{December 28, 2012}   Beauty Contest


I was a senior in high school and had never been a girl many people noticed, including teachers. I made good grades but I wasn’t at the top of my class; I didn’t need extra help and wasn’t disruptive and I glided through my classes without much attention. So it surprised me when Mrs. Folley, my history teacher, asked me to see her after class. I wondered what I did wrong. Did I score low on a quiz or forget to turn in work? Being asked to stay after class couldn’t be good. Once the classroom cleared, Mrs. Folley leaned back in her desk chair and smiled. So, I wasn’t in trouble? She asked me if I had ever given any thought to entering the beauty contest that was coming up at school. I thought she was joking. Me? Enter a beauty contest? I scoffed at the idea and told her no–I’d never given that thought. I’d never watched a single Miss America contest on TV all the way to the end to see who won. I was opposed to contests that judged women by their beauty. I joked with Mrs. Folley that no good ever came from a beauty contest; in fact, it was a beauty contest between goddesses that started the ancient war between the Greeks and the Trojans. Mrs. Folley smiled patiently and said that her friend owned a floral shop and was looking to sponsor someone in the beauty contest. Her friend would pay all fees and donate flowers for the event. I told Mrs. Folley that I was honored that she picked me out from other students. But I’m not beauty contest material. I’d never considered myself all that attractive. I didn’t tell Mrs. Folley how much I hated my nose–how it was too long and slender and had a hump from wearing heavy glasses as a child. I didn’t mention how my hair was always a mess and it never looked good no matter who cut and styled it. Nor did I mention how Daddy always joked that I could stand to lose about five pounds. I told Mrs. Folley that I wasn’t really interested in being in any kind of contest. But, she wasn’t going to give up easily. She told me not to give my answer right away. I should think about it overnight, discuss it with my parents and to let her know what I decide tomorrow. I agreed to do that.

When I got home, I told Daddy about Mrs. Folley’s offer. His face lit up when I told him that she picked me out from other students. “I think you should do it, Lynn” Daddy said. I’d expected that response from him. Daddy was always encouraging me to get more involved at school.  “But I’m not really crazy about entering some contest that judges people by their looks…” I said. Then, Daddy made me an offer. He told me that if I would enter the contest, he would buy all the new clothes I needed and that I could pick out anything I wanted, regardless of cost. “Deal!” I said.

There were two outfits to be worn in the contest. One was a casual dress and one was a full-length, formal dress. I went to the mall and picked out a short, clingy fuschia dress that looked like a flapper would wear, and a knit hat with a flower stitched on the side. I bought a pair of black velvet platform shoes and a floor-length, low plunging, dark green evening dress. I was all set!

At rehearsal, I felt totally out of place and didn’t talk to anyone. The girls in the contest were the most popular and beautiful in the school. These were the girls that had been dating since they were fifteen, and went out with star football players. These were girls that planned all year for events like Homecoming and the Prom. I was never asked to Homecoming or the Prom. It was only a month ago that I got my first boyfriend, Filbert. Some girls were cheerleaders and others were on the drill team. These girls were used to competing. I’d tried out for cheerleading when I was in the seventh grade and although I could do cartwheels, I could never do a split. No matter how I strained, stretched and trained, I never came close to doing a full split. And I knew in my heart that there was no way I would ever, even on my best day, make the cut in this contest. So I decided the best I could do would be to turn my participation into a kind of deliberate joke. When the organizer asked each of us, “Who do you most admire?” I answered, “Bianca Jagger”. Not Jackie Kennedy. Not Eleanor Roosevelt. Bianca Jagger. I thought my answer was funny enough that the organizer would say, “Oh, come on!” but she wrote down my answer. Didn’t she know that Bianca Jagger was just in the news for shredding Mick’s silk shirts with a knife just before she cut off her own hair with scissors because she was in a jealous rage? Then, the organizer asked me what my career aspirations were. “To become a revolutionary” I answered. The organizer looked puzzled. “I want to be an evolutionary revolutionary” I said, with a serious face. The organizer shrugged and wrote down my answer. A couple of the girls giggled with me.

