6th Grade Loser

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret…I want to be like everyone else.”
From Blume and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.
Playing in the mud

Bridgy’s new doll, which she named Bridgy, now, no stranger to mud.

Last week, I found myself fasting several meals, laying prostrate on the floor in a public bathroom and crying in the shower. You know, nothing terribly unusual. Just a normal week for a mother of three trying to make her children’s dreams come true.

I know a few things about dashed dreams. For starters, they really, really suck.Ozark Hillbillies Mascot Ozark Arkansas

The Ozark Hillbillies

The summer before 6th grade our family moved to Ozark, Arkansas where the school mascot was the hillbilly. Interestingly enough, many of the kids were natural dead ringers. Ha! In the fall, I decided to try out for cheerleader. My friend Deborah, who had red hair and freckles, tried out with me. We wore white shorts and gold T-shirts and my mom made us each a set of purple and white pom poms. She meticulously cut them from crepe paper. They were awesome!

The day of tryouts came and everything went off without a hitch, except the part where I misspelled the word SPIRIT in our chant:

“We’re number O-N-E in S-P-I-R-T, we’re number one in SPIRT!

SPIRT like spurt, over and over and over again. Deborah and I both lost, and I would never be an Ozark Hillbilly cheerleader donning signature purple overalls and a straw hat during dance routines. I’m positive there was more to my defeat than spelling.

Two days later, Tracy, whose hair was as blond as the doll in the above picture, asked me if she could buy my homemade pom poms. She’d been selected as head cheerleader. Her mom called my mom to negotiate the purchase.

I was a 6th grade loser, ya’ll.

Ayatollah Khomeini

At the end of that year, our family packed up and moved to East Texas, to a town that once embraced nearly 30 Jim Crow laws. During the time I lived there, I was very good friends with a girl named Allese Ghorbani. Her mother was white and her father was Iranian. This was during the Iranian hostage crisis (November 1979 – January 1981) when 52 Americans were taken hostage in Tehran and held for 444 days. Allese and I talked about the crisis every day at lunch. We also talked about eternal security a lot! Odd for a couple of tweens, but we were both from strict Christian families. The debate of John Calvin vs. Charles Wesley was natural for us.

Kids could be so cruel to Allese. She got pushed and kicked around and called names, which is why I thought she was completely crazy when she told me she decided to try out for 8th grade cheerleader. On top of not being the prototype, she’d have to compete against girls who’d already been on the cheer team for two years.

There was also the racism she experienced daily, which was completely compounded by world events. I remember kids on the school bus with pictures of Mickey Mouse displayed inside their zipper notebooks. Mickey was shooting the bird and the caption read, “Up Your Hola Ayatollah.” Allese was treated like a Islamist militant. The boys called her a terrorist.

She Blew Everyone Away

But, Allese Ghorbani believed in herself and she never let anyone tell her what she could or couldn’t become. And, so the unbelievable happened. She stunned everyone during tryouts. She was absolutely fantastic, and blew everybody away. Not only did she win cheerleader, but she leap-frogged everyone to become head cheereleader.

I was so happy for Allese! Unfortunately, I never got to see her cheer at a game because we moved away that summer. The last time I saw her it was the last day of school, May 1981. We were standing in the pink-tiled bathroom of that junior high. She was wearing lavender painter’s pants and a cream-colored sweater with a ruffled collar. We were 13-years-old.

Hello! Before You Go…

I don't know what brought you here today, but I'm glad you're here. I invite you to sign up for my MONTHLY NEWSLETTER. It will be delivered right to your inbox just once a month. (No annoying daily emails.) Life is beautiful and though the days be short, sometimes, our troubles are long. Let's share a small part of the journey with each other! --jen


  1. says

     You were married to him then, I’m pretty sure. At the old house it was the room straight back at the end of the hall. Could have been Juliette’s room before Juliette was born :) Yep, it was Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. :)

  2. jenx67 says

    I think it’s good to come to terms with the fact it’s impossible to shield them from it all. If I keep trying, I’ll collapse from the weight of it all. I”m certainly better for having gone through disappointments. Thanks, Andi!

  3. jenx67 says

    OMGosh. Bless your heart. How devastating. I would not relive 6,7,8 for nothin’ !! I have a dozen stories of humiliation that would make a grown man cry.

  4. jenx67 says

    “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.” I do remember you coming. Gosh, that was so many years ago, Cat. Memories start to fade, for sure. I’m trying to remember “the back room.” Was I married to Juliette’s dad then? I love and miss you mucho!

