Man Protects Self-Esteem By Imagining Talented Child Failing At Life

Little Billy’s mother says, “He tested in the 99th percentile in math!”

I didn’t even know “percentile” was a word.

She goes on: “And his IQ is 171.”

I look at Billy who stands at his mom’s side. He’s solving a Rubik’s cube with one hand. His other hand is behind his back, solving another Rubik’s cube.

“Good for you,” I say.

My SAT scores in high school were depressing. I remember guarding my results like I would guard bed-wetting if that was my issue. Everyone wanted to talk about the test. Not me. When my friends had SAT-themed sleepover parties I always went home early.

“Why don’t you ever spend the night?” they asked.
“Well,” I said, “I’m a huge bed-wetter, if that explains anything.”

Anything was better than being labeled dumb.

Because the SAT ruined my life for a while, I will never take an IQ test. Instead, I dream of taking one:

My phone rings three days after I’ve been tested. “Hello?” I say.
A deep voice with a German accent asks, “Is this Daniel Williams?”
“Yes.”
“Daniel Philip Williams?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
On the caller’s end of the line, I hear muffled German cheers, and someone whispers, “It’s him.
The deep voice returns: “Would you kindly rejoin us at the testing facility? There is something extremely important we must discuss.”
“You have my results?”
A pause. A heavy, uneven breath. “Yes.”
“How’d I do?”
“Forgive me, but would you please visit our facility today, Mr. Williams? We are not permitted to divulge test-results over the phone when they reach a certain…level.”
“That bad, huh?” I say, trying to be funny.
“Can this be?” the German asks, as if asking himself, or God. “It seems our Mr. Williams does not realize he is a genius!”

Billy looks up from his Rubik’s cube into my eyes. What does an IQ of 171 see when it looks at me? Probably little more than a sackful of spoiling oxygen.

“And,” his mother says, “Billy writes.”
“Oh?” My heart chokes on a pellet of frozen blood. Writing is mine. Billy, must you have everything?
“He’s published in The New Yorker.”

What do I see when I look at Billy? A Harvard-bound star. An internet computer company god. Billions. Big publications year by year. Novel after novel. I see him writing in a cottage-mansion on the ocean. Poetry. Pulitzer. The Great American Novel. Nobel. Flocks of honorary doctorates cling to his walls like Luna moths around some brilliant bulb shining through ancient, ignorant Night.

This is my first thought.

Second thought
Billy will create the first robot soul, ultimately killing us all. Unless he is stopped. The man who stops Billy will be a hero. All nations will say, “We forgive you for murdering Billy, a mere child,” and then will offer this man a seaside cottage and all the time in the world to write wonderful things.

Third thought
Billy may be a genius, but I bet his mother has made him soft. Too much encouragement and love. Life’s so easy for Billy, his will has atrophied. One failure will break him, I know it. Please, God.

I see Billy at 19, addicted to drugs and Bagel-Bites. Mom’s couch is his world. He falls asleep watching TV and wakes up to a talk show. The host interviews a famous writer who looks vaguely familiar: “Mr. Williams, since you won’t take an IQ test, we’ve analyzed all your Pulitzer Prize winning works and calculated your IQ from those.”
“I’m so embarrassed,” says Mr. Williams.
The host continues: “America, would you like to hear the astonishing number? Pick a number in your head; it’s higher.”

Billy solves the Rubik’s cubes then holds them up to me. I see the future in his hands: two computer brains, right and left, uniting to form a soul and destroy the world.

This is my moment. Do I dare to be a hero? Maybe I’ll just go home and write Billy’s story: a beautiful tragedy.

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Daniel Williams

A poverty-stricken, soft Batman by night. Illustrator and writing teacher by day. Previously: McSweeney’s, Slackjaw.