Two days before the beauty contest, I was struck down by the worst cold of my young life. My long, slender nose was red and swollen like Karl Malden’s in theTV show, The Streets of San Francisco. My eyes were puffy and sticky. My round face was so red and swollen it looked like a pomegranate. Plus, I felt achy, dull-headed and I was pretty sure I had a fever. This was the worst time to get a cold, ever. My new boyfriend, Filbert, tried to assure me that I looked okay. Filbert was more excited about me being in the beauty contest than I was. He’d made reservations for us to dine at the Venetian Room after the contest. The Venetian Room was the newest, most expensive restaurant in Atlanta, on the top floor of the new Colony Square in Midtown. Filbert said all the right words to give me confidence and encouragement. He told me that I was as pretty as any of the other girls, even with a cold. He said that if the judges didn’t pick me to win, they were crazy. But nothing Filbert said made me feel better. He was lying and I knew it.

The day before the contest, my illness worsened. Not only were my eyes and nose red and puffy, my ears were aching and I shivered under blankets. I called Filbert and told him that I was too sick to go ahead with the contest. He insisted that he could fix this situation. He called his sister who worked as a nurse and asked her what I should do. She told him that she could give me some prescription medicine that would clear my sinuses and help me sleep. Filbert picked me up in his orange Beetle and drove me to the hospital where she worked. She met us outside with a half-filled orange bottle of liquid. She handed it to me and said, “Do not take any of this tomorrow. For today only, take two spoonfuls to bring down the swelling in your sinuses so that you can rest. It’s got Codeine in it to help you sleep. Tomorrow, you’ll feel better” she promised. So, I gulped two spoonfuls immediately. Hours later, it didn’t seem to be working. So I took two more spoonfuls before I went to bed that night.

The next morning when I woke up, I was even worse. I had a vicious cough and the swelling of my eyes and nose had worsened. Time had run out–the beauty contest was tonight! Worse, it was too late to cancel now. Everyone in my family was coming, including my grandparents. Filbert still had the dinner reservations at the Venetian Room and his suit was pressed. He was very excited about the contest. At least the only thing I absolutely had to do before the contest was to go to my hair appointment. I had a few hours, so I took two more spoonfuls of the medicine and went back to bed. I couldn’t believe time went so fast! I woke up and drove myself to the beauty salon. I was so drowsy, I fell asleep in the chair as the stylist blow dried my hair. I drove myself home and went right back to bed. I had only a few more hours to recover. So, I took another spoonful of medicine and went back to bed.

Soon, it was time to drive myself to the school to get ready for the contest. I gathered my dresses, hat and shoes and sat in the driver’s seat of my car. But, I couldn’t even back out of the driveway. I was too sleepy to drive a car so I called Filbert.  He picked me up and drove me to the school.

Behind the green velvet curtain, girls were changing into dresses and checking their lipstick in front of full length mirrors. I could hear the gym filling up with parents, friends, grandparents and boyfriends. I sat on the stage steps and closed my eyes. All I wanted was to be in bed with covers pulled up over my head. The contest organizer slapped her hands together. “Girls! Girls! Let’s finish what you’re doing and line up. It’s almost showtime!” The first competition was casual dress, and I already had on my pink slinky flapper dress and hat, and my black velvet platform shoes. I held a kleenex to my nose and blew. I was sure most of the makeup was off my nose from all the wiping and blowing. But I didn’t care. I just wanted to get through this night, then crawl into bed and sleep for two weeks. The girls lined up and I took my place in the line. I could hear the announcer thanking everyone for coming. Then, music blared on a stereo. The first name was called and the high stepping beauties of the school walked out on the stage one by one.

