This is my story. A brutal truth, unknowingly living with dyslexia in 1990.
Eventually, the constant chatter over my seizure, AKA choking episode, quieted. The most recent and dramatic stunt yet, to get out of reading aloud. The attention of my class mate’s was quickly claimed by other gossip and more pressing events like grade eight graduation. Until of course, I was called to the principles office one beautiful spring day.
This happened a lot, but the sinking feeling in my stomach told me this time would be different. The principle and I were on better speaking terms than almost all the students, even some faculty. This was because I spent a lot of time in the office. Three days a week I volunteered to answer the phone and file documents over the lunch hour and after school.
This was one of the many perks of having a teacher’s daughter for a friend. In grade eight, my friends had a huge impact on who I was. Not only was I lucky enough to have beautiful popular friends, they were all brilliant. I mean honor role, enriched classes to boot smart. I guess that guilt by association isn’t always a bad thing. Many people assumed that I was a brainiac too because of the company I kept. Who was I to argue? But, boy, were they wrong.
Volunteering in the library probably reinforced this false image of my high intelligence. Yep, illiterate me, worked in the library and was good at it too. I took the dewy decimals system very seriously and was nice to the Librarians. Meaning, I acknowledged them and recognized them as being human and not just moving features within the aisle of books like most kids at my school. I am sure that had something to do with them requesting me specifically to help rid the carts of returned books.
This walk to the office, however, had nothing to do with my volunteer work. I could feel it, something was up.
The secretary ushered me into the principle’s office as soon as I arrived. His door was already open and he sat at the conference table, not his desk. The sunshine streaming through his wall of windows muted the features of his face. So it was not until after our pleasantries that I noticed his weighed down expression. He was unreadable but my instinct told me to worry. The clunk of the door closing as I sat door vaulted this bad feeling into mild anxiety that was quickly hurling towards panic.
Before him was a very official looking document. At first, I thought I had interrupted his work. Still, I had no clue what I was doing here, in the principle’s office during class, just the two of us.
Even at fourteen, I understood that his polite questions were an attempt to disarm me as a preamble to the bad news.Yet, I still had not expected him to refer to the sheet of paper on the table. After slipping on his glasses the principle explained how he did not have time to read all of the papers that crossed his desk. Instead, he skimmed them by reading the first and last sentence of every paragraph. My throat started to close with the onset of panic but I managed to smile and nod; my go to response in the face of anxiety.
Oh, no! He was going to be asked to read, legal adult jargon.
Before my attack had a chance to alter my breathing, he told me that I should use this method to help me read more quickly.
Over his glasses, he pinned me with his brown eyes. I almost peed my pants. Then, his weathered face quirked into a smile and I was dismissed.
I didn’t get a chance to thank him for the tip even though I knew it would not work for someone like me. By the time I sifted through a paragraph to find the beginning of the last sentence, I may as well read the whole dang thing. That was the thought that carried me back to class until another one stopped me in my tracks. My principle had been troubled as if he had a big decision to make. He alone held my future in his hands.
He would determine if I graduated with my class or was held back to repeat grade eight.
The fist of fear that clenched my heart was enough to bring me to my knees. I fought it but was not so lucky in holding back the well of tears that stung my eyes.
Never before had I been pulled into his office to lightly discuss my studies. That hadn’t been a polite preamble. That had been the entire point of the meeting. The panic started to rise again.
Would he really hold me back?
Three weeks later, I got my answer. In a puffy sleeved dress with big fluffy bangs to match, I was the happiest of grade eight grads.
High school, here I come. It couldn’t be worse than public school. Right?
an everyday occurrence for me in school. Back when I was unaware of my learning disability and knew nothing of dyslexia, all I felt was stupid and panic when centered out and forced to read.
This is my story. A brutal truth, unknowingly living with dyslexia in 1989.
Panic has got to be the worst sensation next to dying. Everything seems to happen at once. My throat goes dry but not before an impossibly thick lump forms. My vision begins to blur around the edges and my limbs go numb. Then, there is the internal turmoil. My lungs don’t stop working as much as I forget to breathe. I can feel my heartbeat thrashing against my ribs and my lunch squirms its way around my gut. All of this because my grade-eight teacher has just passed around the school’s code of conduct that we are expected to read aloud in turn.
Once the roar of my pulse lessons, I can hear and I realize that we will all be assigned a paragraph. Frantically, I blink to regain my vision and count the number of students that should be before me, as a way to find my paragraph. This routine is all too familiar but no less stressful. I read my part over and over in hopes to burn it into my memory. This is doable, I assure myself in hopes to calm my body’s commotion.
My breathing is almost back to normal when I hear my name.
Looking up, all eyes are on me. Panic rises again as I realize that the person next to me hadn’t been reading. I was to read after them, now all preparation time has been lost. The teacher has switched directions on me and it is now my turn. I haven’t a clue where we are or how to find this foreign paragraph that I have never laid eyes upon. Bile curdles in the hollow of my stomach and I feel my face grow cold.
Before I can think, I throw myself onto the floor seizing. The shaking is so violent that I whack my head on the leg of my chair. But that doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as what happens next.
All the students are on their feet. Desks and chairs screech out of the way. Girls are screaming, some are crying. I hear the teacher order someone to the office when I am picked up like a rag doll. Massive arms encircle me while a double fist slams into my chest. The first blow nearly breaks me in half and the fifth surely busts a rib. That’s when my lunch decides to make an entrance. At this point…
vomiting is more of less involuntary.
Faking a seizure seemed like a good idea at the time, although it failed to have an exit strategy. I did not foresee, Randy Caligan the captain of the basketball team and Boy Scout extraordinaire to jump to my rescue. He was so eager to perform his new found skill the Heimlich maneuverthat it didn’t matter that I was not choking.
None the less, minutes later, there I was in the nurse’s room a complete and utter hot mess. With sore ribs, a bruised chest, and blood shot eyes I waited for the final. The puke scent that I called my own was inescapable. Still, this was a far better outcome than having to read out loud.