As a StoryTerrace writer, Adam interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know him better by reading his autobiographical anecdote below
Every afternoon that winter, it would be playing on the local cable-access station when I got home from school. The middle school spelling bee.
Every afternoon, just before four, I’d watch with helpless fascination as I shuffled out from behind the school’s great red curtain to spell one of the words that I still remember, though it’s been close to 25 years: chandler, bough, torture.
I was in eighth grade, my final shot at victory. In sixth grade I choked on the word “raunchy,” spelling it rawnchy. In seventh grade, I made it twice as far as the year before, only to go out on “dormitory” (dormitary).
This year was different. As the other competitors dropped away, the line behind the curtain grew shorter, just a handful of us marching out and marching back after spelling our words correctly, and I watched my chances grow.
Then finally, inevitably, it was just me and Annabelle, the girl who’d won the year before. Here was my chance to dethrone her.
Mrs. Milheim, my sixth-grade English teacher, called us both out on stage. On the television screen, watching later, I looked small on the large stage, withdrawn into my royal-blue Golden State Warriors sweatshirt. (Like that litany of words, I can still recall the feel of the sweatshirt’s fleece interior against my bare skin.)
“Adam, your word is biopsy. Biopsy.”
I stared out at the footlights and the dim faces of my friends, some of them filtering back into the crowd after getting knocked out of the bee themselves.
“Biopsy,” I said, and paused for what seemed, on stage, like a long time. “B-Y-O—”
I recognized my mistake the instant I made it. But there are no take backs in spelling bees, no starting over. I finished spelling byopsy because it seemed unthinkable not to. When I reached the end of the word a bell rang softly, and Mrs. Milheim gave Annabelle a chance to spell the word correctly.
She did, of course. Whatever the follow-up word was that Annabelle spelled correctly to win the bee, I’ve never known. Watching myself on the screen, I could see in my eyes, in my blank expression and stillness on the stage, the dawning of a deep sense of disappointment. And I couldn’t look away.