Killer Tomatoes & Sneaky Typos
Episode 02:06:2023 - Prompt: Accolades
Where accolades took me…
I didn’t worry about receiving accolades. As an only child, I had no competition at home, and I didn’t feel the need to be rewarded for my efforts at school. In fact, I preferred to go unnoticed so I could cut classes when I didn’t do my homework.
My friends and I made up a competition.
Who could be in the most senior yearbook photos. No photo bombs. We had to get our names on rosters for the photo credit. It was a joke at first but became serious when we had to fulfill our pledges to the clubs and teams.
Which leads me to long distance swimming…
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A friend suggested we try out for the swim team.
It quickly became clear I was not a fast swimmer. I could, however, hold my breath swimming the entire length of the pool underwater.
Coach offered me a spot on the team as the only long distance swimmer. It wasn’t outwardly competitive like relay and diving, and it wasn’t technical like butterfly or backstroke. The season continued with me swimming the long race against one or two other swimmers in our poorly maintained public school facilities. Very low stakes. All I had to do was show up and finish.
We called ourselves Killer Tomatoes, as in “Attack of the..”
Our school placed in the city finals, and we drew signs with our Killer Tomatoes logo and chanted. The event was held on the grounds of a private University with an Olympic-sized pool, stands with an audience. Announcers. A score board. High dives. The real deal.
As my friends speed-swam single laps on relay teams and dove through the air, I sat alone calculating the distance I had to swim. Was it the same? The pool was huge. There were ten swimmers. I had to be one of the first six for our team to have a chance of winning the overall meet. “All you have to do is qualify,” I remember hearing.
The pistol went off. I dove into the water and forgot the mission. Survival mode kicked in. I threw one arm over the other, kicking furiously, flipping at the turns, gulping for air. I lifted my head out of the silent water. My coach’s face was nearly at ground level shouting, “Go! Go!”
She pulled me out of the water at the finish. My throat was on fire, lungs heaving like bellows. “You did it! You finished fourth,” the team cheered.
We qualified! My job was done.
Not so fast, says anyone who knows anything about sports. Qualifying meant I had to do it all again in the evening, but I had nothing left in the tank. The team went to eat. I was afraid I’d puke in the pool. I had no idea how to manage my body. The last thing I wanted to do was get back in the water.
I finished fourth again but to no celebration. I watched friends triumphantly raise their silver medals won for the relay and realized ambivalence was also a form of ignorance. I swam 32-lengths of an Olympic pool - the first and only time in my life - and I felt sorry for myself rather than satisfied.
I don’t remember who won the yearbook photo challenge, but I learned endurance could be my strength once I understood the rules of the game.
YOUR TURN: Using ACCOLADES as a theme, write about your experience of awards or recognition. Deserved, desired, overlooked, returned. Don’t worry about being a “good writer”. Just get that sucker out in 150 - 200 words (the section above where I tell you about qualifying for the competition).
POST YOUR STORY IN THE COMMENTS SECTION.
Click the HEART when you read anyone’s post. Heart = Heard. Don’t comment on my or other people’s stories. For more about the rules & intention of this Zine, check the About page. Any questions, bring them up in the Forum.
I liked where I worked because of the people. And the mission, but honestly being happy is more motivation for me than being good. My job was turning out to be one of the worst decisions of my life; my days and nights were filled with dread.
The bright spot at work was the Culture Committee. We were going to make our dysfunctional organization better, starting with employee recognition. After eight weeks of work, we reported to the leadership team. We’d met with everyone, we’d asked questions, we’d listened. We had answers.
Did they make changes based on our recommendations? They did not. So I started my own underground recognition program. I sent an anonymous love letter to every one of the 300+ employees. Each started with the words “I love working with you because…”.
In the week before I quit, I wandered the office, looking at those cards pinned to bulletin boards and propped on desks. My heart was light.
X was the funniest freshman girl, Y the cutest, Z the smartest…and me? The nicest. M – a cool, witty sophomore, a swim team heartthrob who always felt out of reach to me, nailed it pretty quickly in calling out our most defining traits. I smiled weakly and tried to detach, heart sinking. Who wants to be the nice one?
From then on, my goal was to prove that label wrong. I even found a t-shirt about being not-nice at the sci-fi convention I snuck off to without my parents knowing. But lying to them was about as bad as I got back then, and not even that worked out, since I was constantly being grounded for it.
Years later, an acquaintance gifted me a mask of the Hindu goddess Kali. Was it coincidence or did they suspect that all the complexity, the light and darkness, creation and destruction she represents was something I had finally discovered and embraced in myself?