When I was in eighth grade, I made it all the way to the county spelling bee. This was Big News, since it took place at the Edwards County courthouse, it was in the evening, and it was broadcast on the radio. I was determined to be a total rock star, since the performance I had given at my third grade class spelling bee had colored my thoughts with shame every time I thought about it (I misspelled my first word - feild, instead of field, and spent the remainder of the bee sitting on the floor bawling).
Earlier that day I asked my orthodontist to put green and black rubber rings around my braces, in anticipation of wearing my favorite green-and-black sailor top with matching skirt for the bee. I pulled on a pair of black tights, and fluffed my bangs out as far as my Aqua Net could hold them (this was '92, after all). After checking myself in my mirror for about the hundredth time, I announced to my family that I was ready to perform.
Upon arriving at the courthouse, I peeked into the court room to survey my audience. The families of the contestants had come to Albion all the way from Bone Gap and West Salem! After giving my competition a cursory glance, I drank a little water and hummed a bit to warm up my vocal cords. After practicing my smile in the bathroom mirror, I gave myself a long, hard look and said "You totally got this. You've been waiting five long years for this moment. Carpe the Biem!" With that I marched into the jury box and took my seat.
As most spelling bee fans know, the pronouncer tells you the word you are to spell. The contestant repeats the word, spells it, and then repeats the word again. Additionally, the contestant can ask the pronouncer to use the word in a sentence, in order to avoid misunderstandings such as spelling "pear" instead of "pair." I was determined to use each and every tool at my disposal to ensure that I would walk out of the courthouse as the winner of the Edwards County Spelling Bee.
When my turn came, I approached the microphone and honed in on the pronouncer. I was determined not to miss any nuance of my word. After my name and grade were announced, the pronouncer looked down at his word list and threw down my challenge: "Spell 'naughtiness'."
I blinked. Naughtiness? Really? Too easy! I licked my lips and leaned toward the microphone. "Naughtiness." I paused. Don't get too cocky. Use your tools. I smiled winningly at the pronouncer. "May I hear that in a sentence?"
The pronouncer nodded. "The naughtiness of the test was at first, difficult to resolve."
Huh? What kind of test is naughty? Whatever; I still got this. "Naughtiness. N-A-U-G-" The pronouncer shook his head and interrupted me. "That's incorrect."
I blinked again. "No it isn't."
The pronouncer shook his head again. "The correct spelling is K-N-O-T-T-I-N-E-S-S."
My jaw dropped. "Seriously? I'm supposed to get that out of the sentence you gave me?" The pronouncer looked uneasily at the judges beside him. "Please take your seat. You are eliminated."
For another few seconds I stood at the microphone, blinking back tears of shame and rage. Once again my dreams of winning a spelling bee had been snatched away, before I could even get a taste of victory. Determined not to repeat the humiliation of my public weeping in third grade, I walked out of the court room, head held high, and wept quietly in the bathroom. After I had finally composed myself, I snuck out to the car and waited for my family to take me home. When my mother finally arrived, sisters in tow, she gave me a hug and told me that spelling bees were stupid, that I was spelling "naughtiness" correctly and they should have just changed the word for me, that of course when someone said the word "naughty," you would never at first think they were saying "knotty," and agreed that the pronouncer probably had a vendetta against our family and had been offered bribes in order to ensure my failure. Properly consoled, I folded my arms, informed my family that my career aspirations as a spelling bee champion were over, and that in the future I would focus my energies on becoming a rock star. We then went to Willums for an ice cream, which made everything all better.
And I never again entered a spelling bee.