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#11. I competed in a regional Spelling Bee when I was eleven years old.

Actually, I made it to the local regional twice, in the fourth grade and fifth. But I bowed out pretty early the first time around. So when I went back, I was ready to rumble. I was gonna kick some ass, and spell some names.

I studied for weeks leading up to the big bee.

Hey, why is that that 'spelling' and 'quilting' are the only kinds of 'bees' that we have? What's so special about these get-togethers, and what the hell is similar enough about them to lead us to call them by the same name? Really, I don't see it. One's for English students, the other's for the 'home ec' crowd. You use your brain in one, and your fingers in the other. In one, you talk only when asked to step forward, and if you say the wrong thing, you're loudly buzzed and asked to leave. In the other, the yakking and gossipmongering is constant and varied. You need snot-nosed kids for one, and blue-haired old ladies for the other. Come on. Somebody tell me what I'm missing here. This is gonna keep me up at night.)

Anyway, the studying. After winning the school spelling bee to qualify for regionals, they gave me a 'speller's dictionary'. I guess it had only hard words, but not the very most hardest. (Hey, I said I could spell. I make no guarantees about grammar around here.) So, I studied from the list of words in the book; I think they were mainly words used in previous bees, so as to give a realistic idea of what ridiculous obscure shit they might throw at you.

And ridiculous obscure shit it was. I hadn't heard of a lot of the words. I could spell some of the mystery terms, just from sounding them out, but others were just too oddball. But I worked hard -- when my mother made me, anyway -- and learned a new trick or two from the funky book of words. Most of the time, she'd take the book, and give me the word to spell. (See, it didn't work so well when I had the book, and looked at the words I needed to spell. Though, sadly, doing it that way didn't work quite as badly as you'd probably think. Have I mentioned that my short-term memory is about as short as a... um, a... er, huh. What was I talking about?)

But these words! Who the hell uses these words, anyway? I mean, there are big words, and there are fancy words, and then there are fiddy cent words. But these -- these were like five dollar words, and most of them had definitions to match. Some of these bitches meant things that maybe four people on the planet would ever need to know -- the name for the second thoracic segment of a rare Bolivian caterpillar. The local term for the garnish used to decorate the feast held by some pygmy African tribe every three hundred years. The name of Soupy Sales' agent. Really, I mean ridiculously useless crap, here.

It got so bad that the few common words in the book would blend into the sea of obfuscation and confusion. I remember -- because I'm never going to let my mother forget -- having the following conversation:

Her: No, it's c-a-t. You'll have to work on that one. Okay, next word. 'Mill-duh-wed.'
Me: What?
Her: 'Mill. Duh. Wed.' That's what it says.
Me: 'Mill-duh-wed'? What the hell is that?
Her: Um, I don't know. And don't curse at your mother, you little shit.
Me: Hmmmm. 'Mill-duh-wed'. You sure that's it?
Her: Yes, 'Mill-duh-wed'. I'm sure.
Me: Okay. You're positive? 'Cause that doesn't sound like anything I've ever heard of.
Her: Yes, I'm positive. You don't know lots of these words. Now quit stalling. Spell it.
Me: All right. Um, M. I. L. L?
Her: Nope.
Me: Damn. D?
Her: Yep.
Me: Okay. M. I. L. D. U?
Her: No. Not U.
Me: Oh. I?
Her: Nope. E.
Me: E?
Her: E.
Me: M. I. L. D. E. (...) Are you sure this isn't 'mildewed'?
Her: Hurmph. No, it's not mildewed, smartypants. I think I know what 'mildewed' looks like.
Me: Um, okay. M. I. L. D. E. W?
Her: Yep.
Me: Yep? W's right? Is it w-e-d?
Her: Yeah! You got it! 'Mill-duh-wed'.
Me: Mom, that's 'mildewed'. I just spelled mildewed.
Her: No, it's not. 'Mildewed' has a 'w' in... oh, yes. It is. Shit.

I remind her of that every once in a while, just for kicks. Yeah, she loves that.

So, back to the bee. I spelled a few words, and the field thinned down to a dozen kids or so. That's when they got me. I walked up to the microphone, and they gave me my word. 'Horde'. Or 'hoard', I really can't remember. Fuck. Now, I knew there were two words that sounded like that. And I was just fucking positive that I'd pick the wrong one. Especially since I didn't really know what either of them meant. I asked for a definition, and an example sentence, without really listening to what the proctor's responses. It wasn't gonna help me, anyway. I was just stalling. But eventually, I ran out of questions to ask, and gave it a go.

'H. O. A. R. D.'

I paused. I didn't know it at the time, but I'd successfully spelled a word. Maybe even the right word; I honestly don't remember. I could have stopped right there and had a fifty-fifty chance. But no. I panicked.

'E. Hoarde.'


The proctor gave the correct spelling. Again, I wasn't really listening. Stupid, stupid, stupid. If I just could have kept my big mouth shut with that damned 'E', I might've had a chance. Bitches!

Hell, I might have even won the whole thing, and gone on to nationals, where I could get beaten by one of those creepy home-schooled kids. That's fine. They're freaks of nature, some of those kids. There's honor in losing to a socially-stunted spelling savant. They live for that shit. But to go out the way I did, wide-eyed and stuttering and guessing on a five-letter word? Pitiful.

And then the next year -- my last chance at redemption -- I was sick on the day our school had it's bee. Some other moron won, and went to regionals instead of me. He spelled 'food' with a 'q' or some shit like that, and got himself buzzed out before the kids even started sweating on their chairs. Dumb bastard. It should have been me up there, experienced and confident, and with a score to settle. I would have spelled anything, too. I was ready to kick ass, but I never got the chance. All because I was sick. Rotten stinking luck. It was probably an allergic reaction or something -- mold from our shower that was all mill-duh-wed. *snicker* Yeah, I guess some good did come out of the experience. Hoo boy, that gets me every time.

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