My middle school hosted a spelling bee every year, divided by grade. As a voracious reader, this was great. As a general sass-bag who felt she didn’t get enough respect and admiration for knowing how to spell onomatopoeia without looking it up, this was PERFECT. Actually, this was gonna change everything.
Like most people, I floated around in an uncomfortable limbo throughout most of middle school. But unlike many other junior high complaint memoirs, I was popular. I know! It was weird and it was fleeting, so let me explain. I dutifully followed the strict 12-yr-old pretty girls’ dress code of Abercrombie jean skirts and tight Hollister v-necks, so I had lots of galpals. Also, I happened to bosom-blossom precociously, so I had lots of boyfriends, too! All of these factors sort of shuffled me into the popular clique, mostly on accident.
The accident part is that I was never supposed to be cool. I am a weirdo – and this was especially true on the middle school spectrum of acceptable interests and activities. In addition to halfheartedly playing soccer, my favorite things to do were making up characters out of my notebook doodles, collecting hotel soap and sparking loud arguments with the one other kid in my social studies class who knew something about current politics and was a Republican. I was in 7th grade when George W. Bush ran for reelection and I honestly walked around with a ticking “Bush Countdown” keychain attached to my backpack. And yeah, hotel soap.
Long story short, the popular clique didn’t know how to deal with me, so I was basically treated as a pet or a jester, I suppose. And because of my hot little 12-year-old body and thick eyeliner, few of the kids I really wanted as friends respected me as their intellectual equal. I was like that puzzle piece that got chewed on by the dog. I was supposed to fit in. I didn’t.
Luckily, I convinced myself that all these problems and more were going to be fixed if I entered and won my eighth grade spelling bee! The nerdy kids would finally see me for who I truly was, my popular friends would be too busy texting about the Jesse McCartney concert at Stratford Mall that weekend to notice! Maybe America would even impeach Bush!!!
Right before the contest began, all the participants gathered in the auditorium. The teacher explained that we would go up, say and spell our name to familiarize ourselves with the “bee format” and also to introduce ourselves. Then the real spelling begins. I was like, “Let’s DO this,” and my brain was like “You’ve put a lot of pressure on this moment, not so sure it’s gonna work out the way you see it,” and I was like, “You shush your brain-mouth Brain!” and my body was like, “I’ll just hang out here and sweat profusely, don’t worry.”
I approached the podium, sweaty and nervous but mostly sweaty. Like, unbelievably sweaty. Tight Hollister shirts are not famous for their sweat-wicking abilities. So, so much pit sweat is basically what I’m saying. Amidst this sweat, and unnerving buzzing of 150 pimple-faced kids, I began:
“My name is Ellie. E-L-I-E. OH GOD NO.”
I spelled my name wrong. I spelled my name wrong. Cackles immediately erupted, a wave of whispers rippled through the audience until everyone and their Neopet knew what just happened. It was so simple – slurring my Ls – but completely out of my hands the moment I acknowledged my mistake.
I proceeded to spell every other word correctly and qualify for the all-school spelling bee the next week. No one cared, except to note that our grade’s top speller couldn’t even spell her name. LOL. My plan, my wild goose-chase pipe-dream fix for my social and intellectual life, was crushed.
A few months later, I graduated the eighth grade. I stopped hanging out with most of my cool friends. I cut my hair short. I got a puppy and basically only spent time with him. I went into high school completely freed of my service to the clique. It wasn’t easy – being cool is a heady experience – but it’s a decision I look back to as one of the most important milestones in my life’s direction. Because, like, puppy! Just kidding.
But this is important: soap-collecting, soaps-watching, calculating the chemical balances in public restroom soap, or being like “Ew, I don’t wanna see your soap collection again, Ellie!” we’re all people who deserve to feel accepted without compromising our core selves. If it means being alone for awhile, so be it. You’ll find your jam, I promise.
Feature Image via blogs.ublabs.org/thefinalscore/ Soap image via www.flickriver.com/photos/beateknappe