October 25, 2007

By Aruni Wijesinghe
Elementary School

Every other Thursday afternoon
The year I am in third grade
William O. Schaeffer Elementary
I go to speech therapy to have my lisp corrected

Small cinderblock room no bigger than a closet
Across the hall from the library
Wendy, Andrew Mallon and I meet with the school speech therapist
A middle-aged woman with thick calves and
Perfect elocution
We spend forty minutes reciting words
Full of serpentine “s” sounds
Brows knitted in concentration above pursed child-mouths
Soft susurration accompanies the sound of
Rubber-soled Keds squeaking against industrial gray linoleum

Brightly colored placards glare down at us
Cartoon mouths grimace
Illustrate the proper shapes of vowels
Bite off bits of consonants

The speech therapist is well intentioned
She wills my unruly tongue to repent
Coaxes unwilling s’s from behind
Bared baby teeth

She never realizes
She has been mispronouncing my name since the beginning of the school year
Elongating vowels, misplacing accents
Anglifying the music of my ancient Sanskrit name

I am too ashamed to correct her.

Posted by Shan & Jen at 12:01 AM  



I LOVE your post!


25/10/07 11:44 AM  

Oh Roo!!! I agree, having a hard-to-say name was definitely a hardship growing up. At my 20-yr HS reunion a few weeks ago, a few classmates with whom I had gone to elementary school said my name completely wrong when making introductions, and I was puzzled for a few seconds before I remembered...oh yeah, I never corrected anyone until HIGH SCHOOL, and they knew me for logner before HS than after and may not have gotten the memo. Because before then? I was not about to draw attention to myself by making a stink about something like MY NAME. Say it however you want!

And now, in light of all these stories here, I see that it must have been partly a protective action, to try to curl up and hide whatever differentness I had so that the other kids wouldn't single me out for any reason. Fortunately, I went to school with lots of folks with funny names. Sheilon and Velouette come to mind....although again, the girls at the top of the social heap in elementary school were the ones with the normal American names.....hmmmmmm.

Thanks for contributing!!!

Giddy said...
25/10/07 12:13 PM  


What a masterful sharing of your personal experience. I could not imagine a more germaine example, ostensibly a well-intended intervention on one's speech (or handwriting, or dressing habits, or manners or whatever) that mystically devolves into blithe exemption from seeing the person.


Dennis Davino said...
25/10/07 3:59 PM  


Little do they know about the silent angst of the thousands Sri Lankan Americans that roam this land.....

I love you,

The Shady Lady

Anonymous said...
26/10/07 8:39 AM  


Nicely done. Totally with you ...

'Aruna' not 'Arooona' (in England); but, oh no, the intense reputation that would follow correction on first intros.

Maiya (more confusion, lets not go there!) x

Anonymous said...
29/10/07 10:18 AM  

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