Being smart hardly puts people in the most popular situation. My geekiness gained me more enemies than friends. (Oddly enough, my rival Danielle turned into one of my good friends shortly after fifth grade.) Another friend I’d had since first grade — a person I’d considered my best friend — spread vicious rumors around school about me and caused me trouble with parents and college guys when I was at 12 years old. The unfolding years became no better as teasing from classmates and soon, teachers, intensified. By high school, I shut myself off from other people and making new friends. I built an armor of self-rejection around myself so the darts of rejection thrown at me could not pierce my skin. I continued to hope that my intelligence would garner social points but I quickly learned that my popularity immensely increased with tests and quizzes and then sharply declined until the next time. My social awkwardness continues to this day — in my head, I overanalyze the implications of a new friendship or conjure reasons why a stranger probably dislikes me. Such is the life of a perfectionistic, socially awkward, depressed person.
The principal at my elementary school ruled against me skipping a grade ahead and so I remained stuck in first grade with second grade reading skills. (It should be noted here that second graders didn’t like me either — I was the annoying kid who knew all the answers and raised her hand all the time. No one likes that kid. Ever.) As I got older, school, naturally, became harder. In third grade, a girl named Danielle, who was smarter and prettier than me, became my first intellectual competitor. (Side note: This was a futile effort as she’s been valedictorian twice in her life and graduated from college with a degree in biophysics or biochemistry.) Constantly failing to be the best annoyed me enough at this point. Instead of my father assuring me that my best was enough, I got, “What happened to 100?” I never grew up thinking or knowing that if I got a “90,” it was an “A” and if that’s the best I could’ve done under the circumstances, then it was okay. If I got a 98, I always heard, “What happened to the other 2 points?” It was always A+ or 100 — never “at least you tried your best.” I began hiding tests that weren’t perfect from my parents — setting me up for a livelihood of perfectionism.
As the only child of Haitian immigrants (side note: As I write this, I’m making a note to check on the proper usage of immigrant/emigrant), pressure to make them proud was thrust upon me. Making them happy had never been a problem until I wrote my first book at 6 years old. My parents and school librarian marveled at my ability to grasp the concept of a beginning, middle and end with a clear conflict and climax at such an early age. My parents — namely my father — viewed me as a child prodigy in the area of writing. Talk ensued about me skipping a grade; peers envied me as I took second grade reading in first grade; my father strongly encouraged me to write a follow-up story. But, sophomore follow-ups don’t tend to be nearly as good as a debut. I wrote Lila’s Secret Hideout in second grade and poured my heart and soul into the book, which included endless revisions and drafts — with the help of my librarian. My father insisted that Lila’s Secret Hideout was nowhere near as good as my debut, Sarah’s Boots. I spent the rest of my life trying to win another Pulitzer Prize from my father.
I’d continue to fail.