"I see." She led me through an unmarked door near the principal's office, into a small, windowless room furnished with two facing desks. It was the kind of room where you'd grill someone until they snapped, the kind frequently painted so as to cover the bloodstains. She gestured toward what was to become my regular seat, then continued her line of questioning.
"And what exactly are they, State and Carolina?"
She opened a file on her desk, saying, "Yes, you're right. Your answers are correct, but you're saying them incorrectly. You're telling me that they're collegeth and univerthitieth, when actually they're collegesand universities. You're giving me a th sound instead of a nice clear s. Can you hear the distinction between the two different sounds?"
"May I please have an actual answer?"
" 'Uh-huh' is not a word."
"Okay," I said. "Sure, I can hear it."
"You can hear what, the distinction? The contrast?"
It was the first battle of my war against the letter s, and I was determined to dig my foxhole before the sun went down. According to Agent Samson, a "state certified speech therapist," my s was sibilate, meaning that I lisped. This was not news to me.
"Our goal is to work together until eventually you can speak correctly," Agent Samson said. She made a great show of enunciating her own sparkling s's, and the effect was profoundly irritating. "I'm trying to help you, but the longer you play these little games the longer this is going to take."
The woman spoke with a heavy western North Carolina accent, which I used to discredit her authority. Here was a person for whom the word pen had two syllables. Her people undoubtedly drank from clay jugs and hollered for Paw when the vittles were ready so who was she to advise me on anything? Over the coming years I would find a crack in each of the therapists sent to train what Miss Samson now defined as my lazy tongue. "That's its problem," she said. "It's just plain lazy."
My sisters Amy and Gretchen were, at the time, undergoing therapy for their lazy eyes, while my older sister, Lisa, had been born with a lazy leg that had refused to grow at the same rate as its twin. She'd worn a corrective brace for the first two years of her life, and wherever she roamed she left a trail of scratch marks in the soft pine floor. I liked the idea that a part of one's body might be thought of as lazy not thoughtless or hostile, just unwilling to extend itself for the betterment of the team. My father often accused my mother of having a lazy mind, while she in turn accused him of having a lazy index finger, unable to dial the phone when he knew damn well he was going to be late.
My therapy sessions were scheduled for every Thursday at 2:30, and with the exception of my mother, I discussed them with no one. The word therapy suggested a profound failure on my part. Mental patients had therapy. Normal people did not. I didn't see my sessions as the sort of thing that one would want to advertise, but as my teacher liked to say, "I guess it takes all kinds." Whereas my goal was to keep it a secret, hers was to inform the entire class. If I got up from my seat at 2:25, she'd say, "Sit back down, David. You've still got five minutes before your speech therapy session." If I remained seated until 2:27, she'd say, "David, don't forget you have a speech therapy session at two-thirty." On the days I was absent, I imagined she addressed the room, saying, "David's not here today but if he were, he'd have a speech therapy session at two-thirty."
Copyright © 2000 by David Sedaris
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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