Ready. Set. Go.

With my hands trembling, knees shaking, I walked into the small commons. This was it. The moment I had practiced for all summer was here. My mind was swirling with what-ifs that were flying, jumping and tossing themselves through all parts of my brain.

I found my friends, who looked like they had been yelling my name for days and nervously tip-toe ran over to them. My hair looked no better than a haystack perched on top of my head as I sat on one of the forest green, backless stools and frantically rummaged through my bag for a pen. I grabbed too many sheets of paper along with a dark blue pen that barely worked, and sat upright with my knees less sturdy than a loose tooth. It was like they were hanging onto my body by one. Loose. Thread.

The Power of the Pen coach came into the room, wheeling her gargantuan computer cart that was supporting a myriad of supplies that might be useful amidst all our nerves and the chaos. This was the first opportunity I took to look around. To see who else was there.

And, in that moment, I was treading water, barely staying afloat in the tsunami of panic surrounding me.

Sitting in the corner directly behind us were my other friends, the Power of the Pen veterans. While I will struggle to craft the perfect punch packing power line, they will be effortlessly creating stories that blow the coaches away.

At this point, every single pair of eyes was on the coach. She held the prompt. She held the topic of our pieces. She held our destinies in her hands. The prompts went up and my face immediately fell: Competition. “Ready. Set. Go.” For the next five minutes, everyone had their heads down and was filling the pages while my paper stayed as blank as my brain. Sweat was glistening out of every pore in my palm and I nearly forgot how to hold a pen. All my practice was in vain. I couldn’t generate one idea good enough to move on to round two of tryouts. As 40 minutes changed to 35 to 20 to 15 to two, my levels of hope changed from ten to seven to five to four to one. A glimmer of hope was left in my once luminous heart.

My pen hit the table at the word “Stop,” and I sat with a complete story about competition. But as I looked down at my work, my pessimistic eyes only saw that one word as a description of my piece. Nothing more. I reluctantly put my name on the back, slowly turned it in to the eighth-grade pile, reading for errors as it fell, and walked away with my fingers crossed.

Four days later, I raced up to the office to check the call back list. A week after that, I could hear my heart pounding as I walked up to the office that seemed farther away the more steps I took. My nervous, brown eyes slowly rose from the floor to the final team list. And, in the middle of the page, was my name.

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