When I was in kindergarten everyone told me I was a genius. I was pulled out of class one day to accompany some strange teacher down into our strange basement where she tried to teach me how to play piano. I was confused about why I was there. My parents told me it was because I was very, very smart.
What made me smart? I had no idea. I didn’t mind it usually. My cousin was good at sports, and I was good at being smart. Every time he would beat me at a race, or in a game of football, I remembered that I was smart.
Being intelligent gave me a lot of confidence. I didn’t care a ton about what people thought. Do 7-year-olds usually care about what their peers think? I don’t know, but I didn’t. I remember telling on the kids who played behind the dumpsters at recess out of the teacher’s sight. I remember declaring myself President of the playground. I don’t know why people tolerated me, I was kinda a little shit.
My mom bought books on how to parent children who are unfathomably smart. I started acting up in school. Some punk named Tyler said I wasn’t President of the playground and that he was. Our respective gangs declared war on each other. It was wild. The war ended when Mrs. Berry blew her whistle and made us all sit on “the wall” for the rest of recess. My parents whispered to themselves about how I must be some tortured genius. That sounded like as good of an explanation as any.
In the fourth grade we started getting letter grades on our report cards. I looked forward to mine. I worked kinda hard in school. Sometimes I zoned out in English when I started thinking about Friday’s cheese stuffed crust pizza, but usually I focused and got my shit done.
My parents yelled at me when I brought home my first report card in mid October. They said I wasn’t trying hard enough. I was slacking off. They called the principal and yelled at him for not letting me into the gifted classes.
“He’s bored,” my mom probably yelled into the phone. “He’s too smart for these other classes.”
But I knew something they didn’t. I was working hard. I mean, usually. As hard as a 4th grader without a real care in his world would work. I just wasn’t a genius. I was really good at some things, not so good at other things. I was somewhere within three standard deviations of average. I was in the 99.73% middle, not the 0.27%. My cousin was still sacking me in every game of football, but I was bringing home B’s and C’s.
Since then, I’ve never stopped worrying about expectations. What do people expect of me? Am I meeting them? Am I exceeding them? Are people impressed with me. Am I impressive? Am I impressing the right people? Am I disappointing? Are people disappointed in me? Am I a disappointment?
Sometimes I require reassurance. Someone to tell me, this time you aren’t flaming out. This time you can reach the bar. This time you can get the job done. This makes me sensitive sometimes. I hate being sensitive. Being sensitive makes me annoying. I want to have a swagger. I want to be confident. I want to own my fuckups and then move on without a pause. I want to be the kid who openly tattled on his peers and didn’t give a fuck. I want to be the kid who declared himself in charge of everyone for no apparent reason, with no apparent authority, and didn’t think twice.
Maybe if I were just perfect, I wouldn’t be so sensitive.