Becky loved photography and being outdoors, so naturally those two interests blossomed together. She was quiet, reserved, cared about all life, and was chicken champion of PS 118 – everything that was required to make her stand out in all the wrong ways. Other girls avoided her because she didn’t like dresses, dolls, or makeup and boys avoided her because she could make them cry in football.
When the school announced its annual student talent show, everyone was excited – even Becky. While others picked out their costumes or music, Becky went on hikes around town with her camera. Spring was a perfect time to capture young animals at play, new year leaves, and thawing waterfalls.
As the talent show neared, the halls filled with student artist’s entries. There were paintings, drawings, and watercolors of all shapes and sizes. Becky beamed as she walked into the school office with her poster board collection of photographs. The entry form typed and glued neatly on the back.
“Oh, doesn’t that look nice,” Mrs. Williams said as she noted Becky’s entry.
Mrs. Williams was shocked. That’s the first time Becky had spoken to her all year. The two smiled and Becky went to her class. Nothing that happened that day could remove her proud smile.
The talent show took place in the afternoon in the school’s cafeteria and students applauded after each performance. Teachers walked each of the non-performing entries around the room so everyone could see all the amazing artists the school had. The competition was stiff, but Becky was sure she would win something – anything.
Mrs. Palmer, Grace’s mother and head of the PTA, walked onto the stage and began reading out the names of the winners. First were the singers, dancers, and Jerry, the school’s only ventriloquist. She handed out first, second, and third place ribbons, then the soul-crushing honorable mentions. Becky wasn’t sure if it was better to get an honorable mention or nothing at all.
When the artist category was announced, she put her honey sandwich down on the plastic baggie and listened on pins and needles. Grace’s non-boyfriend, Brandon, won honorable mention for his watercolor football. Poor guy, Becky thought. Leslie, Grace’s second best friend, won third place with her pencil drawing of Grace. Heather, Grace’s first best friend, won second place with her photograph of Grace in her flower girl dress that she wore for her oldest sister’s wedding. Becky’s smile faded when she realized all the connections to Grace standing on the stage. She felt like she would start crying when Grace’s name was called for first place. A pencil drawing of a pencil won the school talent contest for art.
Becky learned at that moment the role connections play in determining those who win. Teachers, staff, and other parents saw what had happened but said nothing. It was the way the world worked. By the time Becky got home from school that day, she decided she could either play it their way and suck up to the most popular people and be whatever they wanted her to be, or she could trail blaze her own path, lonely as it may be. When school started the following morning, she had made her decision and never looked back. She was all the company she would never need.