Someone ElseA Story by audioslaver756
A spelling bee competitor meets his father for the first time
It took my mom 13 years to introduce me to my father, and even then I’m pretty sure she wasn’t exactly thrilled about it. Got second in the spelling bee that day too. I wasn’t a happy camper. Being second hurts. Don’t forget it. All it took was one slip and it was over, one tiny little lapse in judgment to go from hero to goat. And boy was it a mighty fall. Not a lot of people pay attention to the spelling bee circuit, but it’s about as competitive as it comes. It was a league full of cutthroat thirteen year olds vying for a trophy that, with the advent of spellcheck, was deemed essentially worthless. Who needs a kid who can rattle off the correct way to spell “cymotrichous” when you can just throw it into Google? No one, that’s who, but it sure as hell didn’t stop us from competing. We wanted to win for no other reason than to show that this goofy-looking kid here was better than that goofy-looking kid there, and that was always good enough for us. We thrived off of it. As much fun as the spelling bee was, it definitely came with its share of drawbacks. Like every other activity involving kids battling against each other, the bee had a healthy portion of crazy parents. Soccer moms have got nothing on these crazy ladies at spelling bees. I’ve seen more than a few parents in tears as they watch their kid butcher the spelling of an easy word, or toss their big glittering signs that say “Go Jason!” or “You can do it Bobby!” across the seats as Jason and Bobby make an early exit from the competition. How any parent could possibly be with their kid for 16 hours a day just to watch them go at it in some geek convention was beyond me. It practically made me sick, it really did. My mom, on the other hand, was a bit more subdued. In fact, during competitions I hardly even noticed her, and if I did, she was usually sitting in the back corner reading her Danielle Steele books or taking a nap. After every bee, I’d get the same line: “Nice job Steven, you really showed ‘em who’s boss.” Didn’t matter if I won or lost. I don’t think she even knew. Not that it mattered to me. If I lost I was too depressed to care, and if I won I was practically floating from the elation. Whether my mom decided to pay attention or not was out of my control. Every now and then she’d show up with a new boy toy to show off to the crowd, one of the countless consequences of not having a father. Funny how whenever she hooked a new guy, I would find her front and center, cheering herself silly for her “little baby.” Probably just wanted to parade him around in front of the rest of the parents. Either way, they didn’t stick around very long, and as soon as she was alone again it was back to the corner with her, and I knew I wouldn’t hear encouragement like that again until the next loser decided to make a pass at her. It was disheartening to say the least, but I’d gotten used to it. Like it mattered if my mom or anyone else decided to cheer for me. I had more important things to focus on.
The words on the page of my dictionary started to blur together as I stared at them. Stupid contact lenses. I rubbed my eyes and shook my head, bringing everything back into focus. Couldn’t afford to lose my eyesight now, I only had a few more hours before I took the stage at the Midwest Regional Spelling Bee and I needed all the help I could get. I stretched my legs across the back seat of the car and glanced out the window. Cornfields raced past in a blur of gold and green, briefly interrupted by red barns jutting out of the earth every so often. How quaint.
“Iowa sucks,” I muttered aloud.
“Hey,” my mother yelled back at me from the front seat, “I used to live in Iowa! I spent my whole life here until I was 24.” I propped myself up and leaned over.
“Are you serious? You lived in this place?” As far as I could remember, we’d always lived in St. Louis. I was pretty sure I’d never lived anywhere else, but I didn’t know for sure. Mom wasn’t too keen on talking about the past.
“Yup, back when your father and I were "“ She stopped herself short.
“Nothing.” She flipped on the radio, a twangy voice crooning about some unrequited love filling the car. I sat back and stared out the window again. That was the first I’d heard anything about my father in a while. Mom liked to keep him under wraps for some reason, but I could never understand why. I didn’t even know why they broke up, or if they even did. For all I know, my dad could be dead, although whenever I asked my mom tried to assure me that he wasn’t. It wasn’t really important anyway. I’d never met him, so he was as good as dead to me. My eyes wandered back to the dictionary on my lap. I wasn’t about to let some stupid stuff about my mythical dad ruin my chances at winning the spelling bee.
