I didn’t really have a lot of experience with the concept of “rivalry” when I was a kid. I had an older brother but frankly, he was no rival other than he ate more of whatever decent food we had in the house. I spent so much of my time alone, at home or at school, lost in the world of books or listening to music, that competition just didn’t come up that much. Other than my fear of losing at birthday party games, I was pretty confident. I didn’t give anyone any grief, but I wasn’t particularly patient either. Keep up, or get out of the way. I say this now in bittersweet hindsight, as we all know the bigger they are, well, you can finish the cliché. No one is best for long.

It wasn’t until 5th grade that I found, to my irritation, that I had a rival. Her name was Charlotte. We had moved to this awful little town of 300 inbred Wisconsin Germans the year before; at my new school I had been moved up to Unit C, the highest, while she stayed in Unit B with the rest of the kids our age, so I didn’t know her until she made it into Unit C. LOL “open concept schools.” I didn’t do shit there. Anyway, Charlotte was a round-faced pink-cheeked farm girl, with short wavy blonde hair, sort of pre-teen pudgy. She smiled an awful lot, and was perky. Her perkiness was the first thing I noticed about her, and the first thing about her that irritated me. Behind the smiles and the perk and the willingness to help the teacher and clean things, I saw something in her eyes: a steeliness, an intelligence, and resentment. I had never seen the latter trait directed my way before, and I was both curious and defensive. Hmm. Hmmmmmm.

It started almost immediately that fall. Whatever I did, Charlotte would try to best. Didn’t matter what it was – reading, math, sports – she’d try to copy me. Her frustration grew, palpably, over the months because despite what seemed to be a very serious effort from her against my indifferent execution of almost everything, I still did better. After awhile, she became so obviously agitated that I started to quietly enjoy her displays, as evil as that might’ve been. If I had known or had such language at that age, I would’ve said, “CHARLOTTE! Get off my DICK already!!” Ah, that would’ve been worth detention.

When she got a “A” on her speech in Debate Club, she took her paper with the big pretty grade and brought it by my desk, glowing, gloating, sure that she had finally done it, sure that I would now be humbled. The teacher, a jolly rotund guy named Bud who was a Toastmaster or something, called my name with a big smile. I walked up and took the paper from him, saying “Thank you,” before looking at the grade. I sat at my desk and unfolded the paper as Charlotte hung over my shoulder, ready to burst with her win.

“A+. Brilliant. You are a talent. Enjoyed having you in class!”

Charlotte’s pink cheeks turned scarlet red, then almost sort of a purple-ish color. I said nothing, I did nothing, not even a smirk. I just left the paper sitting, open. After a few seconds, she stalked away, went back to her desk and sat down with a furious flourish. I wondered why she cared so much. Maybe it was because I took her place as the “smart kid” in this lame minuscule farm school? Ah, well.

Fifth grade was also the time when you were allowed to join the school band. The band people made their instrument pitches at an assembly for the 5th graders, telling us a bit about each one. I decided to take clarinet, solely because the band people said it was easy and didn’t take much breath. What a lazy ass I am. My dad was pleased, and rented a smooth new black clarinet for me at the local music store. When I came to school with it for first band practice, guess who also was carrying the identical clarinet, in the identical orange case? Oh, yes she did. Charlotte was the most determined thing I had ever seen.

Well, the band people were right. Clarinet was easy, and I was assigned first chair. Charlotte was second chair. There was only one problem. I absolutely hated it. I hated the sound of it, the horrid squawk and bray and squeak. It so was not my thing, but I dutifully kept at it for the year, Charlotte next to me also squawking away, carefully turning her pages on her music stand, glaring and smiling coldly at me.

Sixth grade came, and I decided I needed to have a talk with the band director. I told her I didn’t want to play clarinet anymore, and she was upset with me. She didn’t understand; I was first chair, I was doing well! I told her, well, what I really want to play is…

The drums.

So, the end of this story is that I switched over to the drum section, the first female in the school district to ever play them. I wasn’t all that good, but I was happy. Charlotte was moved up to first chair clarinet, she was happy, and the rivalry ended.