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CNF: Flyover Girls

by Julie Benesh

In a school of small fish, we were the cliqueless wonders, neither Socs nor Slews, nor Nerds; we had no cliquenames. We were middling to smart, fit to fat, but to a girl, non-athletic. It was a matter of debate how pretty were we, we were a rainbow spectrum of jolie laide but to random old dudes at the mall or any-aged guys age of another ethnicity we were smoking hot. We had no male counterparts, so we dated guys from other schools, pined for those we’d met on vacation, crushed on Jocks whom we may or may not have allowed various liberties starting with F and ending with Or Get. We weren’t cheerleaders and we didn’t go to prom, but we didn’t care. It was as incomprehensible as being a (female) female impersonator, (and probably almost as draining as being a male one).

For our ninth grade field trip we and all the Socs and most of the Nerds and none of the Slews took a bus to Chicago on a May weekend. It took four hours and cost forty dollars. We met the bus in the parking lot of a strip mall on First Avenue. Our mothers made us lunches but we also got a voucher for McDonald’s for the way back. We stayed at the Palmer House, boys on one floor and girls on another. We went to the Ivanhoe Dinner Theater, Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium, Grant Park, Lincoln Park, Old Town, New Town.

The best part for us was the worst part for the Socs: Chicago kids in Lincoln Park yelling: are you from Iowa, you must be from Iowa, your pants are too short!

On the way back the chaperones asked for a vote: Who would rather live here than Cedar Rapids? No one but one or two of us, no Socs. Cedar Rapids, with its burnt oatmeal smell, the other Second City, the second-biggest city in one of the worst states, one of those landlocked states that start with a vowel, two vowels! A place where second raters, the moms and dads of the Socs, last in their classes in second rate medical-dental-law schools, go to lord their rhinestone tiaras over the rest of us. One of the moms was always reminding us. Be nice to the Socs—they might be your bosses one day! Some of us said, well, shouldn’t they maybe be nicer to us? We might be their bosses one day! (Some of us didn’t say anything.)

Some of us went to college; some of us hunkered down or branched out, most of us married well or less. We went away and came back or didn’t, lost or kept in touch. But most of us found more like us, everywhere we went. We who never deigned to rush a sorority could now spot at 500 ft. in any state, nation, or continent, by her forbearing tilt of chin, by eye contact or eye-roll, a sister Flyover Girl.

 

Julie Benesh’s fiction has appeared in Bestial Noise: A Tin House Fiction Reader, Tin House Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Gulf Stream, and other places. Julie lives in Chicago and works as an associate professor and department chair at a school of professional psychology. She earned an MFA from Warren Wilson College.

What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Flyover Girls”?

“Flyover Girls” started out as a writing exercise. I was enjoying experimenting with the first person plural as a means of uniting and connecting some of my  protagonists in a short story collection manuscript about Chicago women. When I realized “Flyover Girls” could stand on its own, it led to my writing a flurry of micro-memoirs about my adolescence, a process which has been quite cathartic!

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