Daycare should have been called night-care – mom always picked me up when the night wove its dark threads into cocoons around trees. Mom would burst into the room, my brother on her hip, smelling like she’d come and gone with the wind and cry in broken English that she’d had class and was so sorry-not-sorry to be late.
I’d wake from my nap and bashfully stand at her side, waiting for “hi.” But mom didn’t have time – We had two buses to catch and a baby on the way. In those days, it’d rain so hard our umbrella would collapse like a souffle, and I’d count the bullets my exposed parts would take until the bus shot light into the night – my world now a painting of Monet’s. Il faut souffrir pour être belle. Beauty is pain.
It’s taken time to learn to see beauty in hard work’s calloused hands. For long, I’ve tailed the pearls of truth enclosed in the palms of the enlightened elite. Though, I’ve now come to realize that the world is my oyster that I, with a sword, will open, hacking penny-by-penny until I have my pearl.
Hitherto, I knew my clammy hands only to yield nil: sausage fingers, dirty nails – that was my lot, so little they were illegal to harvest. My oafish claws would clutch a pencil and try to make heads or tails of math’s promised bliss. Mom had scribbled figures on the backs of her used mock tests. Into witching hours, salt water and snot would turn those numbers into watercolors. I had corrected the answer so many times that the page became holey as swiss cheese, and I felt crucified by arithmetic’s holiness.
Mom wanted to see me join the ranks of the enlightened elite. Math is a universal language, and ESL couldn’t stop her from passing along her smarts. My placement into the gifted program was our first step. Try as I might, I couldn’t pass the test. Just as the plague passed over the homes of Israelites who marked their doors with the blood of a sacrificed lamb, the nerdy genes mom had passed on, perfumed by an open-access education, made Gifted pass me over.
The more exclusive Gifted became, the more I hounded it and sought to snuff any scent I gave of an open-door policy – hard to do when I lived in a shelter. So, I sought escape through books. Anne lived in a house shining from top-to-bottom, topped by her famous green-gable roof. Never mind that at sunrise, Mom scrubbed toilets, her last baby about to pop from her groaning stomach. Mary Lennox had her secret garden, English moors, and woodland creatures. Never mind that our family of five slept sardined in one bunk bed. Falling asleep within these stories and waking up next to mine gave me such a bad case of vertigo that I came to live a double life.
Double lives clashed until, at last, Gifted was mine. I became, by trade and legal name, a gifted child. I thrived. I had arrived.
Meanwhile, my soul struggled to survive, battling a depression that ate my hard work alive. Somewhere along the line of success, I dropped the ball and was hospitalized. It took a brush with death, the great equalizer, to fall out of love with exclusivity. In its stead, I grew to love all the psych patients in my ward. We automatically knew the worst in each other, leaving nothing left but to see our best.
Discharge was bittersweet. My pain cracked the isolating dam I’d made, flooded my so-called gift, and shipwrecked me onto the loving shores of friendship. On leaving Neverland, I was afraid I’d never see my friends again. I did not want to regain the old soul of a precociously gifted child, losing my youth in the exchange.
In the early days of Neverland, I told a fairy that I felt like a ghost of who I once was. Wrapped in a chrysalis was my gifted child out of reach. She replied with the following question: “How does a caterpillar become a butterfly?” Nature teaches us that caterpillars lose two proteins and, hidden in cocoons, eat themselves alive to find them. Upon my rebirth, I left my gifted child in her discarded shell. Rest in peace. I had a newly formed butterfly with tender wings.
Aristotle gave the butterfly the name psyche, the Greek word for soul. In Seattle Central’s doors, I meet said lovely souls and psyche ward friends. We rise into the open sky as monarchs.
Sabrina Harrison is a member of The Seattle Collegian's Editorial Board. Being a lifelong reader, often considering book heroines her great friends, she finally thought to take a stab at writing herself. Though a universe away from the heavenly prose of Virginia Woolf, Sabrina finds therapy in ascribing this strange thing called "life" to the written word and happily extracts thoughts out of her, highly reminiscent of cavities, onto an awaiting blank page. Sabrina thanks her readers for helping relieve the toothaches that would otherwise plague her.