Alcippe (alcippe) wrote,
Alcippe
alcippe

Shame

I have arrived far too early; there is no one in the room and the lights are out. I turn them on and find a seat, settling my things beside myself. I am nervous but optimistic. Eventually people begin to trickle in, mostly paired in couples; best friends, husbands and wives. They have signed up to take French together. I say "hello" cheerfully as they come in, and they warily smile in return. I become quiet and feel self conscious. No one sits near me; I am near the front and everyone who comes in takes a seat in the back. When I signed up for the class I had been told that only three other people had registered for it. But the room fills up fast, and my heart sinks. Sixteen, seventeen, eighteen... they keep piling in. A wealthy middle aged couple settles into the chairs to my left and they make a great deal out of arranging themselves. Finally the instructor arrives, bouncing into the room, immediately speaking in French. She is fun and enthusiastic as she leads us through the alphabet and then the pronunciation of french letters. I follow along the best I can, and although I have questions I am afraid to ask them because I don't want to draw attention to myself as the idiot in the crowd. She whizzes through everything and my head spins - I can't keep track of where she is in the book (all the page numbers are written in French) and I can hardly understand a word she is saying. I follow along as best I can, trying to soak up as much as possible and jotting notes to help me remember things. Then she has us all stand up to practice what we have learned. I have no idea what she wants us to say to one another because she has given us the instructions in French; the words go in one ear, and though they are pretty, they flow right out the other. The florescent lights seem far too bright. All of my classmates are easily doing the exercise, laughing together and having a good time, but I can not understand. I feel stupid and so utterly alone, so embarrassed of myself and my inability to learn what seems to come so easily to everyone else. I stand confused, trying desperately to blend in, but soon the teacher has zeroed in on me, the weak one who can not grasp what everyone else finds simple, and comes to help me. But she is speaking in French and my confusion only grows. "I don't know what you're saying," I tell her and she just shakes her head and smiles. I mumble a few words in French and she nods enthusiastically, although I don't know what I have just said or why it was "right". An Old Feeling begins to well up in me, one that I have known for a long, long time. It is the same feeling I would get when I couldn't tell the difference between a "b" and a "d" or a "p" and a q" and all the other kids would look over as though there was something fundamentally wrong with me. My Black Hole Brain. Back then they didn't know I was learning disabled, they had other, less kind words for it. And all this comes back to me as I stand there, struggling and stammering and confused and alone and terrified and wondering "what is WRONG with me?" And I absolutely can not help my eyes from welling up and I want to run from the room but do not. I stand and choke back my tears in this living nightmare. No one has pity; the other students avoid me like the plague as they see me shakily holding in my distress. I curse myself. And finally, after an eternity of humiliation, the instructor lets us return to our seats. She tells everyone (in French) that they must collect my phone number to help me practice what we have learned, and then she addresses me and gently tells me that I must have courage, that it is only the first class and I must not lose heart. But even this soft kindness makes me cringe because I hate giving people the impression that I am weak or incapable. Finally the class is over and everyone packs up their books and I put my jacket on. No one comes up to ask for my number. I stuff my books into my bag and leave the classroom in utter and complete shame.

I imagine that my instructor never expects to see me again, and if I were anyone else I would probably assume the same. But if I were that sort of person - the kind who can not get back up when they are down, or the kind that gives up easily - I certainly wouldn't be where I am today. Because that is another Old Feeling: I never let the bastards get me down, at least not for very long.
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  • 39 comments

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    I feel I need to record this. The experience of walking to the späti (convenience store) in Berlin at night on Rigaer Straße. There are dozens of…

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