Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Biggest Secret

I wrote this article for contest at Yahoo Contributions Network back in 2007 but they are going out of business and the rights to the article are reverting back to me. So, I found an old post in this blog that was still set to draft and I plugged this article in its place. Even though it has been on the web over at YCN all these years I seriously doubt any of my family and friends has ever seen. Only two or three even know about my biggest secret.....

My Biggest Secret

When you spend your grade school years being labeled with words like 'stupid,' 'retard' and 'dumb' you carry those labels inside and let them warp your soul for decades to come. It doesn't matter that as an adult you finally find out what was wrong with you back in the forties would now be labeled a learning disability, that message of being less than everyone else is still up there in your noggin waiting to rear its ugly head. You're entire life is colored by hidden childhood hurts and longing to be normal. Being dyslexic is a secret I've carried around my entire life.

I jokingly say that my brain was put in half-ass backwards. The joke is that people don't know that I'm not kidding. It's the way I see myself. The half-ass-backwards remarks are a cover-up for times when I do something like turn right when I meant to turn left or I confuse green lights for red. When you've spent a lifetime covering up your "stupid stunts" you find ways to compensate. You follow the others in your group instead of being in the lead. You watch what other cars in traffic are doing at every intersection instead of trusting the traffic signals. And above all you never, ever drive when you are tired.

It's only been a year or two that I've started talking about the fact that I couldn't tell time or tie my shoes until I was well past the age that most kids learn to do those things. It wasn't until I finally graduated from college at age forty-three that I admitted that my ability to read well came long after I graduated from high school. Yes, I was that high school kid who was always leaving her fictitious pair of reading glasses at home if I was asked to read out loud. To this day I can't spell my way past the 'Dick and Jane' books of my youth without my trusty Franklin Language Master 3000 at my side. I can't sound out words. I can get the middle and the end but not the middle which comes from sight reading instead of understanding phonics. My Franklin was built in 1988 and it if ever dies, I will too. The newer electronic dictionaries just don't work as well. It understands me and it was the best gift my husband ever bought me. It cost a small fortunate at the time.

I've always wanted to be a writer. Books were a mystery and a challenge to me, a mountain that I wanted to climb. I wanted to be that little kid who could stand up proudly at the front of a classroom and read out loud without stumbling and without snickers coming from the other kids. Only I thought those other kids reading were making up the words they couldn't sound out as they stood there in front of the blackboard. That's what I did. Reading and writing a book was one and the same thing in my half-assed backward, childish brain.

I was ten years old when I started my first diary and thank goodness that I did or I might never have found out that I was, in fact, dyslexic growing up. It's filled with creative spelling and cryptic language that is---well---half-assed backwards. Back in the late eighties I showed that first diary to my niece who, at the time, was a special education teacher who worked with children with learning disabilities. One long, enlightening conversation and some testing later a whole new view of my childhood emerged. It all made sense. Finally. I don't remember exactly what she told that day but it was something like dyslexia is caused by an immature transmitter in between the two halves of our brains and sometimes that transmitter can mature/self correct as we age. By the time it does many kids with dyslexic have given up on themselves. Thus that's the reason why they are encouraged to keep up with their class by using audio text books, hoping that transmitter will eventually kick in and do its job. Dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ.

The pain of growing up labeled with negative terms started receding when I graduated from college. It no longer matters that it took me twenty-five years of off-again-on-again classes to accomplish that feat. (I got through the first three years in the 1960s but I had saved all the classes that required heavy reading for my senior year and I dropped out rather than face it.) It no longer matters that I spent nearly three decades of my life calling my mother long distance just to have her spell a word that I couldn't figure out. (If she hadn't passed away, I'd still be calling.) What does matter is that childhood experiences---good or bad---help shape who we become as adults. Through the miracle of time, I've learned to like who I've become. I still have to work harder than a lot of people at writing, though. My first drafts are filled with little mistakes that I won't catch unless I let it set a few hours because as I write, I tend to have the text memorized thus I'm not really seeing/reading what I wrote.

I covered up a secret for almost my entire life---a secret that in the forties and fifties when I grew up didn't even have a name. People really did believe that kids like me were stupid, retards and dumb. Thank goodness society now knows how to identify and help children with dyslexia. Thank goodness that I'm now able to hug that little dyslexic girl inside when her pain occasionally causes her to reach out for comfort. ©


  1. I applaud your honesty, and how wonderful it is that you're now able to hug yourself when you think of that little girl! How brave you were to find a way to help yourself, continue on to college. My oldest brother (who is now deceased) was actually developmentally challenged (and, yes back in the 40's, 50's and even some these days people use those words that I dislike so much i.e. retard) ; his world was quite often a lonely place. But, as time went on when he wasn't in a downward spiral, he learned to read and write in an elementary way. I was so proud of him!

    Thank you for sharing this secret, and I hope you don't mind that I commented.


    1. I love it when people comment on anything I write! And thanks for sharing the story about your brother. Dyslexic, even the milder forms like mine, can be so painful when not understood the way they are understood today. Although as recently as a year ago I heard someone complain that she didn't think it was right that a kid was given audio text books in school. "How is he ever going to learn to read if he doesn't have to?" Thanks, again.