colicky of babies, a hyperactive toddler, a “spirited” (read “impossible”) kid— had worn my parents out. He was still exhausting them, albeit from another continent, wandering around Europe and sending only the occasional e-mail detailing yet another epiphany concerning what he should do with his life, followed by a request for more money to put it into action. At least his being abroad made all this seem more nomadic and artistic: now my parents could tell their friends Hollis was hanging out at the Eiffel Tower smoking cigarettes, instead of at the Quik Zip. It just sounded better.
If Hollis was a big kid, I was the little adult, the child who, at three, would sit at the table during grown-up discussions about literature and color my coloring books, not making a peep. Who learned to entertain myself at a very early age, who was obsessive about school and grades from kindergarten, because academia was the one thing that always got my parents’ attention. “Oh, don’t worry,” my mother would say, when one of their guests would slip with the F-word or something equally grown-up in front of me. “Auden’s very mature for her age.” And I was, whether that age was two or four or seventeen. While Hollis required constant supervision, I was the one who got carted everywhere, constantly flowing in my mom’s or dad’s wake. They took me to the symphony, art shows, academic conferences, committee meetings, where I was expected to be seen and not heard. There was not a lot of time for playing or toys, although I never wanted for books, which were always in ample supply.
Because of this upbringing, I had kind of a hard time relating to other kids my age. I didn’t understand their craziness, their energy, the rambunctious way they tossed around couch cushions, say, or rode their bikes wildly around cul-de-sacs. It did look sort of fun, but at the same time, it was so different from what I was used to that I couldn’t imagine how I would ever partake if given the chance. Which I wasn’t, as the cushion-tossers and wild bike riders didn’t usually attend the highly academic, grade-accelerated private schools my parents favored.
In the past four years, in fact, I’d switched schools three times. I’d only lasted at Jackson High for a couple of weeks before my mom, having spotted a misspelling and a grammatical error on my English syllabus, moved me to Perkins Day, a local private school. It was smaller and more academically rigorous, although not nearly as much as Kiffney-Brown, the charter school to which I transferred junior year.
Founded by several former local professors, it was elite—a hundred students, max— and emphasized very small classes and a strong connection to the local university, where you could take college-level courses for early credit. While I had a few friends at Kiffney-Brown, the ultra-competitive atmosphere, paired with so much of the curriculum being self-guided, made getting close to them somewhat difficult.
Not that I really cared. School was my solace, and studying let me escape, allowing me to live a thousand vicarious lives. The more my parents bemoaned Hollis’s lack of initiative and terrible grades, the harder I worked. And while they were proud of me, my accomplishments never seemed to get me what I really wanted. I was such a smart kid, I should have figured out that the only way to really get my parents’ attention was to disappoint them or fail. But by the time I finally realized that, succeeding was already a habit too ingrained to break.
My dad finally moved out at the beginning of my sophomore year, renting a furnished apartment right near campus in a complex mostly populated by students. I was supposed to spend every weekend there, but he was in such a funk—still