Confessions of a former spelling bee queen

IMG_20150730_204123“Spelling master,” she said in a shrill voice, sounding as if she had just been chewing on her own face before picking up the microphone. “The correct spelling is c, a, l, ELLE, i, d, i, t, y.”

She had short, wiry hair, bobbed just below her ears, with a bad [blond] dye job. She was too old to be a natural blonde. I knew that even back then. She wore a navy blue blazer with a sparkly bumble bee lapel pin and some kind of hideous floral skirt.

I stared at her in disbelief and disgust. She had just ended my six-year spelling bee career. How could she do this to me?

I hated her with every fiber of my body.

I was 11 years old that day, the day I didn’t qualify for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. I finished third in that spelling bee, but I needed to finish first or second to get to Nationals. I had misspelled “callidity,” omitting the second “L.”

I had studied tirelessly. For months, I had spent my Saturday afternoons in my bedroom, writing out each word over and over again, learning to spell them out rhythmically so that I could memorize each one as a little song. I had spent weeknights going over the lists with my [stepfather], him quizzing me on difficult words, me making excuses whenever he caught me not knowing how to spell one of them. Most often, if I missed one it was because I didn’t know how it was actually pronounced. I would know any word if I saw it, but there were several I couldn’t recognize by ear because I had never considered looking up the correct pronunciations. In hindsight, that seems like a huge and careless error in my strategy. But I was 11. I was willing to work hard, but evidently, not willing to think too hard.

These days, the former spelling bee queen is still hidden in here somewhere, but she’s hardly recognizable. My 11-year-old self would be disgusted to know it, but I have become a terrible speller.

I want “marshmallow” to be spelled with an “e,” as in “marshmellow.” Doesn’t it look better that way, or is it just me?

I want “occasion” to have another “s,” like “occassion.” Every time I write “occasionally,” I have to look it up. Just now, I only got it right because of [spellcheck].

“Loquacious” seems to need a “c” before the “q,” doesn’t it? Maybe that’s just me.

Once in a while, a family member will say something like, “[Okay], Miss Spelling Bee, how do you spell….?” It’s usually when they’re writing a note by hand and they don’t want to look up the word. I panic in those moments. I haven’t been discovered yet, but each time, I worry that someone is going to ask me about a word I can’t actually spell. The fear is palpable. It’s as if the sky might open up and God might take back all of my trophies the first time I miss a word.

I am no spelling bee queen. I am an [impostor]

*   *   *   *   *

[Accepted alternate spelling/styles include “blonde” (when used as an adjective), spell-check, step-father, OK, and imposter.]

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