I'm thinking of Carly Little. I do tend to do that when I fall off of my high horse. Carly was in my fourth grade class. Strike that. Carly was in just about every class I ever had starting with Mrs. Clarks a.m. kindergarten class and ending with 12th grade AP English. We were in AIA, Academically and Intellectually Able. I'm told that in many other school districts this program is/was referred to as G&T, Gifted & Talented. I wonder if after the self-esteem war in schools these lofty monikers went the way of red pens and first place trophies.
Anyway, it's 1991 and The Board of Ed. gave us a funny acronym and kept us separate. We were out in annex trailers for 6 hours a day. We got to join the other kids for an hour a day in rotating "enrichment" classes; library, gym, art, music, and I can't remember. I do remember it was just long enough for the gen. pop. to call us Assholes In Action and not pick us for teams.
So the Queen of AIA was Carly Halstead. She was the smartest of the smart. A superlative wrapped up in superiorty. But all of that was put on her. Adults framed her that way and she took the praise and ran with it and there was simply no competition. She would later emerge in High School as a hell of a soccer player, but for now all she's got is freckles and Smart across her forehead. I was Pretty. I sat next to Fat and Funny.
So one day we're about to take a test. It's a social studies test about the desert. I remember mesa and plateau and trying to hold on to the difference long enough to scrawl it out on paper yet to be delivered. Everyone's putting books away. There's the sound of shuffling and scooting those awful chairs across that awful linoleum. When the last of this noise dies down I hear a weird noise. A ragged breath. Everyone hears it. We look up. An audible body shudder. It's Carly Little unprepared. It's a little girl about to fail a test. It's a nine year old about to lose her identity. It's the first time I saw a panic attack. No, we weren't taught how to deal with failure. We were smart. When smart failed we diversified. Carly found soccer. I found boys. I hope every kid in that trailer found a new identity. Smart's a slippery bastard.