the story that led me to speech

I sit near Legacy Way writing. Waiting to walk to ENC 1101, I fill time with my hopes and memories. I am on my way to becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist. Each client’s world will be mine: their dreams, their fears, and their expectations. How did the speech of others become my passion? Each road has unexpected turns, each story sudden twists. I look for everyday heroes. Everyone has a history. I want to help them share it.

When my story began, I was a happy dreamy baby. As I grew, my parents ignited my interest in stories by reading me a plethora of books. My earliest memory of literature is sitting in their laps, catching the flavor of every word they uttered. I enjoyed creating tales of my own and relating them to my stuffed animals, myself, or my siblings; whichever were more available. Out of all the subjects in school, my four siblings and I probably enjoyed literature best. Often our mother read aloud to us or assigned us classic books to explore on our own. First, we enjoyed fiction, such as Charlotte’s Web. Later, we discovered historical fiction such as The Little House series and history books like Warlords.

In middle school, I found the love of my academic life: a curriculum called One Year Adventure Novel (OYAN) by Daniel Schwabauer. This class taught me how to lay out and write a twelve-chapter novel in a school year. I was hooked.

After laboring fifteen months on an ancient laptop, I produced sixty double-spaced pages of unrealistic, boring novel material. Looking back, my novel’s hero fit the novel, a rough first draft of the heroes I wanted to write. But I didn’t give up yet. I still write. Late at night, or in odd fragments of time, I sketch out heroes and their worlds: geography, cultures, and castles to fill future stories. I look for heroes in history and real life too.

For an audience to really admire a hero, they have to understand what the hero is up against. I began to understand what kind of difficulties some people faced as a kid. Throughout my childhood and into my pre-teen years, I was beset with medical problems from sleep apnea, which threatened my focus on schoolwork, to a freak headache that persisted, twenty-four/seven, for almost a year. During that time, my school life was the car on the way to doctor’s visits in town and out.

Much later, I was fifteen, wrapping up my freshman year of high school. One afternoon after class my mom and I ran errands and visited a friend (unusual, just the two of us and no siblings). Thinking something might be up, I asked her what was wrong. While she drove, she gently told me that I might have an autoimmune disorder which could kill me. I could tell she was worried. A month later, I sat in a doctor’s office, far from home, knowing I had the disorder, Scleroderma, waiting for him to tell me whether I had the type that would kill me. Three days later, my sixteenth birthday, I wandered with my family on the beach and silently wondered whether I would ever walk there again. The doctor had told me I had Linear Scleroderma which had a sixty percent mortality rate over ten years, according to the figure I heard.

Returning back to school duties my sophomore year was hard. Most of my friends had no idea I had anything wrong with me. Even if they knew something of my struggle, they didn’t know what to say. Looking towards the future I didn’t know what to say either. College looked hopelessly far away and too long to finish. So, I threw myself into my studies, extracurricular, and volunteer activities. If I couldn’t go to college, I wanted to do well in high school.

When I began to volunteer at a private therapy clinic in Tallahassee, I found more heroes. I met children who were up against a lot more than me. I thought I had it rough. They did. School was the ultimate challenge for some of them. Success meant more determination than I ever had to use. For others, communication itself was a difficult process. I had a disorder and, even if it made me uncomfortable, I could talk about it. Others had disorders that isolated them but they could not share their struggle. If someone measured our effort, their one sentence spoken clearly dwarfed any eloquent speech I could make. Looking at my own difficulties, I found these children heroes. I wanted to help them share their story.

Though busy during the day, sometimes late at night I had time to wonder about where my tale was headed. Staring at the moon through my blinds at night, I wondered if I would be alive when my friends were graduating from college and starting families. The next chapter of my story was a surprise.

The summer before my senior year, we went to a new doctor. She re-diagnosed me with a different, non-lethal, form of Scleroderma. We drove home too shocked to celebrate, we just let it sink in. I saw the new year, 2018, in applying for scholarships. It had dawned on my parents and I that I would be going to college and that we had to pay for it. During the fall semester, I had hastily taken the SAT and ACT, earning scores high enough for a few scholarships. I won more scholarships that spring, decided on Speech-Language Pathology out of the different therapy types I had been considering, and started applying to colleges.

My choice for college was limited by three factors: cost, programs, and support. I had an initially wide range of colleges to chose from but colleges with the Speech-Language Pathology program were not always close to Tallahassee. No car and a permanent diet cooked from scratch made any college away from home a recipe for high stress and possibly failure. After looking at the options, I decided to go to FSU. In-state, I could afford it. It had the SLP program. Only a thirty-minute drive, it allowed me to stay at home and learn to cook more before moving out. Now I type for an English class, glad to learn.

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