What happens when your biggest dream becomes a re-occurring nightmare?
Imagine you are in first grade and more than anything in the world you want to learn to read and write, unlike the other kids, you know what you want to do when you grow up. You want to write books.
So you stare hard at the blackboard as the teacher writes a sentence in white chalk. Everyone in the class seems to be able to read it, except you. The girl sitting beside you leans over and whispers, “It says . . . See Jane run.” You concentrate hard, but no matter how long or hard you look, it doesn’t make sense. None. Not one wit of sense.
All you can see is a series of sticks and squiggles. Symbols that in your mind have no meaning. It doesn’t take long for you to figure out that you are not getting it—that you are not one of the smart kids.
Had you known then what kind of determination and resiliency would be required to fulfill your dream, there’s a pretty good chance you may have hid in the pale pink tunnel at the edge of the playground and refused to come out for the rest of your life. But, you were young. And innocent. Back then, life stretched before you like a freshly paved asphalt road before anyone had a chance to paint the yellow lines. There was not one ounce of caution or resignation in your six-year-old bones.
Today, over forty years later, when you see letters or numbers or sentences written on blackboards, or even when you pick up a pen to write, your stomach still leaps with that familiar panicky feeling and the fear rises around you like an invisible vapor coating your pores with shame and inadequacy.
What if everyone gets it, except you?
This deep burn in your belly, you know, in your mature adult-self, is the price you have paid all of your life for the odd ability to see the world inside out and upside down. Most of the time, if you slow down enough, take a deep breath, and concentrate on the words, the dark feelings leave of their own volition. Yet, over the years, the memories have lived on in your cells and you do not know who you would be without them. So, you’ve learned to adapt, to slow down, to enunciate your words, to write them out when necessary, and to let yourself dream in spite of the ugly fog that threatens to swallow you whole.
In spite of your own shame and inadequacy.
In spite of other people’s impatience, frustration, and judgments.
Like that time in second grade when you were called to the nurse’s office to look into a special machine, to test your eyes. Inside, there was a picture of a small town with a stop sign and a cow. The nurse asked, which came first the cow or the stop sign. You picked the cow. This disappointed her. She switched the plates in and out of the machine and asked you to pick again. You picked the stop sign, because you wanted her to be happy, but as it turned out she was even more disappointed than before.
Or that time in third grade when you wrote the spelling words on your arm like Jake Munson, but you got caught and had to stand up and apologize to the entire class for being a liar and a cheat.
Or that time in fourth grade when the teacher made you stand in a corner and hold the weekly reader against the wall with your nose, because you had refused to read aloud to the class. She did not believe that you did not know these words. She said you were being obstinate and sassy and acting dumb just to draw attention to yourself.
Then, in college when you confessed to your best friend that you had always dreamed of being a writer, and she laughed so hard that the beer bubbled out of her nose and she convinced you that a business degree would be a far better fit because she wasn’t going to type any more papers for you and no one could read a damn thing you wrote.
As any dyslexic will tell you, there is something about seeing the world differently that makes you want to see it even more, that makes you want to try harder, that makes you want to master this unruly part of your self. So you keep at it, ignoring the naysayersl and one day, perhaps just to torture yourself a little more, you find yourself signing up for night classes as a “special student” and taking courses in typing, grammar and poetry, taking all those courses your friend had convinced you would be way too hard. Staying up late, typing your own papers or pressing the pencil so hard on the pages of your journal that it would break off into a run across the page lead flying in all directions as you dared to dream even bigger.
And when the night course ended the teacher asked you to say after. The fire in your belly roared in your ears as she walked over and handed you a stack of papers, your papers, dripping with red marks.
“The parts I could read were stunning. You have a gift, I hope you will learn to type and go get an MFA.”
Many, many years later, your son starts sixth grade, and finally, with a nudge from a kind writer friend, you apply to a Writing program to pursue your MFA, even though you feel certain that there is no way in hell you’ll be able to keep up, much less get in.
But, you do. In fact, you receive a scholarship for your essay application.
And now, here you are, three novels, countless short stories and many poems later writing reflecting back on your own definition of resiliency, thinking that some true story problems may take an entire lifetime to answer.