Doctor Clark led me into the kitchen at the back of the house. Nurse Williams was there, and she smiled brightly when she saw me. There was a table with four chairs set in one corner of the room, and on it were numerous small books as well as paper and several pencils. I looked at the doctor questioningly, but he said nothing as he led me to one of the chairs. I sat down and waited patiently as he took the other chair.
“Erik, I know how much you like the library, and I can tell by the way you look at the books that you wish you could read them. Am I right?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” I breathed, “that would be fantastic! But...” I stopped and looked at my hands.
“But I know that I am too stupid to learn how to read,” I said with deep regret, for I truly wished I could understand the markings in the books.
“Erik, who told you that?” The doctor's words were stern but understanding.
“My father,” I said quietly.
“And what have I told you about your father's view of you?”
My cheeks flushed, and I took a deep breath. “That he lied to me, and that what he said about me was not true.”
“Then, do you think he was right about you not being able to learn to read?”
I thought about his question for a moment. My father always told me that no one cared about me, but my mother, Doctor Clark, and Nurse Williams proved that he was wrong. He said that the sheriff would arrest me if I ever showed my face outside our cabin, but Sheriff Butler didn’t do that. As a matter of fact, I could admit to myself that he was quite nice. I raised my eyes to Doctor Clark and saw that he was sitting forward in his chair with a look of expectation as he searched my face. I cocked my head to one side and answered his question with one of my own.
“Do you think I can, Doctor Clark?”
A broad smile crossed the doctor's face, and he reached forward to take my hands in his. “Erik, I think you can do anything you put your mind to. You simply have to believe you can.”
I was not sure I believed that, but I could see that he did, and I nodded my head slowly. “But, how will I learn?”
The doctor dropped my hands and gestured to the items on the table. “I am going to teach you myself,” he said simply. “I got these books and things from the grammar school, and I talked to the teacher there. You obviously can’t start school at your age, but there is no reason why you can’t learn here.”
At his words, a strange sensation spread through my body, and I suddenly had the feeling that my life was about to change dramatically. My lips slowly curled into a smile, and I said, “And would I be able to read the books in the library, the ones with the pictures?”
“And the ones with no pictures,” the doctor replied with a laugh. “With those, you create your own pictures in your mind.” He smiled and picked up a book from the pile. “But first, we must start at the beginning.”
The next few hours were spent with Doctor Clark showing me the pictures and letters in a small book. He introduced me to the alphabet—the names of each letter and words that began with each. It was a lot of information to process, and I felt as stupid as my father said I was as I struggled to remember what he was telling me. I wondered how very small children managed to understand all of it, and the knowledge that five- and six-year-olds could master this material, when I was having trouble with it, discouraged me terribly. However, I continued to press on, and by the time Nurse Williams had lunch ready, I thought that I had grasped most of what Doctor Clark had tried to teach me, but I still felt that I had not accomplished very much. I told the doctor this as we made two piles of the school materials and carried them up to my room.
He was walking in front of me, but he stopped in his tracks halfway up the stairs and turned to look back at me incredulously. “Are you serious, Erik?”
“Yes.” I said bluntly. “I know that small children can read, and I have struggled so much to understand what you were trying to teach me.” I wanted to say that my father was right, but I knew that the doctor would not like it, so I kept that thought to myself.
“Erik,” he said as he continued up the stairs, “apparently you don’t understand something.”
I thought the statement was an obvious one. There were many things I didn’t understand.
We reached my room, and he placed his pile on top of the dresser and turned to me. “You have to understand that small children who start school usually take months and months to comprehend what you just learned in a few hours.”
“Truly?” I was surprised at this news. I was sure that my attempts at learning were pitiful, but if what he said was true, then perhaps my father was indeed wrong about my intelligence. “Then I did well today?”
Doctor Clark took the items from my arms and placed them next to the others. “Yes, Erik, you did very well. We will see how much you remember tomorrow, but for now, you can be very proud of yourself. I know that I am proud of you.”
These words caused an unfamiliar, warm glow to spread through my body. I didn’t know what it was, but I did know that it felt good, and I smiled. “Thank you, sir. I thought…”
“Thought what, Erik?” The doctor raised his eyebrows.
I didn’t want to tell him about my fears, but I also couldn’t lie to him, so I said, “I thought that I did not accomplish very much today, and I was afraid that what my father said about me was true.”
I was immediately sorry I had spoken, for the doctor's eyebrows came together, and he frowned. “No, Erik, he was not right. As a matter of fact, I think that, if our other sessions go as well as this one did, you will be reading in no time at all. And, if you can read, then you can learn anything you wish.”
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, a smile spreading across my face. I thought of all the pictures I had seen in the library's books, and the idea that I could learn all about them by reading the words on the pages caused me to again have the strange, warm feeling. I stood for a moment, relishing that thought, and then I opened my eyes. Doctor Clark was smiling at me, and I said sincerely, “Then I will work hard and do my best to learn what you have to teach me.”The doctor grasped my shoulder lightly. I no longer flinched when I knew he was about to touch me, and I knew he was grateful for that. “That is all I can ask for, Erik,” he said with a smile. “Now, let's go have lunch, shall we?”