Close your eyes.
Picture a playground at an elementary school.
Now picture a huge, wide, gently-sloping, climbing net with the top end attached to the middle of the jungle gym and the other attached to poles and stopping just a few inches from the ground.
Now imagine 20 or so giggly girls, about 8 or 9 years old, sitting as close to the top of the net as they can get and looking at the solitary boy, sitting at the bottom of the net, looking up at the girls.
I was one of those giggly girls, though not nearly as giggly or outgoing as I grew to be (I was actually a pretty quiet child, believe it or not). All these years later, I don't know how it started, but we ended up playing a version of the Spider and the Fly. The boy - I don't remember his name but can picture his face as if it had happened yesterday - was the Spider, the girls were the Flies. We'll call him John...because I like it as an alias.
The game boiled down to John choosing which girl he liked the most by eliminating the ones he didn't.
"The girl I like the most has blonde hair", he'd announce, and all the non-blondes had to leave the web. I was a natural blonde, fyi.
"The girl I like the most is not wearing a skirt", and those unfortunate girls with skirts left the web. I wore pants.
"The girl I like the most has freckles." Oh what a great time to have brown spots all over my face!
A few at a time, or sometimes one by one, John narrowed the field, finally leaving just two girls in his web. Unbelievably, I was one of them. Every time he made his declaration, I'd look at what I was wearing, check my hair for braids, color, bangs, etc, and generally make sure I could stay in the web.
I don't remember who was the other final Fly in the web with me, but I remember how we huddled close together at the top of the net...ahem...I mean, web... and nervously giggled while we waited for John's final pronouncement.
Maybe that's what the final two Miss America (or American Idol or ANTM) contestants feel like as they wait to hear who has won. Huh.
I knew I wouldn't be the Chosen One. I was taller than all the girls my age and most of the boys, an awkward situation. And yet, I didn't stick out but tended to settle nicely into the background. Sometimes I wondered if anyone would ever remember me because I was just average, nothing remarkable, not too quiet/smart/funny/troublesome/etc. I had friends but I wasn't one of the girls that boys noticed...I didn't realize at the time that most boys don't notice girls that way at that age.
John either took his time deciding which of us he liked most or he was nervous to finally make his choice irrevocably known to the rest of the grade (by this time, our game had garnered a lot of attention from non-playing girls and boys) but either way, it seemed like an eternity before he finally made his last pick.
"The girl I like the most is wearing a butterfly barrette."
Can you believe that to this day I remember that final sentence? Okay, I can't. All I remember is the shock and pleasure at realizing that I was the girl he liked most. He had chosen me! The loser...I mean, non-winner...whatever...left the web, and John climbed up to where I sat in amazement. We ended up spending the rest of recess sitting on the net together, holding hands, and talking.
Or something like that. I don't really remember what happened afterward. Quite honestly, the most powerful memory I have of this event is the feeling of being liked the most, of being picked from a bevy of cute, nice girls as the most cute and nice. I was the Fly the Spider wanted to catch!
More than 20 years later, this memory still makes me smile. It was the first time I realized that a boy could find me attractive. It boosted my confidence, helped me out of my shell a bit, and well, set the foundation for me becoming a bit of a flirt (reformed, currently).
Whenever I start to get bummed that there doesn't seem to be a Spider who likes me most, I try to remember that Spiders have different tastes and that somewhere out there is a Spider who likes curvy, blue-eyed, freckled, (currently) blonde Flies. 'Til our paths meet, I guess I'll just sit in this comfy web and enjoy the view.