She was taller than the rest of us. I can’t remember her name, but I can see her face, always frightened, with her eyes looking around, a little lost, as searching for help. She had trouble understanding simple words. I had trouble too. But my case was different. I was an immigrant and I simply didn’t know the language.
I remember one day the teacher was asking us for the meaning of the word “maybe” and we had to compose sentences using that word properly. She did it wrong and everybody laughed. I didn’t. I thought it was cruel. I had experienced so many times the laughing of the other kids at my way of speaking, so strange for them, that I could figure out what my tall classmate was going through. The bewilderment, the uncertainty, the distress, the shame. The need to disappear, to go home and hide.
There is no help. The more you try to do it right, the more you rack your brain to find the right word, the most probabilities you have to say something wrong and provoke more laughs. No mistake. There is no way to avoid jokes and shame. You have to learn to live with it. And is not easy until you stop worrying about it. But for that you must grow up. And she hadn’t the chance.
She had trouble with more things. I didn’t know by then, none of us did. But she was very sick. She was older than us, that was the reason she was taller. She had some brain disease and she died too young. Nobody at our class laughed at her any more. All the kids cried remembering her. And we needed help to understand why somebody had had to go to heaven so soon. School and life are sometimes very cruel.