Published: Los Angeles Times – April 12, 2007

Eight seconds to glory
April 12, 2007

“Time?” my gym teacher, Miss Vaughn, asked.

I was 7 years old and had just run a 20-yard dash at my elementary school in Highland Park, Ill.

As we raced by, Miss Vaughn stood at the finish line shouting out our times. “Remember your time,” she told us. Later, she said she would record these on a big poster board.

“Eight seconds,” I heard her say as my foot touched down on the white line sprayed on the grass. I was panting so hard I started to cough. “Eight seconds,” I repeated to myself. I didn’t want to forget.

I was pretty sure I had beaten Debbie Miller, the smartest girl in second grade. Debbie was a good five inches taller than I was — blond hair, round tortoise shell glasses, and a very long neck, sort of what I imagined a giraffe in Sweden might look like. She was brave and could talk to anyone. Once she even told Joey Perlmutter to stop kicking her chair. I could never say something like that. I was short, squat and Chinese. I used to smile with my lips tucked in so I’d look less “Chinesey.” When I was young, my left foot turned in a bit so I had to wear a special shoe to straighten it out.

But by that day out on the track in second grade my legs had grown strong. I had “thunder thighs” as my father liked to say, and I could run a mean sprint.

Back in class I heard Miss Vaughn call on Debbie who shouted in a loud, clear voice, “Eight seconds!”

OK, so we tied, I thought. I watched Miss Vaughn draw a big 8 on the poster board with a blue magic marker. Debbie was in first place.

Then Miss Vaughn smiled and turned to me, the last girl to be called on.

My heart was thumping so hard in my chest I looked down to see if my shirt might be moving. I couldn’t wait to tell the whole class, that I, little Laurie Tom, had tied with the most popular, fabulous girl in the whole school. At the same time, I felt as if I had swallowed a large peach pit and it was caught in my not-so-long throat. I mustered the loudest voice I could find and squeaked, “Eight!”

“What?” Miss Vaughn asked, “I couldn’t hear you.”

Oh my God, I’ve got to say it again?

I took a deep breath and yelled, “Mine was eight too!”

“Got it that time,” she said.

I looked around the room with a triumphant smile on my face. I think I may have glanced extra long at Debbie. I had arrived.

Then, as if in slow motion, I watched Miss Vaughn’s hand reach toward the poster board and with her blue magic marker. She wrote, “8.2.”

Oh no, not 8.2, not 8.2, eight too. Oh my God, say something say something say something.

But I never did. Until now.

Lauren Tom plays the role of Mai on ABC’s “Men in Trees” on Thursdays at 10 p.m.