Memoirs · Miscellaneous


I couldn’t read.

I tried.

Jack and Jill went up that hill but what they did once they got there was always a mystery.

I tried to read.

Still I tried.

The education system here puts you in school at 3 or 4 years-old. They start immediately. I did try. But the words were a mystery. They would move and when I did write there was the problem of mirroring. My b was a d and my e was back to front.

As I wrote, carefully following the dots, my hand would get tired and then I would stop and start with the other. As a child I was ambidextrous. Completely.

That’s the reason, they cried. If she chooses then she would read.

So I was told. Choose.

I’m not sure how old I was but I remember that I needed to climb onto my seat. I remember trying to work out which would be easiest. The clincher was scissors. A strange thing to think that such a small kid can reason what would be the best, solely on comfort of use.

You had to have left handed or right handed scissors. You couldn’t use the other. I always cut out using my right hand. There were over 30 in the class and only 2 left-handed scissors, and there were already 3 people left-handed. If I chose left then I would have to wait like the others. And I had already realised that it took me a long time to do stuff. Sometimes my hand wouldn’t do quite what I wanted it to.

So, I chose.

I became right-handed.

I have a dim memory of someone stopping me using my left-hand, but it is dim and distant.

Except there was no cure. My b’s didn’t miraculously become d’s. And my e was definitely backwards.

She’s slow, they whispered.

Adults first and then kids. Because kids copy their adult counterparts. I sometimes wonder whether adults are aware how much damage they do with a disgusted look or a slight. Slowly I was ostracised. The fact that I couldn’t read or write meant that it didn’t take long.

I fought back.

With my fists.

Those of you who know me will find this surprising, but my mum was only ever called into school once for one of her kids fighting. That would be me.

Don’t ever do that again, Mum said.

But… I tried to tell her.

She was angry and I never brought it up again.

You see there is one thing that I’m desperate to never do. I never, ever want to disappoint the ones I love. So, I will go out of my way to make sure I won’t. That was the last day I fought back with my hands and feet.

After that I took the kicks, the hits and the jibes. It stopped with me. It never affected my family or anyone I cared about. I took the hits and with every one I protected those around me.

By the time I was eleven I still couldn’t read.

Jack and Jill had got tired and dusty in that time.

I wanted to soar in the clouds and ride dragons, not read about pails of water. That summer my mum was told I either learn to read or I get to go to a special school.

My mum stormed into the school, her cape flying and her eyes flashing. Anyone who went toe to toe with her lost. She fought for me.

One more summer, she said. That is all we will need.

Then she told me to fight. But I did. Everyday. It wasn’t the fight she has. It isn’t the same. Mine is quiet and watchful. Hers is full of brimstone and fire.

That summer I lit the match to my fight. It burned bright and long.

I rode a bike the first time that year, and I learned to read. I was 11 years old.

It didn’t stop the bullying but now I could fly. I could ride dragons and pet tigers. I fought armies and lay snoozing on purple grass. It made life so much better.

Even now I will stand and take the hits, although they tend to be metaphorical, because that is how I protect those around me. That is how I fight. And one thing I do know is that I never give up.

There is a breed of dog, that once it bites, its jaw locks up. That is me. Except I will do it with a smile and a grin. If you want me to break then good luck because I won’t. I have been through worse. Instead, I stand and take it, because that is how I fight. And when you think that is enough I will walk forward with a smile. I am fighting you, you just didn’t realise.

I have fought to read, to ride a bike, to get a degree, to get another one, to get my masters and I am now fighting for my PhD. It will be a long and slow slog but I won’t give up. It’s just the way I fight.

Have you ever seen that bad movie with Kevin Costner in? Dances with Wolves? Her name in her native language was ‘Stands With a Fist’. That is what I do. I stand with fists and I won’t ever falter. My mum told me to fight and I don’t think I have stopped, ever.


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