Portraits of Gifted: Dee’s Face

Dee was the strangest cat I ever met; and considering how long I’ve known myself, that is really saying something. I was a new student at the university and she was a second year working towards her degrees in Biology and Chemistry. We met in Latin class. She had to take Latin to help her medical career and I wanted to take Latin and Greek so I could read classic stories in their original forms.

For some reason this made her laugh, “Who takes Latin for fun?”

She was the first person I met who knew she was gifted. She had attended a special school for gifted children and seemed pretty secure in and with her intelligence shell. I had only been tested a few years prior and only after dropping out of high school and receiving a GED.   In fact, I had to attend the local community college for two years and receive a 4.75 GPA to be considered for acceptance at the university at all. There is not an expression strong enough to express my concern that I would not measure up in this milieu of the minds. Everyone around me seemed to rotate on a brilliance axis I couldn’t ever dream of matching.

And Dee was the brightest of them all.

Despite my many insecurities, the two of us became instant friends.  Because her boyfriend was a star athlete, I was forced to mingle, forced to attend large and uncomfortable games and rallies; and, much to my chagrin, I was forced to have fun. And I did have fun- despite myself.

Dee represented the person test results said I should be.  She was exactly what you would paint if you were told to create an image of gifted.

I found myself working harder than I needed to for the perfect grade. I pushed and pushed, I hardly slept, and I found satisfaction in my ability to best her in Latin.  I became that person. But that person was a trademark of the private university and I fit right in for the first time.

I felt like I was getting closer to something because I was finally moving further away from the nothing I’d known.

While my path was always teetering on the new and unexpected, Dee had a future laid out so clearly that she couldn’t swerve from it if she tried. She was going to be a great daughter, she was going to be a great student, she was going to be a great doctor, and she was going to be a great wife. She was going to juggle motherhood and career. She was going to shine.

And she was going to do all of this while quietly exceling as an addict.

My heart sank the first time I saw her dark side. I had met many addicts and her “don’t worry, this is my first time”s and “it just helps me study”isms were not going to convince me.

I came from the gutter; I knew what substance abuse looked like.

In the spring I met her family during a weekend visit and I knew from the moment I smelled her mother that there were stories in her breath that Dee would never share. Her mother was perfectly trimmed in her blouse and skirt and cordial smile, but she looked at me with just enough disdain and distrust that I knew she sensed danger. She was on to me. She knew where I’d come from. She knew what would happen if the good kids hung around poor kids like me for too long. Yes, she was on to me.  And I was on to her.

In one glance I knew that she had habits which allowed her to function without feeling.  I knew that she needed her daughter to function in much the same way so that everything could be maintained.  Addicts maintain.  It’s what they do.  They teeter when alone and balance to the world.

Dee’s mother was woven into her conversations in a subtle way. She became the American and Dee became Jig, two characters talking cryptically about something which they were both afraid the world would figure out. We’d sit there, a group of friends talking about our future travels and ridiculous stories from our childhood, while Dee tapped her pencil nervously and hoped the subject would change. She tried to hide the introverted, anxious, adventurous, sensitive, and kindred spirit deep within her because none of those things would help her get where she needed to go.

Tap. Tap. Tap. She was tapping out. I knew that look.

I didn’t walk away right then. Who would?   But the parties, which were too loud to begin with, accosted my ears in a new way. The conversations around me, which seemed so dreamily brilliant at first, became the ramblings of a drunk and stoned privileged few. The boys I found so interesting started to meld together in an unattractive conglomerate of better than others around them and I just couldn’t fake enough of an interest to continue to fit in.  And friends like Dee, who I admired so much for so long, were no longer strange and cool cats; they were wasting away in front of me.

A chip was steadily growing on my shoulder and I did what I do best: I retreated into my books and felt alone. Again.

I watched from a distance as Dee, and so many other amazing people just like her, swallowed pills chased with vodka to keep that glorious shine beaming as far and fast as it could go. I watched them be rewarded for that shine. I watched as the beauty of classic architecture and rolling hills became a drunken stupor’s paradise.

I watched as the world at the top started to look exactly the same as the world at the bottom.

Dee is today’s Portrait of Gifted because being gifted is not a banner one gets to carry or wrap around them as a way exiting the real world and the real world’s problems. Gifted is not a special club, or a better place, or another level of living. Gifted does not make one perfect nor does it remove the fallible in all of us. While so many faces of gifted addiction look like Cassie’s; far more of them look like Dee’s. Not all addiction grows from broken homes, broken dreams, and broken people; sometimes all it takes is a little crack and a little bit of too-much-pressure.

Dee laughed at me when I said I took Latin for fun.  Yes, I took Latin and Greek because it sounded fun to learn an ancient language. I did it for fun. For joy. For me.

“It’s not a requirement?” She asked. Her pencil starting to tap.

Dee, today’s Portrait of Gifted, was gifted because they said she was gifted.  TAP.  She was gifted because she was brilliant.  She was strange, silly, kind, and intense.  TAP.  She had much more to offer than test scores and bragging rights at her parents’ parties.  TAP.  But somewhere along the way she allowed her light to become so focused that only the results mattered, only the scores, and only the data.  And just like that, she tapped out.

“Acclinis falsis animus meliora recusat.”  – Horace    (Translation:  The mind intent upon false appearances refuses to admit better things).

One thought on “Portraits of Gifted: Dee’s Face

  1. I think this is what many parents struggle with when they are told their child is gifted. They struggle with whether or not to tell their child. Do they not tell their child and risk their child feeling “weird” their whole life and wondering why, or do they tell their child and risk putting undue pressure of expectations on their child?

    Undoubtedly, Dee felt that pressure. The pressure to live up to others’ expectations. It’s a dangerous trap, and one in which one can lose themselves.

    I think Cassie had the opposite problem. Nobody saw she was gifted, and her potential was squandered. Not to mention how she was mistreated by those who should have loved her most.

    We decided to tell our son, but we’re trying to balance that by letting him know that his future is his to shape, and he can pursue whatever career he wishes. (Although, I confess, if he decides college is not for him, I’ll encourage him to pursue a trade.)


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