roll out of bed, get ready, pack (bc was too tired the night before and bc lazy and bc was writing memoir)
driving. very derealized. pretty sunrise. brief moment of being present. happy, almost start tearing up. quickly is derealized again.
on campus. it’s familiar from past years, yet worn out by time. parking garage is familiar, but still vaguely horrifying. sees SW’s car. feels oddly comforted. walks on campus, sees rival school students. their shirt colors match ours. see my especial rival. we exchange peace signs and good luck wishes.
homeroom. my last one. big room, auditorium like. gets wristband. puts it on lopsided. I feel oddly cheated. sits next to SW for briefing meeting. hooray for Wifi. I try to feel something. I fail.
walking events with GM. is passed from behind by a group of three from another school. “sorry, sorry” they mutter. “it’s okay,” I say “experimental design is more important.” realizes how creepy that sounds. walks to rocks building. sees CK and RF. also MM and JC. they are very excited about live snakes.
walking towards labs. speed limit 12. because 10 is too slow and 15 is too fast. I overshoot the lab. she’s running out of time. we’re by the gym. we find the side door. runs up 3 flights. BK’s dad leaning over the railing, concerned, on the phone. I’m a terrible chaperone. checks my lab rooms.
leaves lab building. sees F parents and A. they’re struggling to keep the door open. it locks on its own. Mr. F holds the door, I find a big rock. problem solved.
back at homeroom. talks with Mrs. B about helicopter transportation. parents are highkey stressed. it’ll be fine. but will it?
lab apron, goggles, notesheet, box. forensics. it’s a beautiful day outside. an elderly couple out for a walk. what are you carrying? can I see the baby? I turn, surprised. the box with my sweater over it looks like a baby, apparently. I look old enough to have a baby, apparently.
SW walks up. GM waits with us for her event. she goes in, we sign in. I’m out of it, and SW gears me up, which is an oddly sweet gesture?
instructions. I hear the words but they never make it into my head. SW nudges me. you hear that? no plastics. I didn’t. I’m glad. I’m bad at plastics. we talk about the good test we have. the next table team looks over. yeah that regionals test was messed UP. we didn’t fill in half of it and we got second. they’re good. are we?
small scoops of powders into the well plate. SW lights the bunsen burner. we have a real life legit bunsen burner. an actual bunsen burner. I am elated. I know most of what these powders are. SW does chromatography. he screws up one. it’s okay it’s okay, I reassure him.
twenty minute call. I’m halfway through the powders. “I suggest you start the analysis” says the proctor. but I’m doing well at these powders. I keep going.
powders are done. plastics descriptions matches notesheet, nearly word for word. brilliant. accidentally pour vial of strong base all over the counter. no time for that now. label forensic diagram. everything matches and it. is. glorious.
start analysis. I can’t focus. five minute warning. no way can I do this in time. I write, but my focus is not there. four lines in, time is called. we’re sitting right under the proctor, so I can’t sneak a few more sentences. I’d done less than ⅕ of what was supposed to be on the analysis. the analysis is worth 30 percent of the score. “I told you” says SW. I’m sorry, I was doing powders
gather everything, toss it back in the bin. leaves room, feeling confident but despondent. we’d been doing so well. but I missed the entire analysis. a flurry of activity distracts me for a second. SW runs off to his next event, I meet GM and CF coming out of theirs. GM needs to run too, so I take her stuff and my forensics box, and CF and I walk to the homeroom. “will your family come to get you?” I ask, wanting to avoid abduction accusations. “no, they probably don’t remember” she says. we arrive at our building. her dad is behind us, smirking. he did remember.
“how was it?” chimes concerned parents in the homeroom. I drop the boxes where they belong. terrible, absolutely terrible. we finished about half the test. I have to talk to Mrs C. she’ll listen and calm me down. I leave.
she must see the stricken expression on my face. “it was terrible. so, so terrible” I wail. she hugs me. “the powders went great, but I didn’t do the analysis. which is worth 30 percent. it was an awesome test, but we only answered 60 percent. it was terRIBLEEEE”
like I expected, she reassures me. “at least you got the powders. you think you got all of them?” I think I did, but I wasn’t sure. after all, my last powders test I’d only gotten a 65% on. she talks on. I listen, glad for something to fix my mind upon. she talks about growing up, having kids, change. she read my dramatic poem and she relates. we walk back to the homeroom.
we walk to the homeroom. I internalize her words. by the time we get to the homeroom, I feel like talking. we sit and talk. about life and music and other events. normal things. I’m glad for the distraction.
