Prologue

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I am nine years old and I am waiting for Camilla Zamora to misspell prospicience.

I never imagined myself as a girl on stage. I didn't dream about the limelight or feel this overwhelming urge to be the center of the world. If I'm being honest, I never imagined myself as much. I never stood out as a kid and I doubted my teenage years would be much better. Life spits on quiet children, attracting the negative attention of concerned parents, and teachers who grade based on participation. Sometimes quiet kids turn into bubbly teenagers who finally find their place. That's what my parents want. I hear them talking about it at night through when I'm supposed to be in bed.

My mom is concerned about me a lot of the time. She thinks I'm too serious for a child, that I think too much in the future. While I do think about the future sometimes, it would've been more correct for her to say that I live minute-by-minute. I let things happen—I am acceptor of everything handed to me.

And now, this attitude has placed me on a stage under hot lights that made my skin itch. The ugly red sweater that my mom wanted me to wear is trapping the heat and I can feel sweat clinging to my skin. The chair I'm sitting in is hard under me, and the way the back is shaped makes my spine ache. I know I should sit up straighter, but I can't bring myself to do it. Instead, I am focusing my attention to tapping my finger rhythmically to the spelling of the word Camilla can't seem to figure out.

I know this word. I've known it for months, after my mom printed out a list of winning spelling bee words. Prospicience won David Tidmarsh a national spelling bee in 2002. It sits towards the back of dictionaries I scan through, it sits in the minds of people who never bother to learn the definition.

Finally, Camilla speaks.

We're only at the regional level of Texas spelling bees. With the excessive amounts of cities and counties and people, there are so many different spelling bees it's hard to keep track. I won the one at my elementary school (with the word hibiscus), then district (cardiopulmonary) and now here. In this auditorium - belonging to a high school, the one I will most likely attend in the future - there are people filling every seat and lined in the back. But when she speaks, the entire room goes silent.

"P," Camilla says, her voice soft. I see her foot tapping. She's doing the same thing I am—tapping out the word, mentally picturing the letters mold together to form a word unfamiliar to most of the children we attend school with.

I see her hands shaking on either side of her skirt. She's Eleven, her beautiful brown hair curling all the way down to her waist. She's shorter than I am, but that's my dad's genetics coming into play. I'm told I'll grow up to be just like them - thin, glass-boned and tall. My mom's genetics are coming in, too, like how I'm going to need to wear glasses in the future. My eyesight is already starting to blur, but I don't want to mention it or I'll be told it's from reading too much small print.

"R," her voice rings again. I can see her family sitting in the front row, giving her thumbs up. They all have the same round, cheery face she does. But it's clear they're nervous—I can see it in her mother's naturally tan face.

"O, S, P." she stops and taps her foot again. "I."

This is where I always got stuck, too. It took me months to master actually getting the letters enunciated the way I wanted them to. I would want to say S almost every time. It's the same with G's and J's—I'll imagine it, I can see it, I know what it is, but I'll still say the wrong one.

"S," she says and a buzzer sounds off. I see her face crumble from the side, her body shrinking. It's over for her. That's the end.

Parents question "the system" a lot during PTA meetings. They say spelling bees are too much to ask of the kids and that it's making them feel like they have to know words most adults don't. But my mom always speaks up. She's the only they are directing the words to; she's the parent with the quiet child who always wins. They're the parents who, while I'm in the room, will say my accomplishments don't matter. It only counts if their kid is the one who brings home the trophy.

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