The day of the big contest was finally here. I was in fifth grade, and I was a fantastic speller.
I had won our school’s 5th & 6th grade spelling contest and was now heading to the regional contest in our area. It was my parents, my fifth grade teacher, and me riding in the car, and I was beside myself with excitement and nervousness. I couldn’t believe even my teacher had decided to come! I had barely slept at all the night before, and now my heart was racing with anticipation.
As we arrived at the contest and checked in, they quickly ushered me to the stage area, while my parents and teacher took their place in the audience.
I took my assigned seat amongst my fellow contestants, and then looked down from the stage. My eyes grew big as I surveyed the large crowd that was gathering in the audience. Having grown up in a small town, I was pretty sure that I had never seen such a big crowd before in my life. There were probably hundreds of people there! My hands started shaking, as I waved at my parents and teacher and smiled nervously.
But no matter how anxious I felt, I also felt confident that I was a very good speller. I thought back to my school’s spelling contest, and how I had overheard one of my classmates spell the word “ballet”, B-A-L-L-A-Y. I laughed to myself, feeling a little superior, and thinking that surely, I would do well in this contest. Now if only I could convince my hands to stop shaking…
Finally, the big moment had come. It was time for us each to step forward on stage and spell our first word. I was the fourth speller, and I listened eagerly to the words that the other contestants had been given. They were simple words, like “whistle” and “volcano.” I took a deep breath. I could do this.
My name was called, and I stepped forward. Suddenly, my heart started thundering in my chest, and I felt like my chest was going to explode. I took another breath, trying to steady myself.
“Your word is ‘jungle’,” said the announcer.
I felt a wave of relief wash over me. What an easy word to spell!
Quickly, I spelled the word, and began walking back to my seat.
“That is—incorrect,” the announcer said.
I stopped dead in my tracks.
“What?” I asked incredulously. “I spelled it right.”
“It’s spelled J-U-N-G-L-E,” said the announcer.
“I know!” I insisted. “That’s how I spelled it.”
The announcer just looked at me.
“Would you like to review the tape?” he asked.
“Yes, please,” I said.
They replayed the tape.
And standing there, on stage in front of hundreds of people, I very clearly heard myself say:
I was stunned. I felt my face burning red with embarrassment, as I stumbled backstage, tears springing into my eyes.
How could I have said that? I knew how to spell the word jungle, for God’s sake! Now everyone thought that I was a big idiot—and then I had even asked them to review the tape! And my teacher had given up her Saturday to come to this contest, and my parents and she had driven more than an hour to be there with me.
I felt like I was going to die from embarrassment.
Very quickly, my parents and teacher showed up backstage, and I burst into tears as my Mom and Dad both gave me a big hug.
“It’s okay,” they both said. My teacher looked at me sympathetically.
“But I know how to spell the word jungle!” I exclaimed through my tears.
My teacher nodded. “It’s okay, you were just nervous,” she said understandingly. “Everyone knows that. This kind of thing happens to everyone sometimes,” she added, putting her arm around my shoulder.
I sighed, trying to stop crying. I knew she was right, but it was just so embarrassing! I knew that it would be a little while before I felt better about this.
That was twenty-five (yikes!) years ago, and I still remember it like it happened only yesterday.
But nowadays, when I tell this story, I always end up laughing about it. And it reminds me that no matter how awful and embarrassing some things seem to be while they’re happening, usually you end up laughing about them in the end.
That’s e-n-d. End.