Where I grew up, the Junior High and High School were in the same building. There was really nothing that differentiated being in 8th grade versus being in 9th.
My school had plenty of events to generate spirit; pep rallies, dances and such. There was one event that was held just for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders. It was a class war of sorts put on by the upper classmen.
I remember the one we had my first year, when I was in 7th grade.
It happened one evening in the fall after school in the gym. The events were all absurdly fun things that required no actual skills, unless you were the kind of person to pack a suitcase full of clothes, run down the block, put on all of those clothes and run back home on a regular basis.
There were hula-hoops and traffic cones, jump ropes, balls and many other fun elements.
The evening capped off, however, with a pie eating contest. A representative from each grade was chosen (or more likely volunteered) to consume as much of a pudding filled pie as possible in the allotted time.
The selected volunteers were given garbage bag ponchos and were lined up in front of a table, one pie per person. An upper-class girl, somebody who was already in her Senior year, instructed all participants were instructed to put their hands behind their back. All eating was to be done by thrusting your face into the pie. There would be no cheating tolerated.
The senior girl counted down 3…2… and the pie eating began.
As was expected it was a sloppy ridiculous hilarious mess of people making fools of themselves for… class pride? Whatever it was, we all loved it.
The competition ended and everybody was told to step away from his or her pies, or what was left of them.
One of the kids still had a mouth full of pie and didn’t know what to do with it. He looked around frantically for a garbage can, which, of course, was not to be found. He looked panicked.
And then the senior girl walked over to him, put her cupped hand in front of his face and said as sweetly as one could imagine saying such a thing to a person with a mouth full of pie:
Spit it out
The boy shook his head, embarrassed, but the senior persisted.
Just spit it out, it’s fine.
Eventually he did. Releasing a clump of pudding and crust into her hand, which she then left with, in search of a trashcan.
I remember being amazed, kind of confused, but for one reason or another, I just remember feeling impressed, though I wasn’t really sure why. In fact it took me a while of mulling it over in my brain to get to a point where I could understand why I was so connected to that moment. Why I… why I loved it so much.
I realize it was that senior girl’s complete lack of concern, her inability to be grossed out, and her sincere concern for this other kid. It does make sense, as a death from choking would have put a serious damper on the pie-eating contest.
But it wasn’t until later in my life, having seen similar moments, or experienced them myself that I started to tie them back to that pie eating contest.
As I have grown up (kind of) and evolved (barely) I have become fascinated by people who are unconcerned with trivial matters. I am so interested in the people who manage to see through nonsense to the core of the matter, like they’ve been through it before.
I think it’s the opposite of blowing things out of proportion. I see the same things in mothers of young children. They are so used to spitup and snot, that the appearance of it doesn’t make them freak out, it’s just another grouping of seconds in an otherwise normal day.
I have seen that same quality in my friends who completely keep their cool when I seem incapable of regaining mine. I have seen it in the people around me who seem nearly oblivious to the things that seem to constantly embarrass me. When they have questioned me as to why I was embarrassed, I have blanked.
I don’t know really, I guess just… because I always have been?
It is perhaps, in time, easier to distill the significance of moments, or lack thereof. But when in that actual moment it is far more challenging. At least it has been for me. And I will constantly be impressed by those people around me who are able to accept the passing events of life as completely expected and normal, even when others may not.
The pie-eating contest happened over 15 years ago, but the moment is still as clear in my mind as it was when I watched it happen.
I think about it a lot. It’s not a tremendously impressive story, especially since I watched it from the sidelines, but in many of ways, it is my favorite story.
I tell it to people once in a while, trying to get them to see the series of events the way I see them, the things that I love about that moment. Many times though I fall short in this endeavor. For whatever reason, the people I tell this story to just don’t see it the way I do.
And that’s probably fine, since sometimes my storytelling is devoid of crucial elements, like my understanding of why the story should be interesting in the first place.
But that silly moment, where a seventh grader spit pie into the hands of a 12th grader on a random Friday night in October, sits in the middle of my memory as both history and guide. It is a moment that might never mean anything to anybody else.
But it’s something that will stick in my memory the way my favorite parts of my life do. And I will always revel in how I loved that moment before I understood it, and for a long time after I did.