What Ever Happened to Daphne?
Barbara Brinkerhoff answered the phone.
I just found the Parade story, I said, and I wondered: What ever happened to Daphne? She was quiet for a moment. “A lot of people ask me that,” she said. “I tell them Daphne lives in Portland.”
Being special brings no joy with it. It’s a great struggle to be at the top of the pile — but get there, and it’s still a pile. I was so good at everything as a kid, and all that gets you is people asking, “What next?” I wanted to be the best at everything, a Superkid. If I wasn’t the best, I was nothing.
Maybe I should’ve flunked something early on. I failed at things: I never learned to swim or ride a bike, but I just devalued them. I made them “not-Daphne.” “Daphne” was someone good at school, lousy at sports, alone, bookworm, nerd, ugly. Someone of the mind and not the body. Someone teachers liked and students hated. And then I did fail. It’s thrown me for a loop. — e-mail from Daphne
I met Daphne Brinkerhoff for the first time on a November afternoon at Portland’s waterfront. We sit at a small table by a window in a cafe that’s known for its chowder. She is 25 years old. She has lived in Portland for two months and she has just been suspended for four days from her $6-an-hour cashier’s job at a Portland 7-Eleven located at a busy intersection two blocks from the house she shares with three roommates. Her transgression: selling beer to an underage woman. The woman had shown Daphne an ID card, but the woman in the ID wore glasses and the woman holding the beer did not. Daphne ignored the discrepancy.
I ask if she’s been in trouble before; she says yes, during her sophomore year at the University of Maine in Orono. A lingering depression had set in and she stopped going to class. “I flunked everything,” she says, “except chorus. I got an A in chorus.” The university suspended her for a year and took away her full scholarship. She returned to New Limerick, moved in with her parents, and washed dishes at the Elm Tree Diner in Houlton.
After a year she returned to college, wrote poetry, studied literature, and eventually graduated with honors. She wanted to be a poet. She stayed in Orono cooking burgers and making salads at Pat’s Pizza for nearly two years; she was not gifted as a short-order cook, and her writing discouraged her. What she describes as “the great lump in the center of my life” took over. “The great lump is the judgment,” she wrote, “the constant having to live up to, the feeling that I have to be good, or great, or special, or whatever. Instead of valuing where I am.” Thoughts of suicide danced around the edge of her life. A therapist helped her understand the negative self-doubts that plagued her. “I was addicted to this sense of myself. I knew I had to change. I definitely wanted to change.” To start a new life, she moved to Portland.
She speaks without self-pity in a clear, forthright voice. She is interested that I am interested in trying to understand the unexpected bumps in her life. She has been trying to understand them herself for many months. Her brown eyes behind her round glasses hold my gaze. Her brown hair, streaked with premature gray, touches her shoulders. She is pale, as if she has not seen sun for weeks.
“I know people will want an explanation,” she says. “Maybe my flunking out was a covert rebellion. I remember a conversation I had my senior year in high school. I had a boyfriend then and I didn’t care about school. I had a term paper months overdue. Mrs. Dunphy (JoAnn Dunphy, the Gifted and Talented Coordinator for the school district) came to talk to me. I said I was sick of having to get straight A’s. I said I couldn’t wait to go to college and get C’s.”
“No,” said Mrs. Dunphy. “What about graduate school?”