How to Lose Your First Spelling Bee

He was not a person that you wanted to upset but he was no one to be afraid of, either. Meek as he seemed, he embodied a fear so palpable that meeting him would leave you a bit less secure with yourself. Still, this did not keep him from being among the friendliest people you would meet. This was the problem: his fear betrayed his personality.

Once his father jokingly told him that he would be fat one day if he kept eating so many french fries. After wiping his tears, he retreated to his room only coming out to see if anyone was home. Now, perhaps, you can understand who we are dealing with.

In the classroom, though, he was immovable. You see, school was his safe haven, his comfort zone. An environment that predictable aligned just so with his sensitivities. He only had himself to depend on. His reputation of perfect scores on spelling tests had preceded him all the way through the fourth grade.

One year, he even won the school spelling bee and was able to compete in the regional final.

Fondly recalling his winning word — giraffe, G-I-R-A-F-F-E, giraffe — he walked into regionals brimming with confidence. The room full of students he did not know was no cause for concern to him; he peered at them from atop his pedestal of knowledge of land-dwelling herbivores. They may as well have all been flora.

He breezed through the preliminary round bouyed by the preceding flounderers. How were they able to achieve regional recognition, he wondered. His thoughts shifted to the previous evening’s prodigious perusal of the Scripps wordbook and cursory review of the New World dictionary as his body warmed with hubris —H-U-B-R-I-S, hubris. Looking back at his entourage (mom, dad, cousin), he gave a wink as if to say, “I got this, y’all.”

While waiting for the next round to begin, he wondered where the quarterfinals would be held. He started to make a list of things he should pack for his all-but-certain advancement in this year’s spelling bee:

Sunglasses, of course — it was spring. He figured it best to leave his Tamagotchi behind in case it got stolen. Anyway, it would only distract him from winning. He had just gotten a new watch last Christmas but not yet had a chance to show it to anyone that didn’t already know about him, so he set to remind himself to bring it later. Other than socks, briefs and toiletries, he would be all set.

The contestants who had bothered to check in with their parents returned to their seats; the judges shuffled their notepads and the next round got underway.

He wanted to take a temperature of this round’s difficulty, so he honed in on the other contestants’ words and subsequent spellings. It helped him maintain his confidence if he felt like he wouldn’t be surprised by anything that came his way. So, as he suspected, he had no problem mentally reciting the words of the overwhelming majority of his competitors. Just then, he added to his packing list his SEGA Game Gear — it helped him to clear his mind.

At the end of his row, he saw another speller praying. Afraid he wouldn’t get the divine favor he deserved, he threw together some wishes in his head and appended an Amen. OK.

As his turn came closer, he told himself that this was his to lose, that they would have to take it from him. It was this very notion that was his worst enemy. That is how it often went for him (things, that is). His mind thirsted for the can of soda in his bag that was, of course, with his mom and dad. He listened as the contestant to his left waded through a choppy current of letters, finally coming up with the correct spelling as she beamed with pride. He waited for his word.

Aspersion, said the judge.

Aspersion, she repeated more slowly.

Unlike ‘giraffe,’ he had never seen this word and was not familiar with its meaning. And, he certainly had not gone over it in the Scripps book. He asked if she could, please, repeat the word.


His next request, he thought, would jog his memory and move him on. Hearing the word in a sentence, though, only clouded his already scant familiarity with it. In a desperate reach for his last bit of pride, he asked for the origin of the word. At this point, he knew that he would not be going to the quarterfinals but he needed more time to show himself that he still wanted it.

At least no one would steal his Tamagotchi.

The word is of Latin origin. Aspersion.

Aspersion. He began, A-S-P…

A-S-P… By convention, he was committed to the letters he had already spelled out. He continued:



He beamed on the inside feeling the accomplishment of having finally submitting a spelling. Briefly, he thought of continuing to compile his packing list. But, the judge told him that his spelling was not correct.

Before the rounds began, he vaguely recalled the judges instructing spellers that did not advance to return to their guardians after the round that eliminated them. This was what he dreaded the most. Immediately after finding out he would not be moving on, he drafted a mental resolution against the very structure of the competition so that his loss would not define him. So, the last thing he wanted was pity from his entourage.

With the reception that his parents gave him though, he could not help but feel supported, actualized. But, he knew that these foundations were not stable. After accepting a consolation trip to Toys-R-Us to be gifted a video game of his choice, he buckled his seatbelt.

His mom would tell him how proud she was of him at every stoplight as if to guard his mind from wandering in the downtime to his most recent setback. He thanked her, with every recognition bringing him closer to his consolation.

At the intersection in front of the store, his mom — presumably, in an effort to exonerate her son of the pressure he must have been under — sought to accept some of the blame for his loss.

I’m sorry, she lamented. It’s kind of my fault.

He waited for an explanation.

She told him that while they were going over the words from the Scripps booklet, she stopped before aspersion — the word he lost on. It was maybe six words later, she revealed.

Until then, he was making progress towards reconciling his loss with the reality he had constructed. Now, he could not proceed in the same way. He was looking forward to finding the latest Crash Bandicoot title, but with the latest news, a first-person shooter, maybe Doom, seemed more appropriate.

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