The Englert Theater was packed, full of parents there to root their kids on to victory and a few couples who had wandered in expecting to see Phantom of the Opera, but were instead greeted by something that would become much more gruesome. Competition day was a sight to behold for anyone not familiar with spelling bees. People crying about forgetting words, people crying because they were nervous, people crying because they’d just stubbed their toe on the stage and though it would affect their performance. Parents crying, kids crying, everybody and their grandma seemed to be crying. The place was madness. Shows what you get when you put a bunch of over competitive adolescents and their helicopter parents in a room together and turn the heat up. I rolled my eyes. My mom and I had never been like this. Heck, at my first competition she barely even made it on time, walked in right as I finished my first word. We weren’t the type to get too worked up. They announced over the PA that there were fifteen minutes until competition time, and I started to wander over to my seat on the right side of the stage.
“Uhh..Steven?” I turned my head to see my mom standing next to a man I had never seen before. Here we go again. My eyes went back and forth between the two of them, waiting for someone to say something. The man cleared his throat.
“So, Pam…are you going to introduce us?” My mom hesitated and then put her hand on my shoulder.
“Steve, this is Mike.” What was going on here? She seemed so nervous about introducing me to this guy. Not like we hadn’t done this countless times before.
“Hi Mike” I stretched out my hand. This felt like a handshake moment. Gotta be polite and all. Mike laughed at me.
“You haven’t met your father in thirteen years and all you’re gonna give him is a handshake?” The light bulb went off. My jaw dropped. I surveyed him closely, my hand still halfheartedly outstretched. He kind of looked like me. A little bit of the face, same eyes, same nose. So this was him.
“What happened to you? Where have you been? You’re one of those deadbeat dad types who skips out on the mother when she’s about to have a kid, aren’t you?” My dad laughed nervously.
“Well, actually, your mother here sort of…disappeared on me.” I looked at her. She kept her head down, suddenly entranced by the pattern of the carpet. I kept silent, waiting for an explanation.
“Look Steven, before I found out I was pregnant with you I already had my heart set on moving to St. Louis for my real estate career. Your father wouldn’t come with me; he had too much in Iowa already, his family, a job, a home. When I told him about you, he tried to get me to stay, and I’d said I’d consider it, but I never did. I left without giving him an answer. I knew if I was forced to face him again, I’d never get out of Iowa.” I let out a sharp laugh. Right now my mom was working as a maid at a local hotel. Funny how dreams work out.
“All contestants, please report to the stage.” I turned my back on both of them.
“Gotta go,” I called behind me as I walked off. My mom tried to yell something to me, but I didn’t really catch it. I didn’t want to hear it anyway. Having my dad here was just a huge distraction. What was he doing here anyway? Just thought he’d check out the local spelling bee or something? Fat chance. Something was up, but I couldn’t tell what. I took my seat and absentmindedly played with the buttons on my shirt. I always did that when I was nervous. I scanned the crowd for my mom, finding her a few rows back sitting next to my father. She looked uneasy, like she was ready to bolt out of the theater the next chance she got. I don’t know what her problem was. Guess she really didn’t want to be there with my dad.
“Welcome to the 45th annual Northwest Regional spelling bee!” I gazed around the crowd, ignoring all of the introductions and rules they read aloud at the start of every bee. I’d heard it enough times that I could probably recite it myself; I didn’t need to hear it again. I couldn’t find anyone particularly interesting to take my mind off things before they called my name to go spell.
“Steven Lacey, your word is ‘cataclysm’”
“Cataclysm,” I repeated. I took a deep breath, fairly confident I had this one in the bag. I tried to avoid looking at my mom and dad but I couldn’t. They both gave me little waves as they caught my eye. I tried to open my mouth to start spelling, but nothing came out. I’d never been nervous at one of these before, why now?
“C-A-T-A-C-L-Y-S-M. Cataclysm.” A slight roar of applause went up as the judges confirmed my spelling, and I returned to my seat. I let out a heavy sigh as the competition continued in front of me. Try as I might to focus on spelling, my mind kept wandering back to my parents sitting together in the crowd. What a weird sight, my mom sitting next to a guy who actually meant something to me. As strange as it felt, I was a little happy that I finally had someone there. I had a lot of questions, but for now I was just going to enjoy the feeling. I could solve those problems later.
