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What Happens When a Rivalry Is One-Sided

·969 words·5 mins

I was 17 years old. On a trip to another school about 2.5 hours away with my high school jazz ensemble. The band director was friendly with ours. He had arranged some pieces for us to play. Cool guy, actually.

I had gigged with him occasionally and always found him good to talk to. Professional. Fun to trade fours with.

And so I was excited to come down and talk to and hang out with this other band director. Viewed him as part artistic collaborator and part work colleague.

I didn’t really know the kids who played in his band all that well. They were in a different division. And I’d never gigged with any of them.

That part was just school stuff. No big deal. But nothing terribly exciting.

When I got there, I was immediately greeted by this beautiful high school girl. She had blond hair cut short like a flapper. Smooth golden tanned skin. Curves in all the right places. She wasn’t exactly muscular, but she was definitely trim and lean.

She looked like a homecoming queen. She introduced herself to me by her first name. And then she added, “You know, your rival.”

My rival? I wondered. I’d never heard of her before in my life. I had no idea what she was talking about. But I laughed and said, “Nice to meet you.” I figured maybe she was joking. I didn’t have any musical rivals to speak of — I just didn’t view music that way. And frankly, I had no clue who she was.

But she wasn’t joking.

As we spent the next few days being hosted with band families, I got to know more of the backstory. She was playing lead alto in the jazz band we were visiting. That was my chair in the band that I was in.

That was literally all it was.

I didn’t really consider the fact that I was lead alto in my high school jazz ensemble to be a huge part of my identity. I cared more about being a soloist, arranging music, managing jazz combos, and my off-hour gigs where I played with people of all ages and not just folks my own age (and got paid for it — it was my high school job).

And she wasn’t even in our division (their school was larger than ours), so it was still a big stretch. We weren’t even competing against them for the pretend awards, the bragging rights-style competition (and I say this as someone whose groups won many of these pretend awards).

But she had some sort of idea that we were rivals. That she was out to compete with me to… be the best lead alto in Maine high school jazz that year?

Or something?

That was the most I could gather from it.

Anyway, I didn’t give it a terrible amount of thought. It was just a weird sort of social ambush. She was devastatingly beautiful, but I’m pretty sure she was straight and also lived a 2.5-hour drive away, so after the weekend was over, I just went home.

When States came, I waved at her when we crossed paths, and she seemed surprised.

On the Possible Origins of Vagueposting

I remember that experience now for a simple reason: It was weird. And striking. Every now and then, it’ll pop back into my head because something else will remind me of it.

The latest time was a few years back. Someone I had never heard of thought I was subtweeting about them.

They weren’t mad about it or anything, but it was still odd to me. Because I didn’t know them. And certainly wasn’t referencing them.

And I thought about it again recently because I published a post about vagueposting and how it’s become a cultural expectation.

After I wrote that, I found my mind drifting back to this ancient one-sided “rivalry.” It still amazes me how she had it all built up in her head. To the point where the fact that I greeted her at States threw her for a loop.

I wonder how many times that sort of thing happens — to me and to others — and it simply escapes our notice.

How many people have declared us as rivals without consulting us? How many folks are laboring under false assumptions of how we view them? (And if we view them at all.)

I also try to remind myself of this phenomenon, this experience, when I feel the urge to jump to conclusions about what someone else is saying and possible ill intent and/or danger. I remind myself that a lot of people don’t even know who I am… and I trust for the ones who do to come to me with important information and not assume the worst of me.

And if they can’t, and our relationship deteriorates because of some sense of one-sided rivalry, well, maybe that’s the kind of person I’m lucky to not have in my life at all.

The One-Sided Rivalry

I will say though… that wherever you are, beautiful girl who considered me your rival, I hope you are doing well. I hope your performances and competitions went well and that you’re living a good life in the two decades that have passed since then.

I don’t imagine you’ll ever read this. And I have no other way to get in touch with you. But I do think kindly of you.

There’s no enmity from me towards you. No resentment. Never felt it, never will. If I remembered your name, I would probably look you up online like a creeper, to find out if life treated you kindly. But I don’t.

I’m sure you’re doing well though. You seem like someone who would navigate life just fine.


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