I get ready to head off. walking through the quad, see MM and lots of other people. we compare how events go. he heads back to grab some food. I continue on to the rocks building.
arrive in front of the rocks room. there’s a group inside. I sit down on the floor outside to wait. some other students gather.
MM joins me. we sit on the floor. I lean against him. waves of memories. the bookends of my science olympiad years. rocks and minerals.
the proctor pokes his head out. you here for rocks? we nod. come on in, we already started. what? confused, we point at the sign. you don’t mean the 11:45 slot, do you? he’s baffled, but hides it. yes. we’ll give you extra time
we go in, get our packet. I drop everything and we sit. MM takes over. I do basic binder work. it’s fast. easy. we got this.
time for the stations. the pictures are terrible. not even real specimens. the rival school calls over the proctor. they point. no doubt they’re talking about us. our field guide. sure enough, he comes over. with the rules. “I’m sorry, I don’t think that’s allowed.” we’re ready for this. attached to the rings, in any form. we point, our hands bumping. oh. okay.
I pick up a mineral. we look at each other. it is what you think it is, right? he writes it down. no words are needed. we need fifteen seconds. we get two minutes. we sit together on the floor. we don’t talk, breathing in sync. time’s up. we move, do it again.
we’re done. that was bad, but it could have been worse. the pictures even match the pictures in our binder. we’re not sure of one. it’s not in our binder. we guess. educatedly. we don’t need the extra time. we walk out. that’s it. I drink water. he leaves, grateful for a break.
I walk around. speed limit 12. it’s so warm. Mr. C is there. no one is clamoring for his attention. I go up to him, tell him about my day. he hears about rocks, gets all excited, whips out his phone. it’s okay. we know rocks. he calms down.
the back gym. SW is there. so is mama. and Mrs. B. and our helicopters. I sit next to SW. we check our phones. time passes. we’re on a time crunch. I set up everything. focus, focus. I am focusing. do you want food? I thought you wanted me to focus. calm down. it’ll be okay.
I go check in. where is KB? people start coming in. red shirts. the Fs, the Ws, the Ks. I go sign in. what team are you? I say it. one of the last times I ever will. the last time I get to fly with these people. he’s so nice.
there he is. KB doesn’t have blue hair? oh. we go stand in line. we’re second in line. they wind, meticulous, slow. it actually flies. they relax. it drifts up to the ceiling, floats back down. second flight. KB pokes me. electric drill, he whispers. I smirk.
more people trickle in. the wall is lined with red shirts. I text Mrs. C. helicopters in 10 minutes. she texts right back. coming. Mrs M. is timing? people walk back and forth. I try to shield the helicopter with my body. if anyone breaks it we’re done for.
still in line. we’re next. they fly. I’m keyed up but relaxed. KB and I stand in our own little bubble. action is all around. we’re like new parents guarding our child with our bodies and our lives. sees my especial rival. of course she’s here. she wouldn’t miss it for the world.
our turn. I take a deep breath, unload my arms, clamp the torque meter. do we have paper towels? he shakes his head. my mind whirls. it flashes. the box top. I snatch off the lid. there it is. we wind, load. I walk to the center of the room. where? KB shrugs. it doesn’t matter. it won’t go up straight anyways. I close my eyes. this is it. five…four…three. I let go, swing my arms back. two…one. and it goes. unsteadily, but upwards. it rests on an edge. the red wall lets out a collective gasp. it’s staying up. it teeters on the edge. a swoop, it lands flat. everyone exhales.
second flight. she catches my eye, gives me a thumbs up. I give her a thumbs up back. we wind, load. we have a good flight under our belt. this one could put us on stage, or even, on top of the stack. my last ever flight. KB counts down, loud and clear. the release. it flies, but not how we want it. it flies straight. but downwards. I look at him. I’m so sorry, KB. I’m so sorry. I didn’t check. why did I not check? it’s all my fault. how did I forget to check? I’ve never forgotten to check before. we walk out, in a daze.
my hands are shaking. a tap on my shoulder. can I get you to sign this? I nod, numbly, scrawl an illegible version of my name. 1.33. we could have flown so much better, but also so much worse. you know where you went wrong, don’t you? of course I do. I’ll be thinking about it for years. I’ve seen lots of those, he tries to help. but it doesn’t help. we’d thought we’d be better than those. we know what we’re doing. or at least, we should.
somehow, I find myself in front of the chem lab room. SW must have led me. I have all my stuff. we look at the comic wall. all I see is the helicopter. driving straight down. I need to shake it off, move on. I have one more chance. my last ever event. we gear up, sign in.
we start. everything looks familiar, but I don’t know it. SW takes over. okay, so what you need to do is . . . I obey. he bends over the packet, intent. water boils. my hands are shaking.
none of the math is checking out. I don’t even know the multiple choice. this is not going to turn out well. I start tearing up, but catch myself. not now. wait. there will be time to cry. nothing makes sense. both of us have forgotten this.
that’s it. we did terribly, but I cling to a shred of hope. we walk back to the homeroom. I’m starving. what do we have to eat? mama pulls out a costco salad. God bless mothers. a tap on my shoulder. do you want to go outside? it’s Mrs. C. we go, stand around, talk. the boys are playing football. AH is studying for her government exam.
