Spelling Bee-Itches!

A random conversation that the wife and I had recently was about Spelling Bees. She said her high school hadn’t held them except as an extracurricular activity. I told her about how my old elementary school held a class-wide one for 2nd grade.

It wasn’t like watching it on TV, trust me. We weren’t spelling Lecithin, Dimorphic, or even Nomenclature.

"Danny your word is…Nomenclature."

“Danny your word is…Nomenclature.”

 

The hardest words we got to were things like…School, Science, Bagpipe, and Sparkle. Six years before my round in the 2nd grade spelling bee my sister had her run of the competition (you now know how much older than me my middle sister is) and she always showed off her trophy. She got 5th place. She boasted about how she managed to get 5th place.

There had been fifty students, out of those fifty she took 5th. That means she was in the 90th percentile for spelling in her class. She detested the word that had beaten her…Yellow. There she was…standing in front of everyone when she got the word ‘Yellow’. “The school’s colors are Green and Yellow.”

She smiled cockily and said, Y-E-L-O-W!

 

BZZZ! Wrong, bitch; sit down!

BZZZ! “Wrong, bitch; sit down!”

 

It stuck with her. For years.

 

And now…it was my turn. I was far ahead of the other kids in my class. Two years earlier, in kindergarten, I had been the only kid who could recite the entire alphabet, count to twenty, and tell time on an analog clock!

No way any of these other forty-nine students were going to beat me.

Even if I had to go to extreme measures.

Even if I had to go to extreme measures.

 

So first up we had the initial elimination round. Everyone stood up at their desks and they were given a word to spell. If they succeeded, they got to stand for another round. If you spelled the word improperly, the teacher would correct you and you were forced to sit down…you were out of the competition.

Oh woe for the students who fell out on their first word…

 

Teacher: Your word is…Cheese.

Student 1: C-H-E-A-S-E!

Teacher: I’m sorry, it’s c-h-e-E-s-e. You may sit down. Next up your word is…

 

Each class had about twenty-five students in it and there were two classes. Each class would continue going around the room until only ten children were standing, then each of those ten would go on to the finals.

The finals were held in the school’s auditorium, for all the parents to see. We went around the room once…we were down to about eighteen students by the time I got my second word, maybe? I didn’t receive a third one before I was in the top ten of my class.

The game was over, I was going to the championship division. A few weeks passed and there we were…standing on stage in front of everyone’s parents and older siblings.

The rules were just as simple as before…only now there was an added modicum of horror. You walked up to the mic when your name was called, stood in front of literally everyone you knew in the world, and then spelled the word.

This wasn’t the beginner’s circle anymore; no sir! The teacher did not correct you this time. This time you were given a word and if you spelled it right, you got to go back to your seat on the back of the stage…outside of the spotlight.

Okay, so it was an elementary school gymnasium that doubled as the auditorium, there were no spotlights…just fluorescent light bulbs high on the ceiling above. But you get the idea of the horror we all felt!

If you spelled the word wrong, though? The judges would tap a bell; the ding was your signal to quietly walk off stage, find your parents and siblings, and…

 

"Sit the fuck down like the failure you were!"

“Sit the fuck down like the failure you are!”

 

So there we all are: The Magnificent Twenty. Or perhaps more like the Lucky Nineteen…graced with their moment in my presence before I took home the (unnecessarily large for a 2nd grade spelling bee) trophy that sat on the table beside the judges.

The first person stepped up, they received their word and the contest was on for realsies! Word by word we either returned to our seats, or walked off the stage with a melancholic disgrace.

Poor Kevin…there he was, so proud and determined. He had studied harder for this than anything he’d ever studied before. Kevin was a tall kid, he had hit his growth spurt early. In a room full of 2nd graders standing around four feet tall he was already five feet in height. He towered over everyone and was lanky like a stick. He probably had a BMI of about nine in those days.

He walked up to the microphone for what must have been his second or third word. The competition was tough and the judges said, “Hangnail.”

“…can you define?”

“A small, torn piece of skin, next to a fingernail or toenail.”

“…c-can you…use it in a sentence?”

“The hangnail I got on my hand really hurts, today.”

“…uhhh…H-A-N-G-N-A-L-E…”

Ding! went the bell. Kevin looked into the crowd…and broke out into a shrill bawl. Clutching his face in his hands he hurtled the stairs down from the stage, I don’t believe his feet touched any of the steps, and with his bawling intensifying with every echoing footstep on the hardwood floor he made his way toward the back of the room.

The, otherwise totally silent, room. His mother ushering her way out of the aisle just as he ran past her. She started following him toward the back of the room quietly calling, “Kevin…Kevin c’mere honey…KEVIN!”

All the way to the back of the room where he burst through the closed doors. They slammed shut just before his mother so that she could dramatically burst through them again!

They did not return that day. And the greatest irony? Kevin was chewing on his cuticles in between each utterance he spouted.

So anyway, enough with twelfth place, nobody cares about poor Kevin. Let’s get back to the championing at hand…my story.

Competition is pretty stiff, to be honest I’m getting nervous…I may have to settle. Settle for a narrow victory in a dramatic finish, instead of just traipsing over all these scrubs.

Okay actually I’m suffering from crippling self esteem issues due to two straight years of violent bullying and this is the only thing I’ve ever competed in where people expressed faith in my abilities. I am dead set on proving myself. I’m already in the top ten, and my only goal is to get a higher position than my shit-grinning sister and her 5th place trophy.

Ninth place goes down, the person before me spells their word, and I go up to the mic.

“Your word is Evry.”

“Evry?”

“Yes…your word is Evry. Evry person in the room hopes you’ll do well.”

Well you can’t compete with a sign like that. Here we go with my next victory…

“Evry…E-V-R-Y…Evry.”

Silence for a moment. I take a step back to return to my seat, when my greatest fear comes true…

A hundred goat-sized spiders fell from the ceiling and declared the planet their dominion, taken for themselves once they exterminate humanity!

Hmm…okay, so maybe not my greatest fear. But at that moment in my life my second greatest fear happened…

 

"Ding!"

“Ding!”

 

Or as I heard it my mind…

 

10575683

 

I quietly and stoically took my place at my mother’s side, I had received 8th place. The next person came up…and to advance, she had to spell my word correctly.

“Evry…e-v-E-r-y…Evry.”

Wait a minute…there’s a second e in Every? But…that’s not how the judge pronounced it. That’s not how anybody I knew pronounced it! I had been cheated out of my glorious victory by a country accent!

And oh did I hear about that. My sister paraded her trophy about…

“Did I ever tell you the story about how I won fifth place in the Second Grade Spelling Bee? What place did you get…oh right, eighth place. Do they give trophies for eighth place losses? No…but they do give trophies for fifth place victories. Did I ever tell you that?”

 

Yes…yes you did. E-V-E-R-Y chance you fucking had!

 

~RCS

 

P.S. She works as a receptionist, and I’m a published author. How’s that trophy feel, bitch?

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