When I was six, I went to first grade in a little red schoolhouse that I thought of as “real school.” And sometimes, I actually got to “go” there.
The little red schoolhouse was three blocks from where I lived, and sometimes I could talk—okay, beg—my mom into letting me walk to school. At these times, I’d proudly set out with my backpack and velcro shoes with R and L on the heels on a journey that would put Alexander the Great to shame.
I had exactly fourteen landmarks between my house and school. Some of the most interesting were The Nice Lady’s House across the street, the Turn in the Sidewalk (which in high school I learned you could call a “street corner” without being arrested by the Spatial Grammar Police) and The Very Naughty Word in the Sidewalk.
It was two words, actually, and it was my favorite landmark of all. First of all, it was *words.* I’d been reading for three years by then, and I had no problem knowing what it said—though I was in junior high before I knew what it meant. But, more than that, it was the home stretch. My last official landmark before I made it to school.
Sometimes I didn’t make it to school. I would blank out, my mind going wherever it chooses to go when I’m finding my way somewhere (I think it has a summer home on Mars), and I’d feel like I’d wander out too far into the ocean. Then I’d hear my name.
“Tera,” my mom would say. “Need a lift?”
I couldn’t believe my luck. Here was my mom, passing by at the exact moment I’d lost my tenuous grip on spatial relations. (I wouldn’t call it “getting lost”—most of the time I was going the right way: I just didn’t know it). So I’d hop in the car, not knowing until my later teens that Mom followed me to school whenever I went just in case something like this would happen, and all the hard work would be done for the day. For the most part.
I’m fairly atypical for someone with a learning disability in that, with the exception of math, academics were my *thing.* The first day of first grade, I had intoxicating visions of writing reports on books fatter than “War and Peace,” and was heartily disappointed when our first assignment was to color pictures. Three years later, my social studies group nearly had me burned at the stake for wanting to write a report about the Omaha tribe when they wanted to make a diorama. (As far as I was concerned, dioramas were stupid—and evil). We compromised: they made their diorama, and I happily wrote a report long enough for three people.
Still, when it came to recess, I would have rather made dioramas. I had friends (my NLD, as far as I know, doesn’t really affect my social skills), but I could never find them on the playground. The teachers on recess knew me well—and eventually had this to say to me:
“You’re old enough to find Sheila [or Wes, or Rachel, or Lizzie] yourself.”
Luckily, my friends were smarter than most adults that knew me and figured out how to wait for me outside my classroom for lunch and recess. I was assigned a “buddy” to walk with me to and from the higher reading class, and one to take me to the Resource Room. (I went to a Catholic grade school, and one unfortunate byproduct of the separation of church and state was that the special ed teacher couldn’t be in the school building).
As I got higher up in education, school got easier and more fun. I haven’t been assigned a diorama since junior high and I’m able to choose my own classes and interpret literature or history more than build things and read charts. Now I’m a junior at Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia (it’s academically challenging, liberal artsy, and, best of all, *small*) where I’m majoring in Classics and English/Creative Writing. I don’t drive (to the great shock of a girl I knew in high school who said, “But you’re one of the smartest people in *school*!”), but I enjoy translating and have more Latin, Greek, and ancient history books than is healthy for most people. And if you were to ask me who my favorite mythological person is, I’d have to say Odysseus. After all, it took him ten years to get home.