Finding and Losing: Three Bits of a Single Thing
Bit One: Finding a Loss
I needed a better pen so I wouldn’t be dumb anymore.
If I found the right pen my handwriting would be better and my teachers would stop making fun of me. If my teachers would stop making fun of me the other kids would stop making fun of me for being dumb.
I was a dumb kid with great grades so my teachers didn’t like me.
“The cat ranp three? What does that mean?”
“I don’t know.”
“Is that what it says?”
She pushed the volume and condescension of her voice up, “You think that what it says?”
I didn’t move because I was bracing.
“You wrote it!”
She looked around as if she was expecting some of her better fifth grade students to give her high-fives. Which was pathetic of her and is depressing to me that I thought something so implausible could have happened.
I remembered later while I was writing a "d" that I meant to write, "The cat ran up the tree." The "d" I was trying to write looked more like a "b" and I went over the backward "d" so many times that the paper tore. It hurt me and so I ended up getting my mother to take me to the office supply store.
There were no more pens to try there other than a $20 pen that could write in space and my mother told me I would never be in space.
I went to look around with the pen in my hand. I cut it open with some paper cutter thing, pocketed the pen, and put the plastic in one of the random safes they had on display.
At home, I went to a pad of paper to try it out and it turned out I failed.
The problem was me and a few grades later I was given a diagnosis that became more a name for me or at least a terrible club membership. I was dysgraphic.
Bit Two: Dealing with the Finding
Having dysgraphia meant I would never be able to write as legibly as others, which meant people would always think I was dumb. It hurt, but the other parts of the diagnosis crushed me. It’s not just the physical act of writing, but any organization of thoughts.
I wanted to be able to write legibly so others didn’t call me dumb, but I also thought it would help me with what I loved doing, which was storytelling.
There was always some kind of notebook in my hand and there had always been one since my third-grade teacher had given me a single compliment about being good at writing — which is all a sad kid needs sometimes.
In the months after finding out what was wrong with me, late into middle school, there wasn’t. I would still write. I would just try to remember any good idea until I got home to type it, then after I would re-read each sentence and change things around until I deleted everything in defeat. No matter what I wrote I felt like it had to be wrong.
At least my teachers stopped complaining about my work being decorated. I stopped doodling in the margins of everything handed to me since dysgraphia meant I couldn’t draw either. I didn’t know I couldn’t draw before I found out what was wrong but now I did.
Doodling was a hard habit to break so I broke it along with the lead of my cheap mechanical pencils. There was no reason to have nice ones or nice anything for writing anymore. So when I would start drawing little circles the lead would break and the slight annoyance would remind me that I was broken.
My head was on my desk after one of these moments in my favorite teacher’s class and someone called me dumb. The teacher told him that wasn’t nice and he said it was true because I was retarded.
“Yeah, I’m retarded but I’m still smarter than you.”
My favorite teacher said ‘Hall’ louder than I had ever heard her say anything.
We got up and she told him to sit down while she grabbed my wrist to pull me into the hallway.
She was angry and got on her knees to shake me. I had never had anyone tell me how smart I was in any way that I believed and I never thought someone could make me believe it, but she did and I tightened my jaw to keep the tears inside. She demanded that I tell her why she never saw me write in class anymore and the tears made their way out.
The next class period there was a stack of composition books at the front of the room and everyone had to grab one. She told us that we would write without stopping for ten minutes. She told us that we were to be in our seats with our notebooks open when the bell rang every class period and start writing until she told us we could stop.
“Write about what you're thinking. If you don’t know what to write you will write about how you don’t know what to write. Write that. Write that you don’t know what to write over and over again if you have to. Do not stop writing."
This exercise hurt me because of intrusive thoughts about how I was bad, broken, and wrong. I did it every class period without stopping. Nothing had ever made me confront my thoughts and emotions like that did and I still write without stopping almost every morning.
I carried that composition book everywhere and I would even write in it outside of class.
Bit Three: Losing the Loss
I was in a bookstore with that composition book in my hand. It was summer and I had stopped writing in it. Not because the school year was over, but because there was so much emotional weight in the book that I didn’t want to fill the last few pages with something meaningless.
It needed an ending of some kind. It needed something to summarize everything in it. There were chairs and I decided now was the time. I sat down, opened the book up to the last blank pages and started to procrastinate.
I looked around and adjusted my position enough that I understood I wasn’t going to finish those last few pages that day or ever. My eyes were on the ground and the tips of my fingers slid over the shelves to keep me on any path. Having the self-awareness of other teenagers I was worried about how pathetic I looked. My head tilted back into a non-defeated position and I started to pretend to look at the titles on the shelf. I moved along the wall section-by-section with unfocused eyes.
There was a wall of sketchbooks and notebooks and my eyes suddenly cared. I pulled the least fancy one from the lower shelf that cost a quarter of the price of the ones at eye-level. It was a green A4-sized hardcover sketchbook and I headed to the cashier with a stride that was only stopped by a display of nice pens.
Written for issue 4 of Plumbago