It’s that time of year again. Time for the most awkward and unpopular of the lower social tiers of junior high to shine: it’s time for the Scripps-Howard National Spelling Bee.
How I remembered this is inconsequential. (I was paying patronage the strip club with my friends and realized it was on ESPN. Define irony.) But seeing the future Bill Gateses of the world duel it out for the right to be called “Nation’s Top Loser” reminded me of my own horrible, awkward, yet wonderful experiences as my school's top speller.
I was awkward at best through my junior high years. I was made fun of mercilessly, called “Stinky Tuna” because I sat with my legs open (I was a tomboy, lay off) and wore baggy clothes to hide the fact that I had boobs because when I wore things that showed them off I was accused of stuffing my bra. The only time I ever felt like I fitted in was when those aluminum chairs were lined up, the microphone on the stand was hot, and I could out-spell even Hicksville Middle School’s brightest.
I was the Spelling Bee girl. It was my niche. It’s what I did.
I remember my first taste of spelling bee victory. Fifth grade. I beat out Tyler Turnbull, the teacher’s son, with the word “soothsayer.” He cried. I gloated. And I got a cool trophy that immediately made me the object of mockery on the bus ride home. But hey, the bus driver said I did a good job and that’s all that mattered.
Subsequent bees were inconsequential. I spelled. I won. I gloated. I was reminded I didn’t have boobs and wasn’t pretty and didn’t wear clothes from American Eagle. Time passed and I continued to be the most mocked female in the class, but on spelling bee day, God have mercy on all of them. I wasn’t invited to your birthday party. I was shunned from your sleepover. You asked me to be your girlfriend just so I would accept and you and your friends could laugh at me. But dammit. I was going to out-spell all those little shits.
And I did.
Pretty kids don’t win the spelling bee. The quarterback who will eventually get a bigger scholarship than you goes out in the first round. The weird stinky kids are usually in the top 10, but rarely win. The spelling bee isn’t made for the winners of the world like those who joined a sorority or became a CEO. (Okay, I became a sorority girl but that was a completely different story.)
The spelling bee is awkward. The spelling bee is braces, bad acne, scoliosis and coke-bottle glasses. The spelling bee is the kids who get paper wads thrown at them and get tripped in the hall.
For two or three hours, we were better than them. We were the cool kids, if just for a little bit.
Some of my best friends I maintained through junior high and high school were weird kids I met at the county spelling bees. Kids who were made fun of and tortured like me. If the spelling bee is good for one thing, it’s a place where all those weird kids could be weird together. Then it turned into a complete bloodshed once those stage lights were on. But it was glorious geek blood, and it just made us into an ordained blood order of nerds.
The popular kids had their slumber parties and sports practices. They had their intimidating cliques in the hallway. They had their gaggle of hyenas in the backs of classrooms. But us? We had the spelling bee. It was ours.
And last night, I remembered being one of them. Being as tortured and awkward and misunderstood. And knowing that while on stage, those weirdos and dweebs and nerds felt like they mattered, felt like they had something special that was just theirs.
The other kids had plenty of opportunities in life to feel superior. But for us, the geeks and dweebs and mockeries of junior high, we have the spelling bee.Powered by Sidelines