I wasn’t a good student. Especially in my younger years. Though I’d always loved learning, things I would learn were rarely the things I’d learn in class. In class, I was always ranked near the very bottom. One year, though — in the fourth grade — I found myself competing in the school geo bee. I consider this the greatest accomplishment in my life up to that point. It had surprised a lot of people, including, admittedly, myself. No one saw it coming.
At the time, my strongest skill — school-wise — was limited to blacktop pavement; during recess, as I was pretty good at four-square. My school had grades up through five, but in spite of ample fifth-grade competition, I was very good at four-square. And I took a lot of pride in this, as there was not too much else in school for me to take pride in. Four-square, was a pretty big deal at my school — it was the number one game we played during recess — and by the fourth-grade I was among the best ones playing.
The geo bee was an annual event, held always in the school gymnasium (the usage of which tripled as our auditorium and cafeteria). Each year, I would watch, as a member of the audience, while the qualified students competed. I remember sitting on the linoleum squares of the gymnasium, year after year; never did I expect, while sitting on those squares, that I would ever be among the students on the other end, but once fourth grade came, somehow there I was, looking the other way.
In the weeks leading up to this, I’d studied intensely — reading general facts on geography — I soaked in a lot, in that time; already I knew much to begin with, as I’d discovered in the affirmation of having qualified, but by the end of this studying, it really did seem as if my knowledge on geography had doubled. I was very confident, going in.
Ultimately, I would last only two rounds, before getting eliminated. I can’t recall what the question was, but I didn’t know the answer. No one was very surprised by this, when I was eliminated; I would think that only everyone expected me to get eliminated. I myself was not surprised. I was disappointed, yes, but I would not say though, that I was crushed. I did however, surprise a few — perhaps not everyone, but at least a few — when I cried, in front of everyone, as I was eliminated. I didn’t fill an ocean, but there were definitely some tears.
This proved to be not such an advantageous happening; I came to regret it, very quickly, pretty significantly. It was embarrassing. It had put a real dent in my rep. The most troubling part of this all, though, is — as I swear — I maintain — vehemently, that I did not need to cry. Emotions were running high, sure, this was a big moment, but even at the age I was, I was beyond capable to handle those emotions, but especially in public. The truth of the matter, is I simply had thought, that crying was an appropriate response.
Perhaps I’d felt polarized to even just be there — as that I was not one of the smart kids — I was the only competitor, not among the smart kids — perhaps because of this, I’d felt, in those moments, that how I would handle my loss was to be important; perhaps there was more to this than I may ever know.
Every year, at least one competitor would cry, upon elimination. I remember seeing this happen, year after year. All of these students, after all were little kids; crying, at that age, is not something profoundly notable. But when it had happened to me, though, it sure did seem that way. I was the only kid to do it that year.
When I cried, a girl, who was seated next to me on the stage, had shielded her mouth to the audience, to hide her laughing — facetiously (in my opinion,) did she do this — she was one of the very brightest students in my grade — she herself had cried on that stage, for the exact same thing, just one year prior. She was eliminated this time one round before I was. Now I don’t know what rightfully should be concluded from that, but that though is what had happened. And this is not to say that I harbor a grudge — because I don’t, nor did I then — it was just something that happened. We both were little kids.
The tricky thing of memory, and nostalgia — to my finding — is that it tends to seem brighter and brighter the further I look. I try to keep this mindset, in tact, as I reflect back on early years.
When the geo bee was done and over — the very next day — during recess, on the blacktop, a fifth-grade girl made fun of me for having cried. She was letting me have it, kind of ruthlessly. I told her, repeatedly, “at least I made it.” She still laughed at me. As I recall, though, my four-square skills survived the ordeal unscathed.
The next year I failed to even qualify for the geo bee. I never competed again.