By Dolores J. Nurss

Volume III: Responsibility

Chapter 64




Here I offer one of my most vivid war-dreams ever, in horrid detail, right down to the guns that turn out to be suction-cup toys.  I dreamed as Deirdre, but in waking life I was about Kiril’s age, 11 or 12.  I find I cannot analyze it point by point.  Years have not lessened the shocks for me.

All I can say is that that was the year they put me in a special class for “geniuses”: twelve kids in my year gleaned from all the 7th graders in San Diego.  The academics of it was no big deal, (except, of course, for math, where they heaped on the guilt, unaware that I have the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia) but the contradictory psychological pressure was enough to explode heads—much of it still indescribable.  People packed so much into what they expected, or feared, or resented, or vicariously wanted, tinged with layered prejudices about who was or was not entitled to intelligence, that had nothing to do, really, with education.  Even as an adult I’m hard-pressed to give specifics on what hurt me so terribly, few things bald enough to make it admissible in court, so to speak.  But bright kids cannot help but pick up the glances, the shifts in expression and posture, the tones of voice, that put them in a separate category from human.  And back then, of course, I was just a kid; bright or not, I didn’t have an adult arsenal of responses.

And the trait that they thought would make us into super machines for fulfilling their fantasies (when they weren’t secretly wishing that we’d fail) instead increased the impact of trauma in our lives.  What did people expect?  That a hyperperceptive child only sees and hears and feels more when convenient?

Years later, being processed through the California Department of Rehabilitation, a state program for helping the disabled find employment, a counselor talked to me after the mandatory IQ test.  She said that the result did not surprise her at all.  She’d seen a whole lot more than 2% of her clients wind up belonging to the top two percentile rank, presenting with psychological challenges.  “As far as I’m concerned,” she told me, “The Gifted Program is nothing but an institution for torturing children.”

There’s more.  As I face this dream again, memories come back to me of a very good reason why I have nightmares of child soldiers, although most of the time I blot the memories out.  The tests and the training.

After our abandonment, my elder brother put me through daily tests and training.  Training meant anything that he could think of, of a martial nature, that a little boy could research or imagine, to make me tough enough to survive.  He was just as intelligent, just as imaginative, and just as traumatized, as I was, so he never ran out of innovations.

Tests meant a daily chance to prove my worthiness to be his sister.  Most days I passed.  This was my reality, throughout childhood, starting before school-age, continuing till he left home when I was fifteen.   Violent, painful training, terrifying tests, pride when I could pass, chronic fear of unworthiness and disowning, made more concrete by the abandonment in both of our histories.  I think he believed that this was the most loving thing he could do for me.  But how many soldiers stay on the battlefield for thirteen years?

In some ways I owe him.  I am not afraid of an attack.  I know I can handle myself, even at my age and with my disabilities, because I could handle myself as a small, weak child.  I know tricks that take the place of strength, and I have heightened reflexes at least in observation, though arthritis these days now slows my physical responses.  Bullies fail to intimidate me, so they back down, puzzled, without a fight.  And I have good defensive instincts.  This has come in handy throughout my life, especially on jobs that required me to walk home late at night alone.

          I haven’t decided whether or not it was worth the damage done.

Main Page