This creative non-fiction short story was published in the Island Writer Magazine: the literary journal of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in winter, 2009. Then in Kaleidoscope: exploring the experience of disability though literature and the fine arts in winter, 2011 (re-named If Not For Her). I've also read it on local radio in 2010.
"Leanne, read the next passage," the teacher says, throwing me to the jackals.
My hands begin to shake. My forehead tightens.
"Oh, no, not her. We'll be here all day," sneers a fellow student.
I peer at the page, attempting to find sense in the swirl of words that confront me. The letters leap, spin and twist--refusing to be captured. I focus all my effort on one word, the first word. I wrestle with it, attempting to contain it.
The first letter is an "S", I tell myself. It makes the sound of a snake.
I smile contentedly. I have begun.
Next letter. I look at it.
That's a "P", I think.
I look again and in front of my eyes, the letter has undergone a magical transformation. It has become a "T".
Panic grips me.
This is taking way too long.
I feel eyes drilling holes in my flesh. A clock ticks loudly. The sweet aroma of the teacher's perfume engulfs my nostrils. Outside a bird calls. My senses are assaulted. I can't shut anything out. I can't focus.
I just want this to end. Please, please, I don't want to be here any more, I pray.
"S-sp-o-ot-t." I say feebly. Doubt in each syllable.
The class giggles. The jackals smell their prey. My face burns. My heart thunders between my ears.
"Sound it out, Leanne." Frustration, annoyance fills her voice. She is a young teacher, fresh out of university. The responsibility for the classroom weighs heavily on her shoulders.
I'm not a bad girl, I long to tell her. I want to be good. I want to do well. I want to make you happy. I'm trying. Really, honestly I am but...but...
I look down at the page. I can find no words, only tiny black marks on the white page. I find no meaning there. I am caught in a blizzard--I am blind to words.
"Stop," I blurt out, guessing.
I am cornered. The class howls with piercing celebratory laughter.
My inner voice screams. "You're dumb! You can't learn! You can't do anything! Everyone laughs at you! You are STU-PID!!
I try to ignore their laughter. I try to silence my self-debasing.
I am mustering up all my resources to continue my battle when the teacher cuts my progress short.
"Carla, please continue."
The class heaves a collective sigh of relief.
Pretty Carla sits straight and tall on her chair, her head held high. The book rests in her palms like a hymnal. She reads the words; they flow together like a song--the teacher smiles.
I am a big, awkward moose. Carla is a meadowlark. She sings sweetly and others listen. They don't laugh at her. She soars with words, I stumble and fall. She belongs. I don't. She is normal. I am a freak.