Making Friends With The Alphabet

September 25, 2018 OTHER

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Julie Eger



When I was five years old my grandfather punished me because I had turned the knobs on his radio, causing it to blare and hurt his ears when he turned it back on. I knew about the knobs. I wasn’t supposed to touch them and I did it anyway.


But what happens when you’re punished for doing something you think is right? What I’m referring to is dyslexia and dyscalculia, something I began learning about after I graduated from high school. Dyslexia and dyscalculia mean some people are unable to see the differences between words and numbers in a way that is meaningful to them making it difficult for them to read or write.


From what I’ve experienced this is what I think you might see if you were to look at words and letters through my eyes.


hTis iz hwat a 5entnece mihgt kool lkie to m3.


Every time I was confronted with letters when I was young, I was chastised for not writing them correctly. I learned to doubt my ability but I also began to realize if I did it the way that seemed wrong to me I was praised. The way I processed information led to a lifelong insecurity as I continued to doubt my ability to perceive things the way other people did.


Numbers were just as challenging, but it wasn’t just seeing a single number backwards; that was easy for me to figure out. Double digits, anything with multiple digits became a challenge. When you read words in a sentence, you can figure out what letters make up the words just by the gist of the sentence, but when it comes to adding numbers you can’t add 85 + 39 and get the same answer when you see the numbers as 58 + 93.


If you see the letters in a word switched around, for example, the word chekc becomes check. That’s easy to figure out. Once you’ve been reprimanded enough, even if you see the word in your mind’s eye as chekc, you learn to spell it check.


My determination to perform correctly led me to switch the letters so I didn’t get them wrong. I detested the red checks the teacher would mark on my papers. To me, those check marks were an indication of my defects, and I preferred my defects to be hidden and not broadcast to the public. I learned to be invisibly correct. Don’t bring attention to myself, stand in the corner and observe quietly. I studied people to try to figure out how they saw things and how they reacted to the things they saw. I didn’t tell anyone how difficult my interpretation processes were because I didn’t want to bring attention to my defects.


Amazingly, an answer to my dilemma came to me in the first grade—through the word answer. I still remember the red and orange leaves taped to the blackboard, the teacher’s green dress, as she knelt beside me while I argued with her about how to say the word by the way it was spelled. A person doesn’t pronounce it ans-wer with an emphasis on the letter ‘w’. The ‘w’ is silent. I began to understand that a lot of what I needed to do in order to be right when it came to letters and words wasn’t going to make sense. This was perplexing, but it was this single word that opened a whole new world to me.


I learned if I spelled it and enunciated it the way the teachers said it should be spelled I would get it right. If I did it the way I thought it should be spelled, I got it wrong. So I adjusted every single letter in my brain. It became a three step process to write a word, read a word, or pronounce a word correctly.


First I had to see the word my way, then I had to think of it completely backwards to see if it could make sense seeing it that way, and then stretch that thought to write, read, and pronounce it correctly. This process was like a foreign language to me. When I did it backwards I was praised. When I did it my way, I was reprimanded and would get a red check mark on my paper. I opted for the praise, and it seemed I could get by with doing things that way. Today I call my process Juliguese, like Portuguese. It is how I still see things today.


I had attempted on many occasions to train my brain to see things otherwise. I tried looking at words while standing on my head, looking in a mirror, taking a picture in a mirror, and all sorts of crazy things to see if I could make sense of it. I finally came to the conclusion that what I was learning was working for me, and if it seemed too difficult or incomprehensible to others I couldn’t let it matter. I had found a path that worked for me.


Then when I was sixteen my parents bought me a typewriter for my birthday. I had no idea this typewriter would launch me into a new level of creativity. I no longer had to fight with the letters of the alphabet. All I had to do was memorize where the letters were on the keyboard.


That is my story when it came to writing. Alas, I have never been able to duplicate that level of confidence with a calculator and numbers. And do not ask me about right and left or north and south. But I’m not complaining. I’m really glad I was able to make friends with the letters of the alphabet.





Julie Eger

A three-time winner of the Wisconsin Regional Writer’s Jade Ring Eger’s stories appear in Fictive DreamFlash Fiction for Flash MemoryRuncible SpoonFifty Word Stories and the Cadence Poetry Anthology. She is working on an apocalyptic novella under the name Copper Rose. Connect at

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