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I remember my Landon Junior High School seventh grade, math teacher's name very well. It was Mr. Young. He stood out because the kids made fun of him. He was missing one of his fingers, and always pointed at students with his middle finger.
For some reason I was not very good in school. English and Math were my worst two subjects. There was just something wrong with me, inside my head. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not figure out why I did not understand what all the other kids found so easy to learn. I don't think there was ever a day I went to school that I was not afraid.
One day, I was told by Mrs. Winters, the head matron of the Children's Home Society Orphanage, that if I got one more E on my report card, I would be taken to the Juvenile Court in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. She would tell the judge to send me away to the ‘big prison for kids’.
I tried really hard for weeks to learn how to multiply, do fractions, and compound things. I just couldn't understand how to make different parts of numbers into whole things, but my brain just couldn't do it, no matter how hard I tried.
The day before report cards were to come out, I knew that Mr. Young would give me an E, just like he always did.
After class ended, I went to Mr. Young and told him that the orphanage was going to send me to the big prison if I got another E on my report card. He told me there was nothing he could do; it would be unfair to the other kids if he gave me a better grade than I had actually earned.
I smiled at him, turned and walked towards the door, then I stopped. I looked at the teacher and said, "Mr. Young, you know how all the kids make fun of you because you're missing your finger?"
He looked at me, moved his mouth to one side, like he was biting the inside of his gum, and said nothing.
"They shouldn't do that to you because you can't help not having a finger, Mr. Young. Just like I can't help not being able to learn numbers and stuff like that," I said.
Again, he said nothing as he looked down at his desk, and began grading papers.
The next day, when I got my report card, I tucked it into one of my books. While on the school bus, I opened the report card envelope and looked at my grades: Geography; B+, Mechanical Drawing; C-, English; D-, History; C-, Gym; B+, Art; C, Math; D-.
That math grade was the most favorite one I ever received in my whole life. Not because I didn't get sent to the big prison for kids, but because I knew that someone in the world finally understood what it was like for me to be missing a finger inside my head.
Stories from The Life and Times of Chicken Soup for the Soul Book Author, Roger Dean Kiser