I stare at the words my teacher has carefully scratched onto the blackboard at the front of our classroom:
“Where in the world is the safest place to be?”
It was our next essay assignment, meant to conjure up a short piece using current events. We have been learning about the wars in other countries and the laws and crimes of places we have never heard of and will likely never visit.
But the question on the board stirs something in me. I recall the anxiety I felt starting school for the first time and being the only kid in my class who couldn’t speak. I was sick with worry that first day until I returned home. But each day became a little easier, thanks to my parents.
My mother began to teach me to sign when I was three years old, and I recall the day my father bought whiteboards and dry-erase markers for around the house so I never had to take the time to find something to use to communicate. Initially, I drew pictures to let them know what I needed or wanted to do, but as I grew, I switched to simple words which eventually turned into full sentences. It was a long process and took endless patience. But they never treated me like I was different. They never acted like this was not what every child in every household was doing to communicate. They never apologize to other people for my inability to answer questions asked of me or my lack of response. That this is simply who I am.
But the mask doesn’t truly come off until I get home each day.
I glance around the room at each of my classmates scribbling away on their papers and realize they don’t understand the uneasiness I still have each time I leave my house. They don’t know what’s it like to feel exposed and vulnerable, unable to speak like everyone else.
I pick up my pencil, and write a single sentence:
“The safest place in MY world is to be with my family.”