Sunday, September 09, 2007

Chapter 5: A Dyslexic Love Story


"I found this on the printer. Is it yours?" Michelle says, placing two pages of song lyrics on my desk.

"Yeah, I made a mix CD for Emily and I was just... printing out the lyrics."

"Eric, can I talk to you for a second?" she asks, sitting across from me before I can answer.

I brace myself. She is going to give me an earful about Emily, as she occasionally does. She can be annoying, but I'm flattered that she wants to help.

"Eric, sometimes girls don't like so much attention--"

"I know you mean well," I say. "But you don't know the story."

"That's the problem. There's always a story. You're always... sucking up to her for some reason."

Michelle always seems to get away with her attitude. No one ever gets angry with her. In a way, I can understand it--Michelle is beautiful. How can I possibly raise my voice to her as I admire her flawlessly straight blonde hair, and her smooth skin, which manages a healthy glow without a speck of makeup? It's as if someone plucked her off a midwestern farm and dropped her into our office.

"Michelle, you don't understand."

"Explain it to me."

I don't know why she cares. The cynic in me wants to believe that she's just nosy, that she wants scoopage to share with her coworkers. But it doesn't matter, anyway. I have nothing to hide. I am proud that I found Emily. Why wouldn't I want to share our story?

I was Emily's RA in college. She came to me crying one day because she had a huge history exam and she couldn't get through her reading. So I sat down to study with her.

She would read the same sentence five times and completely forget it a minute later. I had her read it out loud, and she kept losing her place on the page. Finally, I read a few pages to her, and she picked right up on it. She actually had an amazing memory.

After that, I helped her study all the time. She would draw little pictures in her notebook while I read to help her comprehend things. I even read into a tape recorder for her sometimes, so she could play it back later.

Most of Emily's issues are workable when we put our heads together. I always try to think of things from her perspective, and act accordingly. One example is the CD I just made: It's a lot easier for her to read when she can hear the words at the same time. She loves music, so listening to a song while reading the words is a great way to sharpen her skills. Hence, my printout of the lyrics.

Michelle looks at me, expressionless. Clearly, she had no idea about this side of Emily.

"Did she end up graduating?" she asks.

"With honors. We found a method that worked, and that was all she needed. All throughout school, no one tried to help her. They just said she had ADD and put her on drugs. She told me I was the only one in her whole life who cared if she did well or not."

I wait for a response. I'm pleased with myself, because it's not often that Michelle is speechless.

"So then you guys hooked up?" she manages, finally.

But it didn't happen that way. Emily and I did not get together until after I graduated.

I was driving to work on an icy road one January morning, and the driver in the next lane lost control of his rented truck. He rolled it, and the truck landed right on top of my car. The airbag didn't deploy, and I got crushed against the steering wheel, breaking my sternum, along with eight ribs.

After a few days, the doctors and nurses tried to get me out of bed, but I wouldn't budge. They can't put a cast on broken ribs, obviously, and I was scared to death one of them would snap loose and puncture my lung or something.

Emily found out about the accident and drove to the hospital in a snowstorm to see me. She said, "I'm not leaving this hospital until you get up and walk," and then she smiled at me. I can still see her face now, her nose and cheeks red from the cold, her teeth just as white as the snow on the windowsill.

That smile was more powerful than any drug they could have pumped into me. Suddenly, I forgot all about the pain. I stuck out my arm, and she held it tight as I wobbled uneasily to my feet. "You did it!" Emily said.

A nurse stuck her head in the door, then ran to the nurses' station, shouting, "His girlfriend got him out of bed!", and the thought of Emily as my girlfriend made it a lot harder to stay standing.

Emily said she knew she loved me the minute I got out of bed and stood up. We've been together ever since.

I helped Emily when no one else would, not even her teachers or her family. I made her a priority, and she did the same for me when I really needed someone. She would not have done that if she did not care for me.

Michelle didn't know the story, and now that she does, maybe she will understand. But even if she doesn't, I don't care. I don't care if every single person I know hates Emily. I love her. And I am going to work just as hard as I did before to prove it.

"That's sweet," Michelle says. "I'm sure she cares about you, but--"

"But what?"

"She doesn't appreciate you."

"I should probably get back to work," I say.

Next... Chapter 6: Working for a Living