Most Likely to Succeed

In life there are three categories of aspirations we have: what we want, what we need, and what we don’t really say out loud because it’s silly. For some of us, learning how to approach the latter one is more difficult than it is for others. For instance, in elementary school, there was a group that would meet at lunch once a week called “The Banana Splits.” Because of my early-onset fascination with exclusivity, I insisted in my seven-year-old mind that I should be in The Banana Splits. I mean, these kids got to talk about themselves once a week, on a Wednesday I believe, while… wait for it… EATING ICE CREAM. As far as I was concerned, I met all the qualifications: I loved to talk about myself, almost as much as I loved eating ice cream. So, one day, with all the courage in my curiously malnourished looking body, I approached our guidance counselor and asked for membership.
I’m sorry, Justin, but this is a group you can’t be a part of. This would be the first of a laundry list of groups that I would be excluded from, including, but not limited to: the Girl Scouts, Black Student Association, any baseball team, people who can afford to attend “Restaurant Weeks,” the New Hopewell Baptist Church youth group, varsity-level soccer teams, the sorority at my college, and people who qualify for food stamps in the state of Virginia. Completely abhorred at the idea of not being included, I sternly asked, Well, why not? Ms. Cruz went on to explain, Well, Justin. The reason we get together is because their parents are divorced. Divorce is a hard thing for someone your age to go through. You should consider yourself lucky that your parents are still together. She finished with a warm smile on her face. I did not. I was not lucky. I was not getting ice cream. My parents didn’t give me ice cream. They gave me hominy, which is arguably the most disgusting food that God created. I don’t know what kind of crazy world this woman was living in, but I was most certainly not lucky, and I let my mom know as soon as I got home.
Mom, I need you and Dad to get a divorce. My mom was stunned by it. I went on to explain how they were holding me back from ice cream, and how the only real solution to this horrible discrimination was for them to get divorced. I’m sure if I were older, I could have pulled together some statistics, a chart perhaps, but after my main argument of “ice cream is really good” had quickly become tiresome, I decided to give up. It was the first time in my life that I had truly come to the idea that sometimes, people were going to get things that you wanted, and there’s nothing you can really do about it.
Fast forward a few years, and I was in high school. Middle and high school were not particularly fun places for me. I wore wind breakers most of the time and I had these thick glasses and people casually called me all kinds of slang terms for homosexual: most of which I had to go home and Google, which really led to some awkward Google search results. To this day, I thank God my parents don’t really know how to use the Internet, otherwise I would have had a lot of explaining to do. But then toward the end of high school, I began wearing real pants and I got contacts and all that bullying had equipped me with a really edgy personality that often resulted in me saying awkward/mean things that other people thought were funny. I like to refer to that point in my life as “coming into my Tina Fey.” There’s really only so many times that you can try to persuade people that you’re not gay before you just kind of decide to focus your energies elsewhere, so I began honing in on my storytelling and the commentary of all those pregnant girls we went to school with, and I haven’t stopped since.
But my senior year, superlatives nominations came out. For all of you who live under a giant rock, superlatives is a popularity contest where you choose people that didn’t really speak to you through high school and assigned them to glorified labels. Then, they would live in the back of your yearbook as a reminder that you’re really jazzed that high school is something that only lasted four years. In the midst of the nominations, I rallied for my brother to be nominated as “Friendliest,” because Casey really is the friendliest person I’ve ever met. He’s much nicer than I will ever be, and it’s not even in a fake way. If we could get Casey on the ballot, he would win because not voting Casey friendliest is like watching a cat video on YouTube and saying, Eh, I guess it’s funny. Eventually, Casey would not only appear on the ballot, but also go on to win Friendliest. To my surprise, my name appeared on the ballot twice: once for Most Likely to Succeed, and once for Mr. South-Doyle (with or without the hyphen, which is a point of contention in the South Knoxville community). I had always assumed that Josh Wesley would take the coveted third spot; after all, he was one of the most attractive guys in our class with one of the most dashing personalities. He beat me for the coveted role of Othello in our AP Senior English class, and I don’t even think it had to do with him being black. Josh Wesley didn’t need affirmative action. Josh Wesley was affirmative action.
But even Josh was not competition for the two other nominees. In essence, I was just the wild card vote that happened to slide in a solid performance of quirky commentary and self-deprecating humor in the final hour. Competitor one, Ryan, threw all the great parties at his house. I had never been to one, but rumor had it that there was alcohol there sometimes. I had, sadly, never been around alcohol up to this point. Even at 18 years old, I became slightly paranoid when I swallowed some of the mouthwash while brushing my teeth. I once saw an episode of Dr. Phil where teenagers would drink mouthwash to get drunk, and then they started doing other stuff like crystal meth and watching porn. I admired Ryan from afar, but I knew that I could never be Ryan… not in high school, at least. Competitor two was Jonathan, who was Ryan’s best friend. I never remember him playing football before, but he was the quarterback of our football team senior year. He broke his leg or did something really bad to it, the details escape me, but he managed to return for the final game. That year, he led the team to its best record in five years. In addition, they had been quite popular for some time. They were a part of the popular-Christian circle, which goes a long way in East Tennessee. I could never break into that circle because my opinion of Passion of the Christ learned more toward a horror movie as opposed to “an unbridled cinematic depiction of Christ’s love.” (I threw up afterward.) Obviously, in this equation, I was going up against Jennifer Lawrence and Jessica Chastain for the Oscar. I, of course, was Quevenzhane Wallis. It was really more of an honor than anything to be considered for the prized role.
I would go on to win the category of Most Likely to Succeed, which is the equivalent of a BAFTA in the high school superlative circuit. And as I’m sitting here working on this in Washington D.C., three cigarettes, two Cokes, and a piece of cake in, I’m kind of wondering if the voters got it right. Sure, I made it to D.C. and I’m working on my Master’s, but the biggest accomplishment of my day was getting everything I needed from the grocery store after three attempts in six hours. That doesn’t quite scream “Excellence in Life.” I’m working on solidifying a job for after my internship ends that doesn’t require me to take food from one location to another. I give myself a high five when I remember to pay my utility bill before they send the late notice, and I purposefully schedule my work and academic duties around new episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t know if that’s what would qualify me as “successful,” but I guess in the grand scheme of things, I’ve done most of it kind of right.
But I guess after 99 blog posts and 22 years of life and multiple successes and failures, I have learned one of the Rolling Stones’ most important life lessons: You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need. And as for the things that we want, but we don’t talk about them because they seem silly… well, I think it’s kind of silly to not talk about them. No, not everyone can be a singer or an actor or an astronaut or a writer, but if no one ever took the time to say the silly thing that they wanted, then no one would ever become any of those things. I didn’t get my banana split, and I’ve lost a decent number of popularity contests in my day, but that doesn’t stop me from announcing to the world what I want anyway. If it means enough to you, you’ll figure out a way to make it happen. (Unless it involves you scheming to get your parents divorced. Don’t do that.)

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