Then, the labeling started. Lazy, stupid, developmentally delayed, ADHD
I sighed as I looked at the timetable. Should I skip?
You’re in eleventh grade, I scolded myself. Skipping class is so beyond you.
I looked around, helpless. What else should I do?
As usual, my indecisiveness landed me in trouble. Mrs. Adler strolled into the classroom, and I was thrown into the raging sea, with no life jacket on.
No one knew I fell off the boat. No one would stretch out their hand to save me. No one even knew I needed saving.
At first, they thought I needed glasses, or had a lazy eye. Then they thought I needed more time. And then? Then, the labeling started. Lazy, stupid, developmentally delayed, ADHD.
I was just a confused nine-year-old with adorable pigtails. I had no idea what they even wanted from me. I was a smart kid. I was good at dancing, I was good at drawing, I was good at numbers, but for them, I was nothing, just because I could not read.
I got into high school only because my mother was friends with the principal. Good thing she was, because otherwise I would have probably been left at home until my hair turned white. No high school would accept a teenager who cannot read — never mind if she was a brilliant student in every other area.
Society did not value me for who I was: the good girl, the wonderful daughter, the loyal friend. To them — to “everyone” — I was nothing. I felt like junk, just because I wasn’t gifted with what most people in the world took for granted.
I couldn’t read.
When I entered high school, I was determined to hide my secret from everyone. I wanted to be Shulamis, the sweet, regular girl, not Shulamis, the girl with the problem. No one in high school knew me. It was outside my neighborhood, and no one from my old school joined me there. I was free to start anew.
I integrated nicely in school; I made a few good friends, none of them was aware of my secret, and I thought that I finally reached peace. Then, Mrs. Adler entered the picture.
She was an older woman, a retired teacher, who stepped in to take the place of the eleventh grade mechaneches who was on maternity leave. During the first lesson, when she introduced herself, I thought she was pretty harmless, but I soon discovered how ironic life could be.
She called on me to read the pasuk during the first lesson. I coughed and mutely pointed to my throat, as if saying that I lost my voice and can’t read aloud. Mrs. Adler gave me a long look and carried on. I let out a sigh of relief. I survived — this time.
But luck didn’t play well for me. Mrs. Adler caught on to my secret pretty fast, like every astute teacher did. However, instead of accommodating, she chose conflict.
She means well, Shulamis, I tried to console myself, after a painful confrontation at the end of a long school day. She only wants to help you. The words sounded wrong even to my own ears. I swallowed a sob and zipped up my jacket. It’s a useless waste of ammunition, Mrs. Adler, I thought. Useless, and painful.
I took a long time to walk home. I needed to think, to clear my head of the angry jumble inside it.
When I opened the door, I saw my mother getting off the phone. Her face was set in a way that did not bode well for me. I sensed trouble.
My senses proved pretty accurate.
Later that evening, as I was moodily stabbing at my meatballs, pretending to eat supper, my mother walked into the kitchen, her face serious.
“I spoke to Mrs. Adler today,” she said.
My heart sank. “And?” I tried to sound neutral and keep my face blank.
My mother sat down across the table. “Mrs. Adler says that you are the one preventing yourself from reading,” she said, her voice low, staring me in the eye. “She says that you created a psychological barrier that stops you from reading.”
What was she talking about?
“You know how much I’ve tried,” I said, my voice unsteady. I was hurt. “You know exactly that I’ve tried everything I could. I just can’t, Mommy.” I was pleading now. “Please. Understand me.”
My mother shrugged. I stared at her in disbelief, then burst out crying and ran up to my room, too pained to think.
Why would the teacher want to turn my only support system against me? Why would Mrs. Adler want my own parents to now wage war against my disability? And why, why did my parents believe this woman?
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 870)
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