Miss Congeniality

Shortly after being deflowered by the senior on whom I’d had a crush my entire 9th grade year in a small Missouri high school, I moved to Arizona to live with my biological father for the first time since I was 7, when he and my mother divorced.

My boyfriend was going to college in Colorado, and I wasn’t getting along with my mother and stepfather, so it seemed like a fresh start might be a good thing.

The boyfriend called me on the phone and we wrote letters back and forth while I lived in Arizona, finally culminating in an invitation to spend a week with him and his family, skiing Copper Mountain. I’d never gone skiing before and had to buy the ski suit and a winter coat for the trip.

After letting me pay for my own plane ticket to Colorado, he tried to seduce me in a resort hot tub, and then later had me sit in his car so he could play a song that “explained what he was feeling.” He played The Who song with the refrain, “No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man… behind blue eyes.”

I sat in his black Honda CRX in confused silence, waiting to understand what the song meant, while he meaningfully sighed with his head in his hands. I didn’t understand that he was breaking up with me, and made him explain it. I didn’t know why he had been trying to fuck me in the hot tub if he was in love with another girl.

He finally had to spell it out, that he was the bad man, the sad man, behind his blue eyes. It was quite possibly the dorkiest way a girl has ever been dumped in the history of all dumpery, and I’ve hated that whiny song ever since. (Oh, poor you. Nobody knows what it’s like, how hard it is to be you, dumping me from behind your stupid Blue Eyes. I’m so sorry you’re sad.)

Luckily, his little sister was there, and only a grade below me in school. We immediately bonded, and she showed me pictures of the short, stocky girl with a huge gap between her front teeth for whom he was leaving me. He’d brought her picture along, and she ferreted it from his suitcase while he was out skiing. We made fun of her cheesy bikini pic.

Neither of us could make any sense of it, but I will forever love his sister for turning what should have been a nightmarish trip into an almost fun one. I was absolutely heartbroken, but she and I hung out and drank hot chocolate and boy-watched the rest of the trip. We forged a friendship far more valuable than the relationship I’d had with her brother.

I returned home to Arizona by plane, and proceeded to become clinically depressed. My usual A and B grades dropped, as I started sneaking alcohol and skipping school.

***

At some point that year, I flew home to visit my mother and stepfather in Missouri. I was allowed to go to a Shooting Star concert in Kansas City with my older sister and her boyfriend. My friend, the sister of the boy who’d dumped me at Copper Mountain was there with her boyfriend. He’d brought a friend along. A cute friend. A friend, they all told me, who had broken up with his girlfriend.

I’d known his girlfriend when I was moved to the small town in 6th grade. She did the thing where she turned bitchy and shitty to other girls (or at least to me) in the 7th and 8th grade. She was a somewhat popular, perky drill team-type, but I only remembered her as the girl who was nasty to me years before. I didn’t owe her anything.

Her ex-boyfriend was all over me, and we slept together. He was the second boy I ever slept with, and I flew back to Arizona to finish up the year.

My father later expressed his displeasure with my teenage rebellion via his fists, violently, repeatedly punching my face. A teacher reported my appearance, and Child Protective Services showed up at our house. It was determined I would move back to Missouri for my 11th grade year.

I didn’t want to go back, despite the beating that cost me my optic nerves and part of a front tooth, so my parents pretended I was coming back for a summer visit and had my biological father mail my belongings in boxes to Missouri.

I felt violated once again, knowing my father had been through my personal things to pack them, and violated by my mother and stepfather because they’d lied to me. I felt alone and completely unwanted by all of the adults in my life. “Here, you take her. We’re sick of her,” they all seemed to be saying.

***

The tiny not-quite-population-3000 town in which my Missouri high school was located had a Fall Fiesta every year, during which a Fall Fiesta Queen would be crowned.

These types of “who’s the prettiest?” contests repulse me, and I didn’t want to take part. The classes at school, however, voted to pick one girl to represent them. Guess who the 11th grade picked that year? Yep. Little old me. I was flattered, mortified, and confused, wondering if they’d picked me as some sort of elaborate prank. I’m not a tiny blonde beauty queen stereotype: I’m a tall red-haired awkward chick from way back.

I still don’t know why they picked me. I wasn’t popular. I was the class weirdo. It was probably funny to them to make me represent them in the stupid contest.

Not willing to spend money on a dress, my mom had me wear my confirmation gown- a white, high-necked, lace-infested creation that made me look like I’d just slid sidesaddle off the back of a horse in the 1800s. It was hideous and utterly wrong for a beauty pageant.

The girl whose boyfriend had broken up with her was in the contest. She was a brown-eyed, brown-haired, chipmunk-cheeked cheerleader in the right kind of shiny, slinky dress, and had found a business to sponsor her.

They’d gotten back together and she’d heard about our tryst. I’d avoided her at school, but now we were confined in close quarters, marching around like show ponies for the judges. She asked me to step outside and talk to her.

I know you slept with my boyfriend last year!” she said accusingly.

He told me you were broken up,” I replied.

No he didn’t!”

Yes, he did! And so did all of the friends we were hanging out with that night!”

Well we were together!”

Why would I know that? I didn’t even LIVE HERE. Why aren’t you mad at HIM? He’s the one who lied to everyone, apparently!”

She huffed back into the community center where we were being judged for our looks.

Of course she won Fall Fiesta Queen. Of course.

And I won Miss Congeniality. No shit.

I jokingly referred to the little silver necklace charm they gave me as my “you weren’t pretty enough to win, but gosh darn it, you’re friendly” award. It made me laugh that I so badly didn’t want to be in a gross beauty pageant, was forced to by the vote of my classmates, and then won the happy to be here award. Beautiful.

The girl ended up having a daughter with the guy I slept with during their Ross and Rachel break/not a break, and eventually separated permanently.

***

Oddly enough, I was reminded of this as I live-tweeted the bizarre moaning of a trainer lifting weights at my gym yesterday. She’s a stringy, spray-tan-orange woman over 60 (or extremely sun-damaged), and she trains other women while I ride the exercise bike. She loves neon colors, and this day was wearing shockingly hot pink shoes.

I was trying to read a novel on my Kindle Fire as I pedaled, but she was being so loud it was pulling me out of the story. We were the only two people in the small gym. I joked on Twitter that if I closed my eyes, I could pretend I was in a porn film, but I wasn’t really joking. It was making me uncomfortable.

Her first client of the day came in, a grey-haired, chatty woman, and thankfully she stopped lifting weights and groaning in her creepily sexual way.

Unfortunately, that was when the talking began. Still couldn’t focus on my book.

The women began to have a conversation about treadmills, the benefits of eating raw Manuka honey, and the client, in her southern accent, told a long story about how her brothers always beat her at Monopoly as a child, and she hated that game because they’d never let her quit, forcing her to play to the bitter end, but when she won Miss Congeniality in a beauty contest, her brothers said, “See? We were training you for your Miss Congeniality win by forcing you to stick with the Monopoly games.”

And this reminded me of winning Miss Congeniality so many years ago in the ugly white lace dress I wore for my Lutheran confirmation in the small town Missouri Fall Fiesta Queen pageant I never wanted to be in with the girl who hated me for sleeping with her boyfriend when he either lied to me, her, or both of us when they were or weren’t on a break and standing on a stage while she won prettiest and I won friendliest.

***

Someone on Twitter asked me if my winning Miss Congeniality/the odd gym interactions I was describing were “true story or Twitter fiction” so I wrote this true story out for her, because truth is almost always stranger than fiction.

And inspiration comes from the wackiest places, doesn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

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