RF and I sit on the bench. it faces bushes. the scenic bench. I eat my salad. it’s good. we talk. how warm. MM slams to the concrete. ouch. the peanut gallery has comments. the game resumes. we talk. stupid little things.
everybody disappears, suddenly. Mr. C is back. MM takes a picture. the three of us on the bench. none of them turn out well.
we file in. my last debrief. how was your day? terrible, but we all knew that already. I know I’m being hard on myself, but it’s my last tournament. I need to make it the perfect day, and it hasn’t been. none of the building events failed, which is encouraging.
we’re done. more accurately, I’m done. dear heavenly father. a rush of tears.
a flurry of activity. we clear out the room, load up our arms. I hand off the forensics box to Mr. C. he needs help carrying things out. I grab the box, stand there. CK swoops it out of my arms.
we walk out. my family deserted me. team or sushi? what? team or sushi? we walk to the parking lot.
the cool darkness of the garage. I outline the security story to RF. she laughs. her father works here now, apparently. we see SW and his dad. they’re looking for the C’s car. I find the key fob in my hand. there’s a gray van. we walk around, try the door, peer inside. the windows are dark. that’s not it. we walk. I push the panic button. the distant echo. we walk up, see the flashing lights. the C’s and the K’s are walking towards it. Mr. C is laughing. I hand him the keys.
we find our car. daddy and D aren’t there. I don’t have service, but call him anyways. they’re coming. we load up the car, and walk.
walking through campus, relying on memory. it really is a beautiful day. do you want to split a bowl with me? it’s P. yes, of course! where is chipotle. crossing the street. RF trips spectacularly. we see it. chipotle.
orders food. can you order for me? sure, what do you want. I grab my bowl, join GM and other people at the tall counter. the most surprising smorgasbord of people–SW and his dad, Mrs. J and her twins, GM, AM, MM, AH, me. RF comes in with a bagel.
they’re looking through my bullet journal. you didn’t get anything done. yes, GM, I know. you also know.
start walking back. the campus is all uphill. it’s lovely seeing the campus without rain. what’s on campus today? some high school thing. you go here? no, I’m homeschooled. oh cool! so are we! trashcan.
we’re sitting on the wrong side of the room. we should move. Mr. C refuses. we have all the results ready! hooray for competent administration. they’re still muddling around. I thought they were ready? the small F comes. sits next to me, shares my chair. so does P. he’s subbing for JK. he’s so excited.
we start. we get first on our first event. a good start. next. where is AH? I run out, try to spot her. it’s her event. I hear she got fourth from behind me. she comes in. both her events finish.
second in rocks???? how. I’m screaming. we go up in a daze. how did we mess up that badly? if rocks went that poorly, how did the rest of my events go?
FIRST IN FORENSICS? How???
middle school got first in rocks. how.
we knew we were doing poorly, but this is exceptionally poorly.
they pause. not really sure why; they said they have all the scores. this is exciting, says the small F. I used to think this was really boring, but now I understand!
it’s KB’s events. where is he? I run out to see. his mom is pulling up. we go in. he got a ribbon. game on. helicopters. if we didn’t get first, I’m getting up and walking out. we get first.
we got first. both teams. small school league, but still. chem lab didn’t get on the board, we’re not surprised. photos. so many photos. and hugs. we sing. to God be the glory, great things he has done.
we start walking out to the cars. we’re all going the same way, why are we walking in different directions? I need to go to the bathroom, get water.
start home. it’s still light out. my phone buzzes. want to stop for ice cream? we decide. I text everyone. some respond, some don’t.
I sit there. it’s getting dark. I’m so derealized. I’m too dehydrated to actually cry, but I’m close.
we pull in the parking lot, see red shirts. we order. the little ones go in the playground. I sit there, everyone else talking, not wanting the day to end.
my phone buzzes. JC’s water broke, she’s having her baby! I’m so excited. we chatter more.
some last pictures. we leave. my heart is full. that ending was perfect.