I stepped off the stage feeling like I had just finished an award-winning performance. Trevor Doyle, local radio personality, announced my name like I was some kind of star.
“Ladies and Gentleman, Miss Mackenzie Heckbert.”
I developed my love for public speaking in 2005 when I was crowned Miss Teen Geary, and since then I’ve delivered several memorable speeches to the community.
I was chosen to be the advocate for the past queens at this year’s pageant, and with four years of university and a new job in radio under my belt, it seemed logical. I had worked all week compiling stories about past Miss Teen Geary Pageant royalty so I could show the community and the pageant contestants how successful many of the women had become.
I planned the perfect speech and delivered my masterpiece with mild stumbles and sweaty palms. When I finished, the audience erupted in thundering applause and I immediately forgot all of my mistakes.
I waltzed down the steps and past the first row of people, not aware that many of the women who sat in the crowd were less than pleased with my speech.
I heard my name called harshly above the applause and doubled back to the row where many past Miss Teen Geary Pageant queens were sitting. Kim, Miss Teen Geary 1989, stared at my star-studded smile with a furrowed brow that spelled out P-I-S-S-E-D.
“You do realize you forgot some of the girls, right?” the former queen spat.
Her words snapped my smile in half, and my heart (which had just started to slow down) began to pound rapidly against my chest.
It was the moment when my love for small towns quickly began to dwindle.
I’ve always considered Geary my home. I was an army brat and had spent most of my early childhood moving, so I never maintained friendships. I liked the quaintness of Geary; how everyone who passed you on the road waved the same three-fingered way; and how on any given day, you could see horses trotting past your driveway or a tractor chugging slowly on the main “highway.”
But unless your last name was Carr or Smith, you were never truly accepted.
“You forgot my daughter in your speech,” said a short, stout woman, putting her face in mine. “She’s in the front row and the only past queen you forgot, and just so you know, she’s really upset.”
With everyone looking over in my direction, I could feel my face wash over with embarrassment. Making my way for the door, I heard my name called sharply like the snap of a whip.
I turned around to face three women grabbing at my arm and the sight of one of my old friends crying in the Geary Lions Club washrooms. I had forgotten to mention her too.
I felt like I had travelled back in time to middle school where I had spent many lunch hours hidden beneath my desk in the classroom, trying to escape from bullies. But this time there was no table for me to hide under. This time I had to face the confrontation that I tried to avoid my whole life.
“My daughter suffers with anxiety and depression,” the short woman screeched, as tears streamed down my face. “You made her feel left out. It’s things like this that are triggers for suicidal thoughts.”
I kept apologizing for my jumbled notes and nervousness. But between her tears and insults, I realized I wasn’t 12 anymore. I’m 21 years old, and I didn’t need to say sorry for an honest mistake.
This is Miss Teen Geary, not Miss America.
Two other women stood at her side as if they were her back up, ready to pounce on me at any moment. Passers-by stared. I even heard someone mumble that I wasn’t welcome in Geary anymore.
At that moment I hated that ridiculous town with its petty small-time drama. Any sort of controversy was addictive to them, and I felt stupid it took me 15 years to figure that out.
It took me everything I had in me to choke out the only insult I could muster: “F**k you and f**k this town. This is why I never come back here.”
Thinking back to the shocked look in their eyes leaves a delicious smirk on my face. It was the rudest thing I can remember saying to anyone in my life.
Needless to say, it will be a few more years before I head back to a Miss Teen Geary pageant again.