"I can't tell you because I couldn't look."
It was a relief to put on my evening gown. As we got dressed, Heather, the soon-to-be-ex Mrs. Maryland, applied her false eyelashes and advised me to start each day at the nationals by putting on a pair. "You never knew when you're going to be photographed." Then she told me what a wonderful time she had rooming with Mrs. D.C. during the two-week pageant.
"Why didn't you stay with your husband?" I asked.
"Husbands aren't allowed," she said. She explained that everyone was rehearsing all day, so you wouldn't have much time to spend with them anyway. She said most husbands arrived for the last few days and stayed at a cheaper hotel than the pageant resort.
When it looked as if I was going to win Mrs. Washington, D.C., my husband and I had had some serious talks about canceling our existing vacation and going to the nationals in Palm Springs, Calif. We assumed we could carve some kind of vacation out of it. This didn't sound like one. I imagined myself being yelled at for two weeks by the choreographer ("Mrs. D.C., it's merengue, then cha-cha!") and sitting in a tub of Nair each evening. I was no beauty queen, but I was married. And I was at least a good enough Mrs. to want my husband to have conjugal visits during our vacation. I decided then that the nationals would have to go on without me.
In my evening gown, I did my figure eight in front of the judges, then took my place in line with the other contestants. From the back of the room, Heather waved madly at us; I didn't understand what she was trying to communicate. I'd forgotten that since I was closest to the door, I was supposed to lead everyone out of the room. Finally someone else took charge and started walking. In the hallway several contestants berated me for standing there like a cluck.
Finally it was time to announce the winners. Nikki looked truly ecstatic when she was selected. I tried to look pleasantly surprised. Laurett handed me a 2-foot-tall trophy and fastened my sash, while Heather put the tiara on my head. A tiny voice inside me whispered, "Maybe you do deserve to win, after all." Immediately, people started streaming up to congratulate me. I was hugged by two women also wearing sashes declaring them to be Mrs. Washington, D.C. They explained they were Mrs. D.C.s for different pageant circuits. By my count, there were four current Mrs. D.C.'s in the room. This was more confusing than sorting out heavyweight boxing titles. It wouldn't have surprised me to find out we were all owned by Don King.
While I gathered up my stuff in the dressing room, Heather advised the other contestants to make an appearance at the post-pageant reception lest they look like sore losers. I didn't want to look like a sore winner, but I had a friend's birthday party to go to, so I slipped out.
In Henry IV, Part II, Shakespeare writes, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." This couldn't be more wrong. I quickly discovered that a crown lies very easily on the head. A head with a crown feels young and happy and knows that the crown is exactly where it belongs. The next day I thought of times it would be appropriate to wear my crown—grocery shopping and walking the dog both seemed right.
I knew I had to give Laurett the bad news that I was withdrawing. My husband warned ominously of the consequences of my decision. "They will sue you," he said.
"I can just see the headline now," I replied. " 'Beauty Officials Force Dumpy Woman To Wear Bathing Suit on National TV.' "