The one that got away

January 12, 2012

By the end of high school, I was ready to graduate and get the hell out of Dodge. I didn’t even have that hard a time of it during those years, compared to some kids, but the stress of figuring out who I was, what I really wanted to do, who my friends were, where I wanted to go to college and the ways I knocked myself out to get in had taken its toll. I was tired of seeing the same people in the same halls every day and was ready for a fresh start, not only with new friends but maybe even with a new persona.

Senior year ended more with a whimper than with a bang. Senioritis made classes seem interminable, prom was an overlong letdown after a stressful buildup, and the last day of school will be remembered not for hugs and yearbook signings but for a screaming match I had with a guy who had terminated our friendship. For graduation day, I cut off a big chunk of my long hair and wore a Georgetown t-shirt and gym shoes under my gown, almost to spite school: I wouldn’t pay it homage with a pretty dress and hairdo.

There was one way though that my high school career could be salvaged, however, and that was by the Senior Awards ceremony.

If there was one thing I was proud of in high school, it was that I had figured out that I was a writer. Dropping badminton and volleyball for the student-run variety show was one of the best decisions I ever made. Between writing for a few theater shows, writing and editing student newspapers all four years of high school, tutoring students, receiving a NCTE award and scoring an 800 on the verbal portion of my SATs (on the second go-around) and being a National Merit Semifinalist, I figured I’d be a shoo-in to win the English Department Award. Then, at least, I’d be recognized for what really mattered to me.

At the awards ceremony, I remember this one particular teacher getting up to announce the award, listing the winner’s qualifications.  He had never taught me, so I wondered how he knew how well rounded I was, how much I loved literature and reading. Then he started talking about good I was at French and soccer, and I realized that he was not speaking about me. (You idiots, an English award is not supposed to go to an athlete.)  

I lost to a girl who had also won Homecoming Queen, Prom Queen and Senior Leader, but the worst thing was that she was also a completely lovely person, smart and funny and kind, so I couldn’t even find solace in hating her for stealing away my award. On the way home from the ceremony, I cried on my best friend's shoulder (she had suffered the same fate I had, only in regards to the Journalism Award.)

I don’t know why this loss was burned into my memory so vividly.  It’s not like I wake up every day gazing at the empty space on the shelf where that trophy should be. Clearly, I didn’t need the award to confirm that I was and would be a writer. And while high school can be the pits, I realized that it’s like that for most everybody at times, and I didn’t even have it that bad.

But still! I carry that as a little chip on my shoulder. I was out with some writer girlfriends this summer and found myself jokingly bitching about losing the award. And to my surprise, a colleague of mine who’s published three very popular books and is a beloved blogger confessed that she’s still mad that she didn’t win a poetry award in college.

I guess sometimes we need to hold onto these otherwise insignificant losses in order to maintain the motivation to do whatever it is we do. So please, in the comments, share your stories: even though we can all admit that we’re adults now and aren’t holding onto the past in a creepy way, let me know, is there an award, a role, a spot on the team that you didn’t get that you’re still the teeeeeensiest bit (jokingly) bitter about? Help me feel like I’m not alone.