" Courage. What is courage?"

There's dead silence. The heat of the multiple stage lights is starting to burn my face - or maybe I'm turning red because of embarrassment. The sheet of paper in front of me has the words of a poet stamped upon it, but in that instant, I don't want to read it. I've never really wanted to compete in this " Distinguished Young Women" program. I did it because it was. . . well, expected.

They are still silent, and I squint into the darkness, managing to distinguish the first few rows of bleary faces. I know that right now, they're thinking I'm a failure. They probably are awash with pity for my supposed 'stage' fright. There's a few rustling of papers as people rifle through the program, looking for my act that is simply titled " Poem of Courage".

It's all cookie-cutter routines. Some of my fellow participants have sang songs. Others have showed their musical talents on the piano forte or violin. Some have danced rather wonderful dance routines. Some have given speeches about very important topics of World Peace and Arms Trafficking.

" What. . . what is courage," I nearly whisper to myself, frowning.

This program, formally called Junior Miss, is to, and I quote ' Uplift the young women of our society into outstanding community members, showcase talent, beauty, compassion, and academic drive.' Or something like that. It's all very serious. There's a fitness routine. There's an interview. There's an Evening Wear competition. And of course, the talent. And it's all just to get on stage, show off some sparkly dressings and dazzling smiles, for a college scholarship. It's all very serious and whatnot; the judges aren't even from our county. Some are from Washington, some drove from Montana, and some are from Southern Idaho. They don't know shit about us, so they are completely and utterly unbiased.

" You know what?" I tap my fingers against the podium, squinting into the spotlights. " This is courage." I hold up my poem and slowly, surely rip it into two.

The audience is uneasy now, and the judges, their faces alight from the glow of their lamplight, are now frowning at each other. I give them a wide smile, grab the microphone, and proceed to center stage.

" You know what? I've always wanted to be a butterfly. Wait, no, scratch that, I've always wanted to be a dog. I think when I was in kindergarten, and Mrs. Granger handed out those 'Dream Job' thingamajigs, I put down that I wanted to be a German Shepard. Think of how cool that would be! My whole life would just be pooping and eating and grooming. And dog's are so CUTE! No matter what, everyone would just fawn over me for my fabulous good looks. And give me treats when I do things good. And give me treats when I do things bad - like poop on the carpet - because I mean, come on, who can say 'bad doggie' to a puppy's face?

" You guys are kinda funny looking, from my spot. Dark, hazy, mysterious. Kind of like Bruce Wayne. And I'm batman, so I should know. Have you ever seen Batman and me in the same room? I think not. Therefore, I am batman. You probably think I'm off my rocker, but you know what? I think this is discrimination! You put us up here in fancy dresses and we have to act like we give a crap about the outside world. Do you know that none of us really care about the community? It's true." I nod my head seriously. " It's a whole farce. And isn't that what life really is? Isn't life just us lying to each other? Because that's reality. We're juniors in high school. Our minds aren't quite developed into the other-wordly sense yet. We haven't had time to realize that the world just doesn't revolve around us. I mean, some of them freaked out when whoever was kicked off of Duck Dynasty for anti-gay comments. Can you imagine? Jesus, we're stupid if we care that much. I mean, I don't, but it happens." I whisper, quietly, deadly, and seriously, " It happens."

I sit down, crossing my legs, my dress flowing out around me. I'm smiling and expressive and no one really knows what to do with me.

There's a sound to my left, and I whip my head around. " Jesus, I'm kind of afraid that you guys are gonna kick me off. I mean seriously. You should get the Little Bo Peep's little thingamajig. What's it called? The little hook thing. I dunno what's it called but you should get it, and threaten any bad acts by going like this -" I make a face, scrunching up my nose and narrowing my eyes, and pretending I have that hook thing and moving it back and forth. " If you did have it, I'm sure you'd hook me right now. Hook! Line! And Sinker!"

" You know, I have this problem, and it's called a slur. Now that I've said it, you've noticed it. And I speak much, much, much, much to fast. I think it might be ADHD. Your fault, mom, for not getting me checked out! But really, I don't think my fast speaking skills are much of a problem, because that just means I'm a fast thinker. I think much to fast. Right now, while I"m talking to you, I'm simultaneously thinking of all of you naked, and whether I turned off my car lights, and - crap - Saboe, I forgot about my math homework! Can I get a reprieve? Pleaasse? Thank you! Oh, and I was saying that I talk fast because I think fast. And the reason that I talk fast is because of natural selection. It's my brain's way of saying that if you can't follow my speaking fast, then you can't follow my awesome intelligence, and therefore you are not intelligent enough to be my friend. Did you get all that? If you did, then I'm your friend. If you didn't, I was talking about squirrels."

" You know what I've never gotten? Your mom jokes. Why it never snows in winter, here, though it's supposed to. And why Ariel chose to be a human in ' The Little Mermaid' - I mean seriously, you would choose legs over not having your period? You are obviously not my friend, Ariel. Sorry. And gingers don't have souls, either."

Another incidence pops into my head. " Oooh, my god. My family is so weird. I know they think that I'm the weird one - which, they're kind of right - but anyway - I think that was my Dad's manly sound of approval - anyway, you know what my brother did the other day? My mom's standing there at the counter, looking at something, and my brother" I get up and start tiptoeing across stage " Stalks up behind her like she's some deer, and he grabs my mom in a headlock. No, legit serious. He's got her in this headlock," I mimic his arms, baring my teeth. " And my mom's like ' Cameron! What are you doing!' all screechy like, and he's like ' Strangling you, mom!' And he's dragging her around the kitchen, arms around her neck, and my mom's struggling." I stagger around the stage. ' Get off me, you big lug!' Mom shouts. Cameron, I don't know why, Jesus, Cameron just starts to pet her head rhythmically, and he says, ' Shh. It's okay. Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Follow the darkness.'

I act this all out, using different voices for Cameron and Mom. Dude, I'm just having a blast.

" Dude, you know what? I'm probably going to be avoided in the hallways for a couple weeks after this. Like I've got some disease. I do have a disease, by the way, and it's called Awesometasis. It's very deadly. Side affects include: Random Bouts of Craziness. Weird Voices. Speaking to Fast. The works. Should you or anyone you know be suffering from the previous symptoms, please contact Savannah Woods, as the symptoms can only be canceled out by two people carrying the same disease. Or, well, they actually escalate when people with Awesometasis come in contact with each other. It's inevitable."

There's a little red sign in front of me, and it starts blinking the numbers 10. . . 9. . .

" Whoops! That's my cue for times up! Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my talk with you guys! Kind of one-sided, but we'll work on that next time! And remember" I pause dramatically " Courage, in my definition, is the ability to go against the status quo." Another pause. " Damn, and if I could wink, that would be the opportune moment. All righty! Bye then!"

I exit the stage.

The applause is deafening.

And I smile.