In the late eighties, high school looked very different to what it does now. Some things, however, do not change. Teenagers who are different in some way from their peers often get excluded. High school should be some of the happiest years of your life but if your not part of the ‘in' crowd its not
I was not part of the in-crowd or any crowd for that matter. My skirt being very long on my mother’s insistence, and the braces adorning my teeth were the least of my teenage woes. Coke bottom bottle glasses so heavy, causing blisters on my ears, crushed my confidence and made me an outsider to even the not so in crowd.
I have a couple of brain cells in my favor but those don't mean a thing if you can not see the blackboard or read your exam papers properly. I even got an ‘H' on my report for typing. I called them my rugby posts. Not fitting in in break times and not growing during class time made me a quiet but very frustrated girl. Somewhere something had to give.
During those years the state doctors vested the schools and those included the odd visit by an ophthalmology team. At first news of this was great. We were about to miss Geography and that is a triumph in itself. Mrs. Appel was a mad woman and someone who did not have the patience or the knowledge to deal with a student who could not read the map work.
The class of forty fourteen-year-olds was squeezed into a room. Two middle-aged ladies looking dull as a soup bone sat behind the desk. They were going through a pile of paper files. The called out our names to check that everyone was present. For a change, no one used the opportunity to take a smoke break or steal a secret snog.
The files were stacked alphabetically. Even I could see which one was mine. The really thick one. Everyone else had a one or two-page short story. Mine was an encyclopedia.
To my absolute horror, I realized what would be happening next. Each student had to read the infamous chart out loud with the rest of the class witnessing their visual skill. Does this mean I would have to do this too? Who could be so cruel? All these kids have great to perfect sight. I can hardly read the first two lines. Imagine the laughter, the pointing, the giggles and muttering behind my back. Being excluded, never picked for a team and completely undervalued suddenly paled into comparison with what was about to happen. I was going to throw to the lions and the spectators will be loving every minute of it.
Having the surname Robberts meant that I would meet my fate would only after twenty-four other students had the change to display the glory of their twenty-twenty vision. Unnoticed I sneaked over to the desk where the soup bones sat.
“Mam, is there any chance I could sit this one out? I had an eye test only a few weeks ago:”
“No, its compulsory’ said the taller of the two soup bones sternly.
"Mam, have you seen my file? If I have to do this please can I do it in private? "
"No, this is the room we were allocated. and it would be a waste of our time" said the short round soup bone
I was ordered back to my seat in no uncertain terms. I slumped back into my chair and felt the tears well up in my eyes.
It was my turn. The two soup bones whispered to each other and flipped through my impressive file.
“Stand behind the line’
I did as I was told. I took a look around. Everyone was dead quiet all of a sudden. With all eyes on me, I started reading.
“E’ I paused
“T O Z”
“L P E D’
The soup bones stood up. I continued
“P E C F O’
I picked up the pace
“E D F C Z P…
I did not stop, I did not breath till the last line below the red line was complete.
For a few seconds, time stood still. The tall soup bone jumped up, threw her arms in the air and shouted
“Praise the Lord, the child can see! Praise the Lord, it’s a miracle!”
I look straight at the two women who through me for the lions and said.
“No mam, not a miracle, a memory!”
Being number 25 on the list meant I could memories the whole chart, and I did. The lions now turned into my allies. My classmates were cheering clapping and some bursting with laughter.
Life is not fair. As Dr. John Martini said. " Turn your scars into stars" Or as I do, turn your horrors into humor.