In the fall of 1963, I had had no intention of becoming a preppie, at least partly due to the fact that I really didn't know what a preppie was, only that it sounded kind of expensive, and as one of four kids, I had learned to shy away from expensive things. Still, I'd finished up the coursework at my previous school, and this, I was told, would be the next destination.

After enough interrogation, the parents admitted that this was a place for Smart Kids. I shuddered. I had a reputation for being a Smart Kid by dint of being able to regurgitate random factoids on cue, but deep inside I knew I was dumb as a sack of hammers. I didn't belong there. And when I saw the school for the first time, a Victorian mansion in the next county over, I knew this was not the place for me.

In retrospect, a lot of my trepidation seems to have been due to the fact thst seventh and eighth graders were supposed to be at least eleven, preferably twelve and thirteen. I wasn't yet ten. And while I didn't fear any of the time-dishonored bullying tactics, probably because I hadn't seen any of them up to that point, I was already steeped in the "Why ask for trouble?" mindset.

Not to worry, I was told. There's one other nine-year-old this fall. Delusions of Us vs. Them danced in hy head. Then came the bad news: (1) It was a girl. (I knew next to nothing about girls in those days, and I see no reason to think I've learned anything since.) (2) She had an IQ of somewhere around three thousand. (This of course is way off the old Stanford-Binet scale, but as Smart Kids go, she was apparently the genuine article, something I knew I'd never be.) (3) She'd already written a book. (Okay, she'd written lots of letters to various members of the glitterati, and her parents contrived to have them bound into a book and published in an edition of Enough For The Immediate Family.)

The school was small enough that there was no way to avoid meeting her. She was a smallish sort of waif, sort of Björk in the larval stage, with her hair over one eye, the way you'd imagine Veronica Lake in the fourth grade. And she didn't talk much, which at the time I thought was flat wonderful. Seating was assigned: she drew first row, just off the window seat (Victorian mansion, remember?), and I wound up just to her left. I have no idea why.

There was about a six-minute intermission before the last class of the day, and one day I was sufficiently worn out to justify putting my head down and resting a bit. About two minutes in, I opened my right eye and discovered her left eye trained on me. I raised my head just enough to expand my field of vision; slowly, deliberately, she crossed her right leg over her left. I had no idea why she was doing that, and I especially had no idea why I dared not look away.

Eventually, of course, I lost track of her; she has a sufficiently common name to make her essentially anonymous in the search engines. I'd like to think she found herself doing something amazing, since she had the smarts for it. I'm almost certain she's completely forgotten me; there's no earthly reason why she should remember me.

The Vent

  1 March 2019

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