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What Ever Happened to Daphne?

“It’s my opinion,” he announces this evening, “when someone says you’re smart, it’s in comparison to someone who’s mediocre. Intelligence to me is if you’re in an entirely new situation and can figure things out. That’s intelligence, not what you already know. Life is not fun unless I’m learning something,” he says. He taught himself to weld, to be a pipe fitter. “I always liked taking a job I didn’t know a thing about. If there was a job for a rocket scientist, I’d say, ‘Sure, I’ve done that,’ then I’d teach myself.”

Suddenly he turns to Daphne.

“How do you measure heat?”

Daphne pauses. “A thermometer?”

“You idiot,” her father says. “That measures temperature, not heat.”

The phone rings. Barbara answers it in the next room. “It’s for you, Daphne.” Daphne is surprised. “Who would be calling me here?” On the phone is a member of her 1991 high-school graduating class. The tenth anniversary reunion will be in summer. Would she come?

When Daphne returns to the kitchen she shrugs, “Oh, I don’t know if I can go back until I’ve done something.”

The next morning I return to the Brinkerhoffs’ to pick up Daphne for the drive back to Portland. Barbara is at Wal-Mart. Daphne and her father are in the kitchen. Without an audience he speaks softer. I ask him how many people live in New Limerick. “That would be low on my list of things to know,” he says.

When Daphne rises to leave, her father gives her a long hug. “I remember when they were little,” he says. “I remember my son David, he’d spend hours putting pencils in holes, in and out. I’d just sit and watch him. When they took their first steps, how they’d giggle.”

On the way home Daphne wants to stop in Orono and get lunch at Pat’s Pizza. When she walks in the waitresses come over and hug her. She asks about everyone. I look at Daphne hugging the employees, see the flush of acceptance on her face, and I realize she is passing her greatest test — just learning how to be a part of a world where she will always be different.

In April of 2001 Daphne was promoted by Critical Insights, a strategic marketing-research firm in Portland that is one of the nation’s leading researchers for antismoking advertising campaigns. For the first time she would be full-time, benefits and all. “I saw her potential,” says Nancy Harman, Information Center director. “She was so versatile. Obviously superior. Not only was she a good interviewer, but she could edit, code, and enter data.”

A few weeks before Daphne’s high-school classmates will gather in Houlton for their reunion, I phone Daphne. She says she won’t be going. “I still can’t drive,” she explains. I can’t go to my reunion having my mother drive me.”

“Every time I speak with her, her voice sounds more assured. “I’m sure I won’t be rich and famous,” she says. “I hope I can just be friendly. I envision all these people coming to me and saying, ‘Daphne, you didn’t really achieve what we thought, did you?’ And I’d like to say, ‘No, but I love my cat. Here’s where I am and I’m happy with me.’ ”

“You know,” she says. “The 20th reunion is the important one. That’s when our lives are more formed. I’ll be there for that one.”

Please Note: This information was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

Updated Thursday, June 12th, 2008

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