What I’m here for is to get a grip. You know? I had a grip, and then I think I lost my grip.
I hope you can help.
Back a long time ago when they still had those beauty contests, Miss Universe Canada, Miss America — you know? Well, I was a contestant. You can imagine that at 5’10” and with all my long hair, I was even better looking than I am now. Things are different these days… a girl who’s beautiful doesn’t have the traditional routes anymore, pageants, contests, now that all of that is considered unconstitutional under the Humankind Equality and Equity Act.
This was the biggest pageant of my life. I’d been competing in pageants like it ever since I was a little girl, and, you know? I won. I won! Miss Universe Canada 2013. It was a close competition and I wasn’t sure who would win, but when they said my name, my knees turned to jelly and I cried away my mascara and eyeliner. I was shaking with joy. I’d only ever been Miss Manitoba Universe before, never anything nationally, much less World. They crowned me as I blew kisses to the crowd, and the music played, and then there were a good dozen interviews before they whisked me away to my hotel room to decompress.
The next morning, I got a call very early to come back down for a private, unscheduled meeting, and that seemed strange, but I put my face on and my Spanx underneath my sweater dress, and I went. Lester, the director of Beauties of Canada who organized the contest, stood there with sad puppy dog eyes, asking me to please sit down, asking me if I wanted a water, setting a box of Kleenexes to my left. And then he proceeded to tell me that during the tabulation of the computerized scoring results there was a typo, human error, made in the top five entries, which changed around the final results of the competition. “This is the first instance of this type of error in the eleven years that we’ve produced the pageant!” Lester said. I remember his arm pressing on my shoulder blades and his hand like a bird’s beak, digging into my left shoulder — some sort of weird attempt at a comforting massage. He said that Rita Sorrano was the true winner according to the points, and that she would be crowned Miss Universe Canada. With my crown.
I hadn’t even taken the thing back to the room with me — it stayed under lock and key at the Beauties of Canada office — and so I immediately felt cheated. I said to Lester, “So, you mean I was only queen for a day?” and the other officials there all swapped glances, with Lester and with the legal team, who were all there in force. Lester said, “What it means, Sherry, is that you’re now officially Fourth Runner-Up instead.” This was unbelievable — going from winner, to fifth place? Three other girls would have to die in succession, or get caught topless pole dancing or photographed in a lesbian pose in Playboy magazine, for me to get the crown back.
You do remember Playboy and all those other types of skin magazines, don’t you, Doctor?
Hm. So unfair.
And that was twelve years ago, and so you might be wondering why I’m here for the first time. You might ask, “Why have you waited?”
It’s Mike. When we got married in ’18, it was a happy occasion except for the reminders of who the bride was — me, “that woman” who, five years earlier, had been Miss Universe Canada for just one day. I thought I’d lived the whole thing down, taken it on the chin with grace. Those contests were being called out for being physically discriminatory against People of Other Appearances and People of Other Intelligences, like the new laws say. I was hoping for my wedding to stay out of the news, but it didn’t, and next thing you know, in the Winnipeg Free Press there’s a side-by-side front page spread of my wedding, and of that Rita Sorrano, who’d gone on to great things in Vancouver, her own line of cleansing products, and Empowerment Chips, and a chain of Strength Through Community day camps for people to learn about Justice and Peace. She’d gone on to make a fortune and give most of it back to the Canadian people. And there I was, on the left of the page, marrying a fast food manager in Winnipeg. He’s tall, of course, and all that, but you get what I mean.
Mike’s always resented me for that whole beauty pageant failure thing. First there were the joking references to Rita. Then the sexual insinuations of her and me. I tried to tell him to stop it. I tried to have us get pregnant and start a family. I was too stressed, I think. Maybe the dieting all those years and the throwing up in the evenings did something to my insides. Mike goes to work — his whole life — and finds ways when I’m not expecting it to torment me about how I was queen for a day
I’ve hated it for so long now when he initiates sex that we’ve just resorted to the man from behind position, so that I don’t have to look at him, and vice versa.
Maybe I should be glad that I have to tell you all this, because the World Wide Web from back then no longer even exists and we all just wear these Holochips… don’t we? They erased all of the history of the pageants, and the images and other footage. I have to tell you about it in person. Rita is only known for her philanthropy today. No one would guess she and I walked around in stilettos and bikinis for a score to be given on a computer. Even if that score got screwed up, and screwed up my life.
Bonnie Ditlevsen has enjoyed a lengthy career of linguistic wanderlust in nine countries. Her work can be seen in Hip Mama, The Literary Kitchen, ORBIDA (a dyslexia association), and in the anthology The People’s Apocalypse. She is in her third year of editing the Portland indie literary magazine Penduline, currently in its ninth issue.