I believe in the power of will.
I had always been a reluctant reader. I only read when it was absolutely necessary. When I was forced to read out loud in class, my tongue stumbled over the unfamiliar syllables. The stern gaze of a second grade teacher, one Mrs. Hansen, told me this wouldn’t continue. I was soon placed in a special reading group with four other ‘cases’. We were escorted out into the hall outside the classroom and seated on a ring of chairs. Then, out came the books: little, flimsy paper-backs; large thick-spined hard-covers and ragged-edged, half-sheets of paper that had been haphazardly stapled together. Oh, how I hated that dreaded half-hour! The whole world stopped turning and took a vacation, letting the time stretch indefinitely.
Even though this ‘friendly’ persuasion helped, I still avoided the idea of reading like a plague-covered corpse. But eventually, taunts began to float around my sheepish ears.
“I heard that she can’t read even this book.”
“What?! You’re joking right?”
Hearing things like this made my blood boil, but they were only shadows of the statement that would tip me over the edge. The proverbial ‘straw that broke the camel’s back’ was something that my sister said. The innocent phrase, “I can read better than you”. I was mortified.
Finally, I had taken enough. I was tired of being dragged by my heels, fingers clawing at the ground. I was tired of hearing the whispering voices that mocked me behind my back. So I did the only thing I could; I stood up, pushed away the offending hands, dusted myself off, and dove in head first. I hoarded books like the dragons of old. I chased after them like Alice after the White Rabbit. I read everything that I could get my hands on from picture books to newspapers.
And eventually, it stuck. Eventually, my tongue stopped trying to play jump-rope with the words and learned to say them the way that they stood in their soldier-like rows on the pages. I began to love the perverse satisfaction I felt when I finished something I didn’t want to. And the roller coaster of events and emotions that took place in the book was something entirely new to me. I had never allowed myself to enjoy the stories past the struggle of trying to figure out the baffling words.
I was like the anti-heros so many children idolize from cartoons, the ones who were so bad they were good. I had hated reading so much I began to love it. I began to love the words I crammed into my brain through my eyes. And, as time passed, I found that it was impossible for me to be somewhere without bringing a book, which is still true. But the simple discovery that I had mastery over myself, over my foolish and counterproductive impulses, gave me the feeling of a great sense of power. I could go anywhere. The sky was the limit.
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