When I heard my name called, I could barely stand up. I slunk out onto the stage and the colored lightbulbs blinded me. Then I saw the runway. The runway was composed of cafeteria tables lined up together and draped with white tablecloths. I heard clapping and whooping from the crowd and tried to focus on where it was coming from. The announcer started reading my profile. In the distance, I could see Maw Maw and Paw Paw, my Dad and Mother and Filbert sitting together on the bleachers. Then, I heard the announcer say, “And the person Lynn most admires is Bianca Jagger.” Regret flooded over me. Why did I say that? No one was laughing. Then, the announcer said, “After graduation, Lynn wants to be an evolutionary revolutionary.” That was supposed to be a joke but nobody laughed. I walked a crooked line to the runway and stepped my right platform shoe on the rickety runway. Then, I lost my balance. I started wobbling and had to hold my arms out to catch myself because I thought I was going down. The tables were not designed to serve as a runway for anyone, especially a sleepwalker in platform shoes. I steadied myself and tried to recover with some grace but I knew it was all over for me. I’d made myself a joke contestant with those idiot answers. And then, I almost fell off the runway. I wasn’t Farrah Fawcett. I was Lucy Ricardo.

Needless to say, my name was not called in the runners up list. I kept on my formal green gown and joined my family and Filbert in the gym. No one mentioned the awkward moment when I lost my balance, nor my stupid answers to the contest questions. I guess they figured it was just like me to mess up. I told everybody I was sick and just wanted to go home. We said goodbye and Filbert walked me to his orange Beetle in the parking lot.  Then he told me that he didn’t cancel our dinner reservations. He said that I had been through a lot and he wanted to treat me to a good meal. I told him I was too sick and sleepy to go to such a nice place. But he insisted that I needed to eat something and he wanted to make me feel better. There was no use arguing. I fell asleep in the passenger seat on the drive to the Venetian Room.

Filbert parked the car in the underground lot and helped me into the elevator to the restaurant. I could barely walk straight in my platform shoes, even when I wasn’t sick. The restaurant was beautiful. I’d never been in a place so perfect before. The waiter escorted us to our table and placed my napkin into my lap before handing me the menu. There were musicians playing nearby. Filbert’s fingers were keeping beat on the linen tablecloth. I felt like I was going to pass out. Filbert took my hand and told me that he was proud of me. He said I was the most beautiful girl in the contest. I told him that I thought I was going to be sick. He said that maybe a drink would make me feel better, so he ordered gin gimlets for us. When the drinks arrived, Filbert toasted my drink while it was still sitting on the table. I took one sip and the whole room started spinning. The waiter came to take our order, but I hadn’t looked at the menu. Filbert said that we would have two New York strip steaks, medium rare. I took another sip from my drink and tried to focus on Filbert’s blurry face. Soon, our meals arrived. The waiter put a white plate of steak and asparagus in front of me and asked if I wanted ground pepper. I nodded no and picked up my fork. But the fork wouldn’t stay in my hand and it dropped to the floor. The waiter picked up my fork and promptly brought me another fork. I picked up the new fork and dropped that one, too. The waiter came back with another fork, as Filbert was smacking on his meat. His chewing face was the last thing I saw when my head fell into the white plate.

I woke up and Filbert was wiping off my face with my napkin. He asked for the check and asked for our meals to be wrapped up to go. He held me up by my shoulders in my chair, but every time he let go, my head went back to the table. My head was so heavy I couldn’t hold it up. Filbert helped me out of my chair and held me as he guided me out to the building lobby. Just before we got to the elevator, he told me that he had his camera and all he wanted was to snap one picture of me in my formal green dress in the Colony Square lobby. I said okay, and Filbert pinned my shoulders up against the rock wall. He stepped back and said, “Try to stand still.” But, I couldn’t stand without support. Filbert snapped the picture just as I was sliding down the wall to the floor. Filbert finally realized that there was no use trying to salvage the romantic evening he’d planned. He drove me home and when he came around and opened my door, I fell out of the car into the driveway.  He walked me to the door and kissed my forehead. I stumbled down the hall, back to my bedroom and took two more tablespoons of medicine. I didn’t know then how allergic I was to Codeine.


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