’s office for an ice pack.
Sarah looks at herself in the mirror.
Her first thought is that she’s hideous, and that Trevor will for sure break up with her.
For the love of God Sarah. Have any other thought! I don’t know where this story goes if your first fall to rock bottom begins with you digging a hole to see if it goes any lower.
Sarah looks at the other parts of her face—oh, okay, this is weird, but hopeful! Her thoughts seem to be changing, and I can hopefully get out of here on a positive note and narrate on something more profound?
Sarah looks at the other parts of her face that aren’t the lump: her puffy lids, her snotty nose, and her messy frown. This isn’t the first blow out she’s had with Trevor, and like the others, it is over something trivial. But it affects her to this catastrophic level, because something hurts. Aside from the physical pain, every day she spends pretending to be amused by half-thoughts, feeling superior to others, and desperately needing the validation of someone she places on a pedestal, her soul tears. Part of her wants to be high up in a social pyramid, part of her wants to find a real place in this world to just feel comfortable.
Lynne rushes back in with an ice pack.
Sarah blurts out, “I’m sorry I said the colored pens were dorky.”
“Earlier, when you were scheduling things with Ryan, I saw all your color coordinating in your planner and said it was dorky.”
Lynne laughs, she’s got a good sense of security at her core so this comment would have never bothered her anyway. But more importantly, Lynne has known for a long time that Sarah's shitty and because of that fact, she only ever listens to half of the garbage that comes out of Sarah’s mouth.
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This has been a part of the series Sad Stories To Make Sense of My Mind. The Table of Contents will direct you to a list of descriptions to choose what heart string you'd like pulled next.