  5. says

    I don’t know if you remember, but I remember coming to Oklahoma when I was younger. Mom met you in between here and there and you drove me the rest of the way. It must have been before Juliette was born, because I remember staying up all night lying in a sleeping bag reading that book in the back room. You had given it to me as a present. Random. But I remember :)

  6. jenx67 says

     I think I need to be reminded it’s part of life, because these things torture my sleep at night. Regarding memory, it’s really become an exercise in remembering. All those things about this experience were inside of me, but I hadn’t brought them out to look at them in a long, long time.

  7. says

    awwhh, i remember trying out for cheerleading, basketball, and soccer, and getting cut for all three. not great for my 13yr old self-esteem.

    kids can be so terribly cruel…i pray my child never acts like those ignorant bullies :/

    but what a cool story of redemption for your friend!

  8. says

    I am so pleased to know that Allese is well!! Yay! It is very touching that she had such courage. I hope that you can let her know about the post. If I were her, I’d be proud and happy that my story touched someone that way (even if your version is different from hers — it’s the version you remember that spoke to you, though, huh).

  9. Jessica Miller-Merrell says

    this is amazing and wow, you had such an interesting childhood.  looks like you took all the moving and upheaval in stride though.  

    great piece! 


  10. says

    great stories of childhood angst. Sixth grade was the absolute worst year of my life – I was in a three room schoolhouse in the country in a combination classroom with 4th, 5th and 6th grades.  Our 6th grade class was so big, they decided to split it up with half going into the 7th and 8th grade combo classroom.  I wasn’t chosen to move up.  I thought it was because I was stupid. I was devastated.  My Mom told me years later it was because I didn’t have any boobs. Only the “mature” girls got to move. That sucks!  Have a great day!

  11. says

    Goodness you have a great memory!  I remember so little from my childhood, it bums me out!  I remember sentiment, so I am sure I had my moments of deep disappointment as does every child.  So brave of you to try to make it better for your kids, to shield them from this…even though it is totally impossible!  That is part of life – but bravo for trying!

  12. jenx67 says

    Thanks for stopping by from BPOTW. I appreciate it. I’m new to that meme. Happy endings are very rare indeed.

  13. Sherilinr says

    i love a surprise ending. and one that ends up fair rather than typical.
    i’m here from bpotw. =)

  14. says

    Oh, Jen, I am crying a little right now in sheer joy for your friend Allese!  What a victory!  I face ridiculous, way-out-of date prejudices and racism right within my church family every day here in NW Alabama.  This is why I know God wants me right here, right now!  You can just imagine how many times I ask people to say either “President Obama” or “Mr. Obama” to show respect for the OFFICE of the presidency, no matter how they feel about him personally!  You have blessed me so much with your generous posting about the victory of Allese, the year after your own defeat in the cheerleading game!

  15. jenx67 says

    Thanks for reading, Karin. I’d love to read your young adult lit. It was all very meaningful to me as a kid. I’m happy to report that all is very well for Allese. She is happily married to a boy we went to school with. They have beautiful children and live on a ranch in Texas. Her life seems very, very happy. I used a popular Persian surname to protect her identity in Google searches. This was my story about her. Her story may be different. I haven’t told her about this post. I’m trying to get up my nerve. I was always very touched that she had such courage and didn’t let anyone tell her what to think of her…

  16. yogiabb says

    “Homered” is where the local kid gets the honor not because he is better but because he has been here his whole life and you are just passing through.

  17. says

    This is one of those poignant kind of posts that just SLAYS me. How touching are these stories you have shared.

    And now I am left hanging with wonder about what happened to Allese…

    I just re-read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret for the umpteenth time this past January. I managed to get a copy here in Paris. I wanted to re-read it because of the young adult novel I am (not currently) working on. (It’s kind of hit a standstill at the moment. But re-reading some YA Lit I loved as a young person has been on my To Do list & that book was one of them.) Your stories shared here have the real makings of some great YA Lit. Oh did they hit me in the gut…

    Thirteen is such a brutal age to live through…

    Thank you, Jen, for sharing this stuff.

  18. Jenx67 says

    Thanks, Yogi. It is something we have in common. Moving was such the norm for me, it shocks me that friends I left 30 years ago STILL live in the same place they lived when I left them. I wonder what’s wrong with them and they no doubt wonder what’s wrong with me! =) I’ve never heard the term “homered.” ???

  19. yogiabb says

    Oh man I feel so sorry for you. And to lose your pom poms to boot. Love the story about your friend becoming the head cheerleader.
    Moving when you are a kid sucks. One day you are with your friends. The next day you are gone and never see them ever again. We didn’t move as often as you did but I went to four different elementary schools.
    There were several things that happened or didn’t happen to me as a kid and it is only in retrospect do I realize that it was because we were outsiders and I got homered. At the time I figured that everybody especially the adults were acting in good faith.

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