Hate Mail from Cheerleaders

Riley Pickett

"Do you want to pack this?"

Amy looked up from placing photographs into a sturdy brown cardboard box. Her mother was holding up a light brown wrinkled heap with clear plastic covering sewn onto one side. It took her a moment, but Amy finally realized the dilapidated shoe organizer in her mother's hands. She resumed wrapping picture frames, enjoying the satisfying crinkle and feel of newsprint on her fingertips.

"No," she sighed, reaching for an image of the children's soccer team she had once coached. "It was fine in college, but I don't think I can use it now. Besides, it's not like the new place doesn't have space."

"Are you sure?"

"Mom, I could house a refugee family of five in the closet alone. I think my shoes will manage."

Her mother stepped carefully away from the mountains of clothing that had been organized in heaps on the floor. It was simply amazing the amount of stuff a person could amass in twenty-two years. Boxes were strewn about, and piles of stuff that might have once been tidy had slowly lost their shape; Amy hoped desperately she was actually packing what she needed. She would never admit it, for fear of upsetting her mother, but moving away from home for the first time was simply terrifying. Even if it was less than forty-five minutes away. Thirty if you were speeding and hit all the traffic lights green.

"What can I do to help?" her mother's voice echoed in her ears.

Amy didn't look up from gingerly stacking her photographs and books. "Go through my desk and pull out things that might be helpful office supplies. You know… pencils, pens, notebooks, stapler…"

"Old cork grease?" her mother held up a thin white tube with a red cap.

"Yikes." Amy grimaced. "That's probably been there for a while." Her mom struggled with an overflowing desk drawer, finally pulling it all the way open. She half-smiled as she surveyed the chaotic mess.

"When was the last time you cleaned or organized this drawer? Or even opened it?" she asked, turning to face her daughter. The younger woman shrugged with a sheepish grin.

"Two thousand and… five?" Amy offered. "Probably during my freshman year of high school."

"That's when we bought you the desk!"

Amy offered another apologetic glance. She glanced up at her high school diploma hanging on the northern wall of the bedroom. June 27, 2009. She remembered feeling like graduating from high school was so far away when she was thirteen. A wave of feelings ran through her veins, rolling in her head. She remembered thinking that graduating at sixteen was going to be an impossibility. It became more real when her parents purchased her class ring. And then, finally, she received her diploma in the mail. Another excited trip to the mailbox had occurred five weeks prior to her twenty-first birthday when her college diploma had arrived. How was it that all of this had already occurred? When did life pass her by?

"You saved this?" her mother's voice escalated in pitch with each syllable. Amy lightly tiptoed her way around boxes, clothes, books, and furniture as she looked over the older woman's shoulder to see a white piece of paper turning yellow with age.

"I can understand a lot of things, Amy, but why this?"

Amy's eyebrows unknotted as she caught a glimpse of the header printed on the top of the page in large, black, capital letters. Scholarship Competition Adjudication, the title announced. Just beneath, the date was printed: May 10, 2008. Realization hit her at full force of why she would have saved a high school adjudication, and why her mother would have been appalled.

"You know why," Amy began.

"No, Amy, that judge was wrong," her mother countered.

"Are you speaking as the parent or the teacher?" Amy asked.


Amy smiled and shook her head. "Mom, I had to save this one. It was motivating to me. I mean, that's the reason I entered the Kuhlman Competition in college. I had to prove to myself I could do it."

Thinking back, Amy had known she was a long shot to win the scholarship competition during her junior year. She had played Mozart's Fantasy in D Minor and Joplin's Harmony Club Waltz. She'd adored both pieces, but they weren't quite as technically difficult as what some of the seniors would be playing. She had returned home from the recital and waited in what seemed like a temporary eternity for her mom to return with the adjudication form. She remembered walking on silent footfall to the base of the staircase and hearing her mother whisper to her father in very serious tones. "Read his comments, Bob," she'd hissed. "'This piece is boring…' I can't let her see this."

Amy had dug them out of the trash the next morning and pulled them out of a desk drawer in the months leading up to her college audition. Whenever she allowed herself to begin thinking that she didn't have to work as hard as some of the performance majors, that a music education major could just be good enough, she pulled out that adjudication and reminded herself of why she should work so hard. Never again would she allow someone to tell her she hadn't tried her hardest.

"Please tell me you didn't save your failed driver's tests, too," her mother began.

Amy laughed. "Trust me, I provide enough reminders of my bad parallel parking."

"You're sure you don't want to take your diplomas and put them with your pictures?" her mother changed the subject, setting down the infamous critique.

"A piece of paper that continually shows me just how old I'm getting?" Amy held up her hands in mock defense. "No, thanks. In all seriousness, though, I'm only going to be forty minutes away, and I'm coming home on the weekends. I don't need to take everything with me."

