What Ever Happened to Daphne?
To my surprise, she seems happier. “I think my right path will come,” she says. “I haven’t lost all faith in myself. I hope I’m leaving my angst behind. I’m trying to trade the pursuit of intellectual achievement for wisdom. My intelligence has always been there — but not my wisdom, whatever that means.” She says if she could be anyone else she’d want to be the author Ursula K. LeGuin. “She’s wise,” she says. “If ever I had a conversation with her, I think she’d agree with me about the pointlessness of fame and money.” She’s been reading the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, “trying to think about how the world really works. The Western way of thinking is the status quo, climbing the ladder. This book is the opposite.”
I ask what she likes about herself now. “I’m less likely to think a stranger will be ready not to like me,” she says. “Even at Pat’s Pizza I knew people liked me, and I liked them.”
I found Ursula LeGuin’s translation of the Tao. I read:
“Knowing other people is intelligence, / knowing yourself is wisdom.
Overcoming others takes strength, /overcoming yourself takes greatness. / Contentment is wealth.”
Later I phone Dr. Julian Stanley. I ask if he has kept track of Daphne. He said he knew she had graduated from college in 1997, but that was all he knew. I tell him some of her story. “Some of the brightest students don’t have ambition,” he says. “I brought a boy to Johns Hopkins — he finished in three years. Now he delivers pizzas. I used to sort of worship I.Q. But you can’t major in I.Q. There’s a lot to be said for the work ethic. It can be so hard for some of these students if they don’t have role models. If they are just by themselves, their intelligence can be a dilemma.”
Dr. Jean Gibbons, associate director at the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented at the University of Connecticut, listened patiently to Daphne’s story. “It’s really hard to be a minority of one,” she says. “It’s easy to think there’s something wrong with you, not something wonderful.”
I speak with two teachers who had taught Daphne when she lived in New Limerick. They both have lost touch with her, and both say the same thing: “Have you met the family?”
There is a personal history I crave to erase. — e-mail from Daphne
I am driving Daphne north to New Limerick on a late October day, nearly a year after we first met. Daphne has never learned to drive — the bus ride from Portland is long, and she has not been back for many months. Her phone calls home are now as rare as if she lived in a foreign country. She started a new job in June, conducting phone interviews for a marketing-research company. It is part-time, but she finds she can do this work well. It is nearing five when we reach her house. Her mother will soon be home from her job at Wal-Mart in Houlton. I drop Daphne off at the house, which is just as she described it — a pickup without a motor sits in the front yard; a few feet away, a yellow Jeep with a splintered windshield and no brakes, as if untouched since her childhood. I say I’ll go to Houlton and pick up pizzas for everyone.
I return an hour or so later. Daphne lets me in. I walk through the living room dominated by her father’s motorcycle that will be stored here for the winter, then into the ” ‘dining room,’ although there hasn’t been a table in there for years,” where her father keeps his collection of 20 guns. The house needs attention. “It’s not pretty,” Barbara will soon tell me, “but it’s paid for.” She will add that their property taxes are $58.62 a year. Daphne’s father is growing deaf in his left ear, and his voice dominates a room. I hear him rising over the conversation before I see him. Daphne had called him “the genius of Houlton.” He’d bring canisters of helium and let the children experiment to see what they could lift with balloons and plastic bags. He brought home an old computer and let them explore its innards.
Her father, mother, brother David, and David’s girlfriend are gathered in the kitchen. Her father looks up, focuses for an instant on the stranger bringing pizzas, and barks, “Talk about Jewish!” Daphne looks away and retreats to the corner with her mother. The room is quiet for a moment, then conversation begins again while pizza boxes are opened.
Her brother David sits on one end of the table with his father. He is broke and out of work. “Everyone in this family is a genius except me,” he says. “From the time I went to school, it was, ‘That’s Daphne’s brother.’ I think it’s a good deal to talk with people who don’t know my family.” His girlfriend says just a few weeks earlier she had told her business teacher she was dating David Brinkerhoff. “He said, ‘Oh, Daphne’s brother.’ ”
Barbara was the first female on both sides of her family to graduate from high school. She sits beside Daphne in a corner of the kitchen, away from the men, smoking Kools. She brushes Daphne’s long hair.
“So, did you feel pressured?” Barbara asks.