Last night was... well, you'll find out. My youngest sister is a senior in high school, and on the drill team. For people outside of Utah, I don't think that means quite the same thing as it does here. I don't really know for sure. All I DO know is that in Utah the drill competitions, especially region and state, are as competitive and tense as how I imagine football is in Texas.
Last night was my sister's regional competition. There were dads there who had shaved their heads and painted them orange for their daughter's team colors (not from our team, thankfully -- I mean seriously, this is dance, NOT football). People were in line waiting for the doors to open hours and hours before they would. In the snow. (I was not one of them. My mom and sister were there an hour early and we were still squished on the upper left side of the center bleachers. Craziness.)
All seven teams had to perform three dances (for anyone in the "know," they did military, dance, and kick). Out of the seven teams, four were being sent to State, but only one could be Regional Champions.
The first set of dances was military. My sister's team by far and away did the best routine out there. Zero mistakes, flawless timing and lines, they nailed their headstands (in Utah, to be competitive in military dance, you have to have your whole team do simultaneous headstands, preferably with splits and all sorts of crazy stuff going on the air with your legs, all in the exact same timing.). We had parents around us from other teams saying our dance was the best one. Every other team had mistakes, girls fell out of headstands, and one team only had four girls do headstands at all. To keep this shorter, let's just say the next two sets of dances were a little bit more evenly competed, it was harder to say who should win (though there were some definite teams who made big mistakes and obviously shouldn't). There was also one team whose coach was fighting with the line judge for twenty minutes because they received a penalty for delay of competition. Emotions were running high.
After handing out personal awards (my sister got an All Regional Drill award), and doing the drill down, it was finally time to hand out the team awards. First in military. All of the teams sat together in circles on the floor of the gym, holding hands, heads bowed. All of us in the bleachers were filled with anxiety for our respective girls/teams. Fourth place for Military goes to... a team who had quite a few mistakes, we were all pretty surprised. But, okay. Good for them. Third place goes to... the team who dressed like a Russian Army (complete with boots, instead of dance shoes, which by the way, totally scuffed up their floor) and only four girls did headstands?! Ooookaay, this is making us a bit nervous. Second place goes to a very good team who deserved it, but did have one big mistake. So, that leaves us, the team with the penalties and a mistake, a team that had one big mistake, and a team that messed up quite a bit. Everyone holds their breath as the announcer pauses. First place in Military goes to... the team with the penalties and one or two mistakes. WHAT THE?!?!?! You can see our team physically deflate. My sister's shoulders crumble down, and her head drops to her hands. But then they stand up and clap for the winners. We are in absolute shock. The parents from other teams around us look at us, their eyes wide with disbelief. Not only did we not win when we were the only team without a single mistake and the hardest combination of headstands, and lines, etc... we didn't even place.
As the next two sets of results are read out, girls on the team start to cry, their shoulders shaking with hurt, disbelief, anger, defeat. Our team, who clearly deserved to at least finish second or third overall, didn't place in anything. Teams with huge mistakes, with penalties, with easier routines and strange flashy costumes, place ahead of them in everything. In fact, the team with the penalty takes first place overall--they become Regional Champions. Our team claps for the winners, even as tears streak their faces.
Walking down to my sobbing sister last night was awful. She should not have been crying. She should have been celebrating, they should have won--or at least placed. Before we left that night, we had parents from two different teams tell us as much. One was even from one of the teams who made it to state. We are happy for the teams who made it, they all worked hard and did their best, I'm sure. However, it is just unbelievably that we didn't even place. No matter how flawlessly our girls danced, no matter how perfect and amazing they were, it wasn't up to them. In the end, a set of judges got to make the call and no matter how unbelievable it was, that was the decision they made. We will probably never know what happened last night to cause the results to end up how they did.
So how do you deal with that? What happens when you do everything physically possible to be the best you can be, to dance perfectly--to submit an amazing book--and the people with the power to give you first place--or that book deal, or to offer to represent you--don't? There are many things we can control, to become the best we can, or to make our books the best they can be. But ultimately, it's not in our control. An agent has to decide to give us a chance. An editor has to decide to buy our book. And no matter how good that book might be, sometimes it just doesn't work. Sometimes for no understandable reason, they say no.
For my sister, she can't go back and try again. But she can know that she and her team did their absolute best. They were the true winners in the hearts of many, and in the end, they can know they were perfect whether the judges gave them credit for it or not.
But for us writers, we can keep trying again and again. Sometimes all we can do is to keep going. Keep writing, keep believing, keep trying. Someday, with some book, with the right timing and the right person, it WILL happen. I have to believe that, and so do you. It's the only way to make it when the control is out of your hands. I've been there when I was querying for an agent, and I'm there again now on submission.
But to my beautiful little sister, I want to say this: I love you, Laur. I know this hurts right now, and you're upset and angry, but I also know you will emerge from this stronger and even more wonderful than you already are. You did your best, your team did their best, you left it all out there on the floor, and you girls were amazing.