The Out

There is nothing special about this room. It’s cold. It’s cinderblock. It has a high-gloss speckled puce linoleum floor that resembles vomit. Fluorescent lighting. A chalkboard at the front and a whiteboard to the left. The windows are too high to see out of, unless you’re standing up. Even then, the view is a typical frozen field in January — not a tree in sight. A metal desk, an overhead projector. Neat rows of student desks. The smell of lysol and erasers.

The teacher usually starts the class by making us read aloud row by row. Today she calls on us randomly and we don’t have a chance to look ahead to pre-read our paragraph. This is a moment of panic for a dyslexic like me. My heart races. My stomach churns. I pray to the gods that they are merciful and she won’t call on me. She doesn’t — she calls on David.

David is a football player, but he’s hardly a jock, he’s just big. David has acne and he can grow a beard in a day. He’s kind and he’s painfully shy in a social-suicide sort of way. He’s great at shop class and home-ec. He’s really gifted at math, but he flounders in this classroom. He sputters. He gropes. He dies — daily. With visible sweat forming on his brow, David, obediently opens his book, finds his paragraph and with a large finger pressed firmly to the page in front of him, he begins to read. His voice is baritone and it has no choice but to fill the room. David cannot hide. The room is completely quiet as he is painfully grated over words. Trip. Fall. Recover. Fall. Roll. Slip. Teeter. Topple. Impale. What a disaster.

I’m usually an escape artist, but I’m paralyzed in my seat — horrified at the unfurling of deformed letters and symbols and all their possible sounds weaving in and out of the negative space in front of me. My eyes are fine, but my anxiety is blinding. I’m mentally kicking myself for not coming up with an “out.” I always have an “out.” I scan the page looking for words to decode — the ones that will undoubtedly trip me up. If I’m not called on to read, I’ll surely be called on to discuss what was read, and I won’t have answers because I’m surviving the moment and not comprehending the material. I’m a hider. No one knows my struggle — it’s my secret that can be discovered at a moments notice if I’m not careful. I’m not obvious like, David, whose knees are plastered to the underside of his desk. His football jersey is the only thing that keeps the class from mercilessly taunting, which is why I assume he must wear it well past football season.

From the back of the room comes the noise of the pencil sharpener. Mike. This is the thing Mike does, he gets up in the middle of the class and he sharpens his pencil as a distraction. Mike deconstructs #2 pencils, mechanical pencils, and pens. His desktop is notoriously covered with tortured pencils, springs, ink and empty pen casings all in various forms of “art.” He sometimes shoots things like paperclips from his converted crossbow pens. He’s the guy who fills his pockets with straws from the cafeteria and sneaks them into the classroom; nasty things fly out of those straws. He gets himself kicked out of class often for distractions like this, but the sound of that pencil sharpener is like beautiful music grinding out David’s voice. Suddenly Mike is walking to the front of the class. He passes my desk in a wind that turns pages. Two drops of blood fall onto the floor by my desk. Bright red and shiny on the linoleum floor — the “out” I’ve been waiting for. The teacher doesn’t even respond she just points to the door, and he leaves holding his wrist. The room gasps and everyone looks at the blood on the floor and wonders what happened. I quietly raise my hand.

I pass Mike who is in the nurse’s office. We briefly exchange eye contact, and I quickly look beyond him and keep walking to the office. I make a call, “mom, a kid stabbed himself with a pencil. He was bleeding everywhere and I feel sick. Can I come home?” I’m surprised it worked, my mom knows I’m not afraid of blood. I hold my car keys and clutch my bag and I walk right through those double doors like a wild animal being released back into its natural habitat. The Artful Dodger — stealing an “out.” I might beg, borrow or steal, but at least I’d never stab myself to get out of reading. The cold air takes my breath away. I forgot my coat, but I’m not going back for it. I’d rather freeze.

At home my little sister runs to greet me and the sound of her happy little running feet fills me with joy. Sunlight fills the front room and the light streams across the wooden floors like warm honey. I plunk a C chord on the piano keys on my way into the kitchen, and my mind sings Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. I toss my bag on the stairs and startle a long-haired orange and white tabby cat as he attempts to sleep on a nearby heat vent. A bright green sweet potato vine cascades across a window ledge. A row of shiny pots and pans hang from the ceiling. Two round mounds of bread dough are rising from underneath a warm cloth towel. My mom is on the phone in the other room, so deep in conversation she doesn’t even look up. Good, maybe I won’t have to talk about my day. I don’t want to think about today, I’ll think about it tomorrow when I have to face it all over again. I see a pot of water boiling on the stove and I pour in a box of pasta. My giggly little sister stands on a chair next to me and watches me make a butter and garlic sauce. I add a tiny pinch of McCormick’s chicken seasoning — just the way she likes it.

*This is creative non-fiction. I changed certain aspects of the story around just a little in order to protect identities. This is based on my perspective as a dyslexic student in the classroom.

Originally published at on November 12, 2015.

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