Curse in Disguise

I can’t count the times that people, particularly girls, have told me how lucky I am to be smart. They compliment my brains, my memory retention, my ability to memorize quickly, and the fact that I know so much about just about anything. This gushing invariably ends with them saying that they wish they could be like me. As they compliment me, I stand there with a smile on my face, say thank-you, and think to myself that they have no idea what they are talking about.

I come from a very smart family. My dad and mom are both incredibly intelligent, and neither my siblings nor I are anywhere near stupid. We just have different strengths. Anyway, I have always been encouraged to do my best and take risks in my education. In elementary school, I tested into the Gifted And Talented Education program (GATE) that California has, which is very similar to the Accelerated Learning Labs (ALL) programs that Utah has. In first grade, I was placed in a first/second grade combo class, and in fourth grade, I was placed in a fourth/fifth grade combo class. These classes were made up of the brightest kids from the younger grade, and the kids who needed a little more help from the older grade. . I felt so honored when this happened. It was a big thing to be placed in the lower grade of a combo class once, but twice was just incredible. In our little kid minds, this ranked with being the head cheerleader and the starting quarterback on the high school football team. During middle school, I skipped Pre-Algebra, and went straight to Algebra. This meant that I was a year ahead of most people in math, so in ninth grade, I was able to take Algebra II Honors. I also took a Honors English class. In eighth grade, I was part of a combined English/US History Honors class. I also competed in the Reader’s Digest National Word Power Challenge, and placed 14th in the nation. My sophomore year in high school, I took several honors classes, including American Studies and Honors Pre-Calculus. This year, I am taking four AP classes, and I have plans to take five more next year. I have also been involved in the school newspaper for the last three years, and last year I was one of three sophomores on the newspaper staff. This year, I am the only editor who is not a senior. Naturally, this long history of intelligence would put some people off, but very few people would predict the amount of loneliness that this has caused me.

From my earliest childhood, I have had problems making friends, mainly because of my personality, but also partly because I was the only LDS kid in my grade. My classmates weren’t particularly cruel, but there was a noticeable difference between us, and it created a gap that widened over the years. Looking back, I am mostly to blame for that. I learned to read in first grade, and quickly jumped several reading levels. I discovered that books could take me away to places that I had never been, and I could always leave whenever I wanted to. So instead of making friends, I read. I spent every spare moment reading. Slowly, the friends I had dwindled, until I was left with only my fellow bookworms for company. By the time I reached third grade, I realized how unpopular I was, but the damage had already been done. My attempts at being friendly were clumsy and awkward, marred by my untoward habit of saying exactly what I was thinking – even if it was incredibly mean or rude. Eventually, I just gave up. It was a lot easier, and it hurt a lot less. It didn’t stop the comments though. I hadn’t learned to keep my mouth shut yet (I’m still working on that), and so I would answer every question that I knew the answer to, and half the ones I didn’t know. When I moved to Utah, this habit came with me. I still read all the time, but I only answered questions I was sure of. I’d learned this the hard way. In California, when I would answer a question right, the other kids would fume. When I answered wrong, they openly mocked me. Of course, they never did it when the teacher was around, so I really had no way to retaliate. I was determined not to make that mistake again. But I got it all wrong. If I had answered only a few questions, making sure to get some right and some wrong, I probably would have had an easier time. You see, most people, especially younger kids, resent others who are better than them. I was new, I was smart, I became a target. Nobody likes it when someone new moves in and takes over their territory, which was essentially what I was doing. Instead of taking my place at the back of the line – where all new kids belong – I tried to jump straight to the front, and succeeded. It was even worse in middle school. Most people would think that when you start at a new school, you get a fresh start, but I didn’t. Those who had been in my sixth grade class remembered me, and by the end of the first month, I was “the really smart girl”. Nothing’s changed since then. Even though I now miss more questions then I get right, I’m still a measuring stick for a lot of people. People remember first impressions for a long time. The impression that I gave was that I knew a lot, so that is still how people think about me. I even know some people who have made it a goal to get better test scores than me, and they like to rub it in when I miss a question. But that’s not the only problem that my brain has caused me. I have been on one date, and I don’t have much of a chance of ever going on another one. The one date I went on was with one of my guy-friends who needed a date who wouldn’t mind hanging out with his little sisters. His little sisters really like me, so he asked me to go with him. It turned out later that his dad had suggested he ask me. I think that this probably because I can be intimidating to most guys. Not many guys will go out with a girl who could talk circles around them. Not that I would, but they don’t like knowing that I probably could. Most guys would rather just be friends and talk to me at school, maybe occasionally hang out at a big gathering, but there are more attractive, less threatening girls that guys prefer to spend time with.

Being smart has its ups and downs. I love it. I love the thrill that comes with learning new things, seeing that high score on a test, knowing that you KNOW the things that you are talking about. The best part is when you can apply that knowledge to your life. It makes everything stick more, and it just feels right. But sometimes I just wish that I could be a normal person, someone who is just average. Someone who isn’t mocked for the smallest mistakes, someone who isn’t everyone else’s measuring stick, someone who is popular. I don’t know what that feels like. I don’t think I ever will. Sometimes, when I walk down the school hallways, when I see others interacting, being social, I get a queer ache inside, because I know that I’m not like that. I don’t know what it is like to spend inordinately large amounts of time just talking about random things. I don’t know how to flirt. I’m honest to the point of bluntness. I don’t even really know how to act around guys, especially if I like the guy. I could’ve known how to do all these things, but I choose something else. I choose to be smart. But if I wasn’t smart, imagine the airhead I would be, and heaven knows, we already have enough of those people. Not that I’m saying that everyone who isn’t super smart is an airhead. I just probably would be.

Everyone says that if you look hard enough, every cloud has a silver lining. There is a flip side to this. If you look close enough, every bright light casts a shadow. Sometimes those shadows are small, and sometimes they can be quite huge. But usually, unless you are in the glare of a bright light, you don’t notice that shadow, no matter how big it is. You just see how bright the light is. That’s the way it is for me. Others see the brilliant light that I seem to bask in. Most happen to miss the rather large shadow that is cast by this light. Every cloud has a silver lining, and every light has a shadow, a curse in disguise.





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