The middle rounds flew by. The kids around me dropped at an alarming rate, each met with more tears, anguish, and the occasional parental outburst at the “injustice” done to their precious child. After several hours of spelling, only myself and one other kid were still standing among the wreckage doled out by the list of the words the judge held in his hands. I looked over at him, his chair one row up and three to the left of mine. He was a little bigger than me, but not by much, and had a mane of shaggy reddish-brown hair. He glanced back at me and smiled, but I just nodded. No need to get friendly with the competition here, it was do or die time. The other kid looked out into the crowd, his eyes searching for whoever was out there cheering for him. I tried to follow his gaze as he waved frantically to someone, his lips mouthing what looked like “Hi Dad,” but I couldn’t tell for sure. Imagine my surprise when my dad waved back at him. My dad had another son? The same age as me? What was going on? I took another look at the kid across the stage. He didn’t really look like me. Definitely uglier, that’s for sure. Must’ve gotten the bad genes. I was pretty sure I could beat him. I had to.
“Steven Lacey, your word is ‘pernicious’”
“Pernicious.” A tough one. I was pretty sure I could get the first few letters right, but the ending was what really messed with me. Too many vowels smashed together. I took a deep breath and found my mother in the crowd, still standing with my father. I turned over a few different spellings in my mind, taking a second to glance quickly back at my dad’s other son behind me. I couldn’t lose to this kid.
“P-E-R-N-I-C-O-U-S. Pernicious.” Ding! Son of a b***h.
“I’m sorry, but that is incorrect. Ryan, your word is also ‘pernicious.’” I knew he had it. I didn’t even listen to him spell it, didn’t even watch as he celebrated, or as they handed him the medal. I grabbed my silver consolation prize and walked off, disgusted. My mom was waiting for me by the stage still standing next to my father.
“Hey, good job out there sport,” he said, “You really gave him all he could handle.” My mom was oddly silent.
“Yeah, whatever.” I wasn’t in the mood. He smirked and glanced back at my mom.
“Dad! Dad!” Ryan, spelling bee champion, was running up to us, hopping and grinning with his first place around his neck. My blood grew hot. I still wasn’t happy with losing, especially to him. Ryan leaped into my father’s arms.
“Dad, I won it!”
“You sure did, bud.” He set Ryan back on the ground. I glared at both of them.
“Steven, this is my son Ryan. Ryan, my son Steven” Ryan stared at me, wide-eyed. He tried to shake my hand, but I ignored him, so he settled for a little wave and a mumbled greeting.
“You went and had another kid?” I asked.
“Sort of. After your mom left, I didn’t really know what to do. I was pretty sure I knew where she went, but I couldn’t convince myself to run after her. I’d offered her everything to stay, and she still wouldn’t. I regretted not being able to look after my son, but your mom was a grown-up. I didn’t try to interfere with the decision she made. I kept looking for a family here in Iowa. I ended up marrying a nice woman who already had a few kids of her own, one of them being Ryan.” He tousled Ryan’s hair. I grew angrier.
“So you just gave up on me? You never thought I was important enough to come find? It took some chance meeting at a damn spelling bee for me to even know you existed?”
“Steven! Language,” my mom tried to chastise me. I turned on her.
“And you. You took me away from my own father, my only chance at a normal childhood, just to try to fulfill some stupid dream. Was it really worth it, Mom? Ruining your son’s life to work as a stupid maid?” I was being cruel, but I didn’t care. I thought my mom was supposed to look out for me, and here I was finding out that she barely even cared. She was too concerned with herself to even think about how her decisions influenced me. She stayed silent. My father tried to take some pressure off of her.
“I didn’t come after you because I had other priorities” I threw my hands up in the air. He had other priorities. Of course. I looked at Ryan. This kid right here was his other priority. He wasn’t even actually related to him, just the product of some chance marriage. But somehow he had been able to keep my dad for himself, and I was left alone. I walked past Ryan, Mike, and my mom, not making eye contact with any of them. I hoped my mom didn’t follow me. I could barely stand to look at her.
“Steven, come on. You know I care about. You’re my son.” I waved a hand behind me. Then why didn’t you come after me? Why didn’t you ever do enough to show you cared? Shouldn’t you have been a better father to me? Is Ryan really that important? Does he even deserve it like I do? I wanted to turn and throw a thousand more questions at him, grill him for everything he’d ever done or not done. But I couldn’t. I just walked away without another word. Being second hurts.
© 2012 audioslaver756