"I think it would be cool," her mom began, shutting a full pencil case and putting it in yet another cardboard box. "Show it to Sarah, you'll have matching diplomas in two years."

"Sarah's going to be a junior?" Amy stopped and whirled around. She hoped that her mother was joking, trying to make her adult daughter feel older than she actually was.

"Of course! Where have you been?"

"College… starting my teaching career…"

"Be serious."

"I am! Those are two legitimate, truthful answers!"

"Either way, she started at Keypoint two years ago. Her parents loved the distance education program that we put you through. Although, she's learning the same hard lessons you had to learn."

"Don't spend the day on Facebook and then do your English homework at two in the morning?"

"Something like that."

"You'd think she'd learn from her babysitter's mistakes." Amy sighed. "I can't believe she's going to be a junior. I took care of her when she was in elementary school."

"You know, you should send her a note sometime," her mother located a stapler and put it in the office supplies box. "She's also having a rough time with some friends because of the grade skipping and the distance education."

"Gee, that sounds familiar," Amy snorted derisively.

"Just a thought," her mother supplied. "I just think she'd appreciate it. I know you would have back when you were in high school."

A little less than a week later, Amy found herself in her new bedroom. Rather than the white patterned wallpaper she had grown accustomed to seeing every day since the late 1990's, the room was decorated in cool hues of blues and greens. She sat down heavily at the wooden desk in the corner and opened her laptop. Logging into Facebook, she scrolled through her news feed. Brainlessly half-absorbing information, she was jolted alert at a certain status update.

"First day of school. Let's see how this goes."

The conversation she had with her mother while packing was suddenly brought to the foreground of her mind as she clicked on Sarah's profile and looked through pictures of the summer camps with which she had volunteered that year. Suddenly, before she was even fully aware of what she was doing, she opened a new Word document and began writing.

Dear Sarah, the note began.

I remember hearing you talk about enrolling in Keypoint Middle like it was yesterday. And now it's your first day of your junior year? How crazy is that?!

The soccer picture, now relocated to her desk, was visible just behind the corner of the laptop screen. It was taken during Amy's junior year of high school. She was standing proudly behind eight five year olds, sporting braces, glasses, and horribly grown out blonde highlights. She shook her head, reflecting on how much growth she had experienced in her own junior year, hoping the same positive effect might be true for Sarah.

Heard that you've been having a rough go of it outside of school. Last time we talked, you were telling me about the youth group ski trip and deciding not to go. I'm proud of you for being independent of your friends and the crowd. I know, you probably hear that all the time from old people like me, but I wish I was half as courageous as you when I was a sophomore. It takes guts to stand up for yourself. I know that people make it sound like it's not a big deal, but it truly is. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

Amy's mind wandered to the adjudication, left at home in a desk drawer, tucked in her binder of programs and jury scores from college.

Here's the bottom line, Sarah. Sometimes, people can and will hurt you. I'd hoped for years that since I had already gone through some of what you're dealing with now, you wouldn't have to experience this, but I guess life had other plans. I'm not going to sugar coat it or tell you all that stuff about how this will make you a stronger person in the end. I'm going to be honest and tell you about right now.

There's this great quote from my favorite writer, Rick Reilly, where he talks about getting hate mail from cheerleaders. He says that they all say "I want you to die!" but they put a little heart over the I, so you can't really take it seriously. I know it's a stereotype, but right now, you're dealing with hate mail from cheerleaders. It's like getting pelted with rolls of extra soft scented Charmin. Yeah, it hurts a little bit, but you eventually will have the last laugh. Why? Because people who throw scented toilet paper are just making themselves look weird.

Never allow someone to tell you what you should do or how you should feel. They're writing this hate mail because you're different from the mold they want to squeeze you into and it makes them uncomfortable. That's not a good enough excuse to change who you are. I'm proud of you for the person you are, and for the person I know you can become.

Let me know when we can do lunch sometime. I'd love to catch up! One last thought… adult life is coming faster than you think… enjoy what you have now, and brace yourself for the adventure ahead!

Lots of love,


Amy saved the document to her desktop and gently closed the laptop lid. She looked up at the ceiling, a grin spreading across her face.

"Yeah, I've gotten hate mail from cheerleaders," she remarked.

"And I'm loving every minute of it."

Author's Note: And just when I thought it was never going to get re-written. Finally, the updated and refreshed version of Hate Mail from Cheerleaders is done. (And then I'll go back in two weeks and find something else that I need to revise.)

With age comes maturity (sometimes), and this time around, I feel way more confident that the message I originally wanted to have come across might actually have been communicated. I hope this little short can encourage you today, no matter what you're facing! Thanks for reading!