I’m currently reading writer David Sedaris’ book of essays titled “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” In his essay “Go Carolina,” he chronicles his speech therapy sessions to cure his childhood lisp. I was amazed by the way in which he had adapted to having a lisp – he read a thesaurus and found alternative words that did not contain the letter “s.” As a result, he developed a vocabulary that far-exceeded his ten years. I can also identify with his essay, and remember my own speech therapy sessions as a child. When my kindergarten teacher complained to granny that I didn’t speak very well, granny replied, “Well, maybe she’s just not ready to talk.” My recurrent seizures, the first of which had occurred when I was just six months old, were probably more to blame for my reticence than stubbornness. My teacher made the mistake of suggesting to granny that I was “borderline retarded.” “She’s only five. What do you want from her,” granny responded. Yea! You tell ‘em granny! But, my teacher clearly did not realize who she was dealing with. When she threatened to hold me back in kindergarten, granny threatened to call the NAACP and sue my school for race discrimination. I have said it more than once, and I’ll say it again: my granny was a superhero. She was determined to prevent me from becoming just another little brown child relegated to the educational purgagtory known as “special ed,” when all I needed was just a little extra TLC. My teacher conceded, promoted me to the next grade, and placed me in the class right before you get to “special ed.” Well, I guess you can’t win every battle. But, I did get a little extra TLC in the form of speech therapy at school. After recently discovering one of my old clinic cards for a children’s developmental disabilities clinic, I learned that granny had also taken me to speech therapy outside of school. I also found some childhood development pamphlets. “Granny was serious about helping her lil’ no-talking grandbaby,” I thought as I looked at passages she had underlined.
I’ve always loved reading and writing. As a child, I would spend my summers sitting on my porch reading books and writing poetry. I still have those books of poems, which one of my junior high school teachers helped me type on a word processor so that I could create my first book. We never finished my book. “Maybe you’d do better in math if you spent less time reading and more time on your math homework,” one of granny’s friends once told me. Although “mind your business” ran through my head, I simply looked at her like she was crazy and continued reading one of my books from the series The Babysitters’ Club. Poet, magazine editor, and short story writer were among my childhood fantasy careers. My teachers sent me to special writing programs and suggested that I try to get my writing published. I’ve always worked on one school magazine or another. Even my grandmother suggested that I become a writer. But, I wonder why I loved writing so much. I wonder why I felt I could better express myself through writing, and preferred writing to speaking. I wonder whether, like Mr. Sedaris, my writing became a coping mechanism to deal with what others deemed to be a speech impediment or developmental disability. It’s funny how life turns out, and how our experiences influence who we become later in life. In any event, I’m not doing so bad for a “borderline retarded” lil’ brown girl.