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
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.