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You know that excited feeling you have when you're little, as you wait on the front doorstep for the mail carrier to bring you a package? Every afternoon right when you get home from school, you run out and sit on that step for hours until the mail carrier tells you, 'Sorry, nothing today.' At first, you are hopeful and tell yourself that tomorrow will be the day. Then days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months; you begin to give up hope. It's been almost twelve years now, and I'm still sitting on my front doorstep waiting for my package to arrive. It's been so long that, for a while, I even forgot what was in that package. But today I know exactly what I have been sitting around waiting for: I have been waiting to live. Life is what that package contains, and once I have it securely in my hands, I know I won't ever let it go again.
I wasn't a cookie-cutter child; I didn't fit into the same mold as my eight-year-old friends. At least that's what having dyslexia and Tourette syndrome felt like to me. In second grade, my stomach twisted in knots every time the teacher asked the class to take out our readers. I came to detest those books about Jill and Jack with their dog, Spot. Who names their dog Spot anyway? The words printed on the pages of my reader were like puzzles my mind tried to solve but never could. As the teacher went around the room, calling on different people to read a passage aloud, I'd pretend to be invisible while praying that she'd skip over me. Eventually, the teacher would call out my name. The routine was always the same: I'd sit there for a few minutes making thhh or mmm sounds as I tried to sound out words like those or much. The teacher would stand in front of me with both hands planted firmly on her hips, tapping a foot up and down impatiently. Then, after I'd made a few hopeless attempts, she'd skip over me and move on to the next kid.
By midway through the year, not only had my reading skills failed to improve, but also I refused even to try sounding out a word when I was called on. The harrumph noise that escaped from my vexed teacher's mouth didn't bother me as much as the feeling of embarrassment and the sound of snickering classmates. When my parents realized that my reading problem wasn't something I would eventually work around, they decided to have me tested for a learning disorder. After running through a battery of tests, the specialist diagnosed me with dyslexia and suggested my parents look into placing me at a school for children with learning disabilities. My parents' decision to move me to a special school was encouraged by the principal, who told them the school was ill equipped to deal with children like me. A few years later, they also removed my younger sister, Samantha, from the same school. I say removed because the way she was treated resembles how people handle old, unwanted pieces of furniture they throw out the front door for the garbage man to pick up. I guess the school based its philosophy not so much on teaching, but on manufacturing cookie-cutter children. My sister and I didn't exactly fit into the school's ideal mold, though, because I couldn't read and Sam had cerebral palsy.
Of the three girls in the family, I would consider my older sister, Brooke, the 'normal' child. Brooke was popular, smart, pretty, and accepted. Everything about her seemed so right, whereas Sam and I were sort of a mess. Sam stopped breathing when she was born, which caused mild brain damage. Primarily her motor skills had been affected, which turned walking into an arduous task. When Sam turned four, she had surgery to help her walk; the aftermath of that surgery was a painful experience for the entire family. I hated hearing her cry out in pain whenever she tried to take a step forward. Her piercing cries sent Brooke and me running into the safety of our small bedroom to escape the horrible noise. Ironically, it was because of Sam's disability that I was able to find my greatest love—horses. Brooke and I began taking riding lessons after my mother discovered a type of equine therapy that would ameliorate some of Sam's pain and relax her taut muscles. I fell in love with those gentle giants the very first time I walked into the barn. I liked the way my pony's sleek coat felt against my fingertips, and how the aroma of sweet hay filled the barn aisles. After a while, my pony's stall became my safe house, providing me with an escape from teasing kids and staring adults.
©2010. Melissa Binstock All rights reserved. Reprinted from Nourishment. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442