What had happened? My sister had mentioned that she couldn't read my handwriting sometimes.
Children have a great tendency to misinterpret things. They lack the context to properly understand things, especially when it's something they overhear. And they remember some things better than others.
Growing up, my Mom seemed to think my sister was smarter than I was. It wasn't anything conclusive, just something I picked up from little bits and pieces over the years. It was confirmed when my sister scored high enough on the PSAT to be a National Merit Semi-finalist and then Finalist, earning her a full tuition scholarship, while I had a measly half tuition one. My other sister, taking the PSAT in 7th grade for a talent search program, got the highest English score in the STATE. I was genuinely happy for them, but it confirmed to me what I had suspected. They were better than me. I wasn't good enough.
It overlapped into other areas. She was prettier than I was (Mom was always telling me that I needed to clean my face more to keep the zits down. One night, she complimented my sister on how few zits she had at the time. She had 5 or so. I had TWO. Mom didn't say a thing to me.) She was a better cook (Mom put her in charge of making supper every night, which had been my job, and relegated me to doing dishes, which I detested. Dishes was what we did when we were too little to do other chores. I was being demoted to make room for her. It didn't help that Mom later mentioned that she loved having my sister cook because she "could taste the love she puts into it." As if I didn't.) She was better with our other sisters than I was, etc. Sometimes, especially with the last one, nothing was said, I could just tell. They listened to her, but not to me.
I tried to justify myself and my ways of doing things. "She's not really better with them, she's just manipulating them into doing what she wants them to do." "She's not a better cook, she can't even follow a recipe." (This one fell somewhat flat, since her made up recipes are a whole lot better than most of our written down recipes, and she is capable of following a recipe when she doesn't instinctively know that it would be better changed. That's just rare. It was a small consolation, though, that I could follow more recipes than she could.) Mom never meant to be making me feel inferior, that's just what ended up happening. She was better than me. I wasn't good enough. And somehow, the handwriting was the symbol of it all.
I had worked for years on my handwriting, trying to improve it. Finally, it was nearly textbook perfect. Her handwriting, on the other hand, was disproportional. Her letters were too tall for how wide they were. The most recent example of her handwriting I had seen, written only a few days before, looked like chicken scratch. I could barely decipher parts of it. And then she had the audacity to call MY handwriting illegible.
I completely lost it. "MY handwriting is illegible? You should see yours!" When Mom came over to find out what had happened, I lost it at her too. I reminded her of everything I could remember that she had said.
"Her handwriting is always so perfect. Katherine's, on the other hand, I can barely read." "She cares about whether she gets the right answer on her math problems. Why can't you?" "Oh, Katherine, your handwriting is so bad!" On and on and on. She was stunned, she had had no idea.
We talked for a long time that evening. That's when I learned that, awhile prior to the statement about caring about math, I had declared that I didn't care about getting the right answer, I just tried to get it done as quickly as possible. I can totally see myself saying that when I was little, but I had only remembered the disparaging comparison. That's when I learned that she had never said she couldn't read my handwriting. She had said that my handwriting looked like hers did at that age. At another time, she had shown us examples of her writing from when she was younger than that, which were basically illegible.
All this time, I had thought that I wasn't good enough, that I was a failure at schoolwork and by extension life in general, when in reality it was all in my head.
Children get a lot of silly ideas in their heads, and some of them can be very damaging. If they aren't dealt with, they quickly become more ingrained and more difficult to get out. Sooner or later, they will end up resurfacing, often multiple times. I'm sure this will try to come up in my head again. Now, though, I have the truth to fight it with. Here's to freedom from the misunderstandings of the past.