I haven’t talked about Kathy for a while, so I thought I’d post a quick update.
We took almost a month off over the Christmas holidays, due to the fact that the college was closed and I left for Boston the very week we were supposed to get back to our regime. I was anxious to see her, because I knew she had gotten teeth.
I expected her to look prettier, but I wasn’t prepared for how a set of false teeth would drastically change her appearance. Her smile is perfect now. Very natural. Her teeth are straight and white, her expression filled with feminine charm. The new teeth fill out her face, making her chiseled features look distinct. She also looks more intelligent. That sounds cruel, but it’s true. When she only had three rotting teeth, she looked like the stereotypical illiterate country gal you might picture right off if I was telling you about her. Now, she is far removed from the “hick” persona people find it so easy to poke fun at. She looks not unlike the upper middle class mothers who used enroll their children in our dance school. I imagine this slight change in her image will alter how others treat her is dozens of ways. Sad, but true.
I was thrilled for her. She said it took her a day or two to re-learn how to speak, but that was exciting too. Now I can work with her pronunciation, which is vital to grasping how to spell.
She had brought me a few peanut butter cookies she had made from scratch. I sent her a Christmas subscription to a cooking magazine, hoping it would inspire her to attempt a few recipes. She said it was a complete surprise. To thank me, she made a batch of cookies from the first issue. The cookies were good, but I don’t think Kathy really knew how sweet they tasted to me. I munched slowly, staring at her (probably inappropriately, but I couldn’t help it) and we had our lesson. I had expected her to slip backwards a bit, considering we’d taken such a long break, but she did very well.
I asked her if she’d been practicing, and sheepishly, she admitted she hadn’t. That’s O.K. It was Christmas. We all relax and let things go at Christmas.
Then, she pointed out a word in a sentence we were reading, and said, “I should know this one. I see it a lot in the Bible.”
“You’re reading the bible?” I asked, surprised.
“Well, kinda. It’s pretty hard, so I just read the words I can. I have to skip a lot.”
I told her not to feel bad. The bible is a hard read. Heck, the few times I’ve tried, I’ve given up. I explained that it is written in old English, which means the sentence structure is unnatural to our ears today. And many of the words used are not common today either, making the meaning (if you can read them) a struggle. Then, there are the names. The names in the bible are long, not to mention difficult to pronounce!
She shrugged and said, “But I only read a children’s bible. It’s easier.”
“Still, it has to be hard. It’s not like they use nicknames,” I said.
I was delighted, because for all that Kathy thinks she doesn’t “practice” our work as much as she is supposed to (homework-wise) she is obviously practicing. She is reading on her own, and no matter how simple the material is, this counts. She is attempting recipes. She is recognizing words on signs and on everyday objects she encounters. There was a time when she blocked out the written word. Anyway, I think it is all very encouraging. I swear, after each lesson, I grin for hours.
Every week, she tells me all about the AA meetings and the drug court sessions etc, which she must attend. I listen, trying to absorb it all. Apparently, she’s told the judge and her parole officer about me. They said they hoped to meet me. I told her I’d go with her to one of her group therapy sessions one day. I’m interested to see what it’s really like. And I want to be there when she “graduates”, a ceremony they hold for those that succeed in this rehabilitation program. I am also going with Kathy the next time she speaks at the school. I guess you could say I am storing away information. I am planning to write an article about her for our local paper when the time is right (which means, when I have enough really positive material to make the piece resonate.) I want to do this, not because I write, but for her. I think it will be very special for her to have public acknowledgement for her hard work and her success. She keeps everything, every little certificate of achievement they give her as she moves through the program. I imagine an article would be a huge element in solidifying her new self-confidence.
Anyway, Kathy and I are plugging away. I am watching her evolve before my very eyes. It is remarkable.
And it is inspiring too. I hope to write about her one day. Perhaps I’ll write a memoir about teaching someone to read, but I’m thinking more of using what I’ve learned from her (and about her) to write a fictional story. I even have a concept. What if, while teaching a woman to read, an assignment is given for her to fill out as many forms as she can – for practice. And she fills out a card to win a free trip to Europe and wins a trip for two! Since she is single, and nervous about going, she thinks she should skip it, but her tutor encourages her to be brave and have this wonderful, once in a lifetime experience. The woman says she’ll only go if her tutor goes with her. Together they make the trip. In a different country, the tutor is suddenly at the same disadvantage as the illiterate student. Now, neither can read street signs or menus. But they can learn the new language together, and the strengths of the illiterate American woman suddenly shine through, because the playing field has been equaled. She is treated equal to her tutor, for here they are just American tourists. And they finds that in many ways, the student is more resourceful than her teacher, thanks to years of maneuvering without being able to read and communicate easily with others. This would have a huge impact on the woman’s self-esteem – and teach her that she is more capable than she ever knew, when years of being disadvantaged had taught her not to aspire too much of anything. I don’t know. I think a story like this would give room for great character growth for both of these characters, and a story like this would offer insight about people – how we perceive ourselves and others. And I could lace this tale with humor so easily. It would be romantic, fun. I could fill it with great scenes with beautiful men, the awe of travel, and what have you Heck, I have a model for the entire thing sitting across from me every week, a friend fueling the idea.
Mark said, “Humm… interesting. But I guess you would need to travel to Europe first to make this story realistic. You’d need experiences to draw upon to make this story right.”
“Gee, ya think so?” I say, batting my eyelashes innocently. I’m no fool.
“But let’s make it perfectly clear – you wouldn’t be going with Kathy…” he says, obviously planning to be by my side when I do my research.
“No shit,” I say, laughing.
Man –o-man, I can’t wait to finish my thesis and move on to the books raging inside. This is just one of the ideas busting to take shape. It needs some work, but it is just an raw idea. Writing is such an adventure. It allows you to live the life you imagine on paper. And if you play your cards right, it can take you places you have a hanker’ in to see too.