When did I first learn to read? I don’t know. I do have a clear memory of sitting on the landing of the stairs in the house in Schenectady, reading “The Wizard of Oz.” I’m very small, very young in that memory, not quite understanding the entire book, but deeply immersed in it. I wanted to verify the memory and asked my brother about it.
Harry said, “You were always begging to be read to. I think I got frustrated and just handed you the book. You read it in a week and begged for another one. Pretty amazing; you were five years old.” Really? FIVE? Did I understand all of the book? No. Some of it? Yes, apparently, because Harry grilled his little sister over it. He told me I seemed to enjoy the story and the characters, even got some of the themes (the second part of Oz is kind of dark), but most of all, that little girl wanted to BE in the book, be part of the fantasy.
My brother and I have had our problems; we were part of what is now recognized as a dysfunctional family. In the beginning, right up until his freshman year of high school, we were a pair. Mary Lou ( my older sister) and Christine (my younger sister) were the other pair. Harry and I were the dreamers, the lazy kids, the quiet ones. Mary Lou and Chris were smart, fast-talking, loud, bold and gorgeous. Oh, we all fought, called each other names, hurt each other in awful ways, but sometimes, one of a pair would defend and protect the other.
No matter what, I’ll always be grateful to Harry for sending me “over the rainbow.” I was a middling-to-good student. Teachers would say I had potential, but was lazy. Nope, I’d spend the first days reading the entire textbook and then be bored with the class, so I daydreamed through the rest of the school year. I had unicorns, spaceships, robots and aliens dancing past my eyes inside my head and so vividly that the Real world was the dream. I filled my workbooks with my own stories. If a teacher asked a question, I usually knew the answer. I’d read the textbook, after all. I didn’t understand why we had to plow through it chapter by chapter, page by page, for the next nine months. Unfortunately, school doesn’t want you to just KNOW something, they want you to WORK to get there and show your work.
Case in point: Geometry. I failed it, big time, for a number of reasons. I had no use for math, it didn’t interest me, only words mattered to me. I could look at a problem and KNEW the answer, but show how I got the answer, step by step, in a theorem? Fugeddaboutit! I needed the class to graduate with a NY Regents diploma, so I had to retake it. Good friends did my homework for me, tried to teach me; they helped just enough that I ended up with a “D.” Science class, specifically – Earth Science. Loved the teacher; she took us places! Spelunking! I still love wandering through a dark cave! The labs were interesting and she made them fun. The workbooks, not so fun. My lab partner was a sweet boy, but after we did the experiment, Rob would go to sleep while I was writing stories in my workbook. Mrs. Stamos gave us the middle grade – a “C” – because we excelled in everything but lab workbooks. She decided we learned through osmosis!
I sucked at sports, any sport, but I could sing, draw, and write. I was the slowest kid, the clumsy kid, but I could dream and act out those dreams, share them with like-minded friends. When we played “Pretend,” I became that character, I wasn’t acting or playing; I WAS that person, alive and real, and Eileen the klutzy, dumpy retard no longer existed (yeah, I got called that awful word, by my family, by teachers. My IQ proved them wrong, but all they saw was a lazy daydreamer who walked into walls and fell out of perfectly good chairs. Oh, nothing physically wrong with me – I just was in another world – which made navigating my body around in their world a bit of a problem.).
I’ve lived an interesting Life, I think and have been told. For much of it, Eileen sat to the side while her other selves lived “over the rainbow.” Will you join me there, in my stories – real and imagined? I’ll try not to put you to sleep with endless fields of poppies. Instead, grab a sword and bring on the flying monkeys!