She was a perfect girl. Perfect student, perfect daughter, perfect niece, perfect person, perfect perfect perfect. “Practically perfect in every way.” She carried a new backpack every year and a new pencil case and new latex-free eraser tops for her pencils- oh, you know that the neon ones are all the rage in the fourth grade this year. She was in the Gifted and Talented Program, you see, and she was indeed very Gifted and Talented. Every Wednesday she would miss the second half of class and she would carry her lunchbox and Ticonderoga #2 Pencil to the library where she would sit with the other Gifted and Talented kids and learn about the Great Barrier Reef and do Einstein Puzzles.
She loved school and grades. She loved validation. She carried a crown on her head. The only girl who is learning advanced math, they would sneer, the only girl who reads that much, the only girl who loves writing essays, the only girl who asks for more homework to do, the only girl-
But she wasn’t the only girl.
And they didn’t sneer.
Instead they looked at a girl who was much too tall and much too wide and much too ugly and much too annoying and much too shrewd, and let her dream. And dream she did.
She dreamed of lollipops and sugar plums and an All-A report card- because if she got all A’s then Mom would be happy and Dad would say “Good job!” and Grandma would hang it on the fridge and Poppop would look on from the couch because the History Channel was on and “It was interesting, Goddammit Joann!”
One day, she was handed a rubric with a big, fat, red B Minus in the top right corner. She cried and she cried and she said “Mama I’m not perfect I’m not perfect I’ll never be perfect.” Mom sighed and hung her head. Her daughter was crazy. A mad girl.
“Jeff, she’s crazy.”
“She’s just a girl.”
“No, Jeff. She’s insane.”
And so she carried her Barbie backpack and her Lisa Frank notebooks and her hard plastic pencil box but not her self esteem, it was too heavy. Who needs self esteem when you have brains? Courage for some brains, Dorothy. The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side. Follow the yellow bricked road to an unhealthy lifestyle.
In high school she carried the same backpack every year every month every week every day. She was-- how does one put this lightly-- obsessive, compulsive, disordered. They gave her a diagnosis and a new identity. She did not like to get A+’s anymore because that meant that it would show up as a ninety-seven in Genesis and ninety-seven was an odd number and she did not like odd numbers. She bought the same brand of pens and the same brand of pencils and carried them with her every day, and panicked when she forgot it. PANIC! She would panic. Internally.
On the outside she remained, bright, beautiful, shining. A lightbulb. How many manics does it take to screw in a lightbulb? She carried a smile; a smile, on her lips. But on the inside she carried anger.
She’s not good enough. Holy s***, she cannot possibly be good enough. The realization hit her in the face, smack-boom-down-K.O. Sure, she’s Gifted and Talented. Who isn’t, nowadays?
Why couldn’t she carry her Ticonderoga pencils? They were too heavy now. The wood grain hurt her fingers. Her brand new backpack was too stiff and couldn’t fit her notebooks; her notebooks for AP Calculus and AP European History and Honors Theatre and AP Literature and for her college applications, not to mention her apron for work and her scripts for auditions and her deadlines, her ever-present deadlines.
Deadlines deadlines deadlines. Dead lines that no longer work. I don’t want to work. Please let me sit down. I just want to sit. I just want to sit goddammit, sit sit sit S***.
Nevermind, it’s okay.
Things were so simple back then. She could go to school and learn, read a Magic Treehouse book and eat her snack- carrots and a juice pouch. Nobody questioned her habits, her daily routine, her pencil sharpener next to her name tag next to her post-its next to her water bottle. She was perfect; no, she was Perfect. It’s only weird if you’re imperfect. It’s only diagnosable when you start to fail. When you start to crumble. Crumble cake. Crumbling cookie.
My life is
Before my very eyes.
But it’s okay.
I suck it up because I am strong and I can do this even though it is hard.
And Jesus Christ it’s so hard.
I have my overused backpack and my mechanical pencils and my bravery.
I’m not the only girl.
But I am the only Me.
I’m starting to get used to Me.