I have no idea how early it was when the lights in my room were turned on. It was early though. I was exhausted as Tom entered the room demanding that I stand up. Unfortunately, Sophie was still out of it until he reached us and yanked me to my feet.
Startled, Sophie tried to run away from him, but he had taken me by the collar and said, “Stay!”
Instinctively, Sophie froze in place. She was terrified, and so was I. Tom took a second to fasten the leash to our collar, and then instructed for Sophie to follow him. He walked us out of the small room, down the hall and into the men’s restroom.
Tom led us into one of the stalls and commanded, “Sit.” While pointing to the toilet seat.
Hesitantly, Sophie slowly found the courage to do as she was told. She sat on the toilet. After a minute, Tom looked at us questioningly before commanding, “Pee.”
It took Sophie a second to realize what he meant, but the water we drank before bed had caught up to us, so it was ready to burst. Sophie relieved herself into the toilet, scared the entire time that she had misunderstood.
The closest we got to praise was Tom softly saying, “Good.” Before commanding us to “Stand up.”
“From now on, this is where you relieve yourself. Do you understand?” Tom asked.
Sophie looked at the yellow liquid in the toilet for a second and then nodded.
“Good.” Tom said. “Now flush the toilet and wash your hands.” Tom instructed.
Sophie looked at him for a moment and finally managed, “How?”
Tom pointed at the silver handle, “Press down on this.”
Sophie touched it, then wiggled it. Nothing happened.
“I said Press down.” He repeated.
I felt it the handle turn and heard the all familiar whoosh of water as the toiled flushed. Familiar to me, but to Sophie it was an amazing thing to behold. Clean water replaced soiled.
She reached down to wash her hands in the bowl. In my head, I screamed, “Nooooo!” trying to keep her from dunking my hands into the toilet water. Whether she heard me or not, I have no idea, but her attempt was cut short when Tom yanked on the leash and yelled, “Don’t stick your hands in the toilet!”
Sophie was shocked as we were pulled back 2 feet away from the edge of the bowl in half a heartbeat. She gave him a sufficiently frightened look. “You wash your hands in the sink.” He told her. “Over here.”
Tom guided us to the sink, demonstrated how to turn the water on and off and told her, “Wash up.”
Sophie turned the knobs on the sink and water began to flow. It took several attempts, but she managed to wet her hands in the water. There was a soap pump next to the sink. He helped her get soap on and gave instructions for lathering up and rinsing. She enjoyed getting wet, and when he told her to wash the rest of her, she managed to splash and rub my entire body until we were glistening wet.
Tom had brought a towel with him, and took his time in drying me off. He wasn’t rough, but wasn’t particularly gentle either. Once we were sufficiently dry, Tom led out of the bathroom and down another hallway I hadn’t been down before.
We arrived at some sort of classroom, with small desks lined in rows. In the front of the room was a long whiteboard that was partially obscured by a projector screen. “Today, you begin your training. Once we’re done here, you will be able to act like a normal person when you go to school in a few weeks.” Tom announced. “Please take a seat.”
Sophie understood English words, but certain expressions were completely foreign to her. So naturally, she attempted to pick up one of the chairs next to a desk. “Stop!” Tom barked. “When I say, ‘Take a seat’, it means I want you to sit down in one of the chairs. Do you understand?”
Sophie nodded, slowly.
“Good, not take a seat.” Tom repeated. Internally, I winced when Sophie made her way to one of the desk and managed to sit down, still awkwardly holding onto the chair she had initially picked up.
Tom shook his head before saying, “Put that chair down.”
Reluctantly, Sophie set the chair next to us and looked back up at Tom for the next instruction. “Sophie, I need you to pay attention. You’re going to watch this film, and then we will go practice.” Tom said calmly.
She didn’t know what a film was, but once he started it and dimmed the lights, she had no trouble paying attention to the screen.
The movie had an odd flicker, and appears like it was filmed sometime in the 1950’s. It showed a young girl, sitting at a dining table. “This is Jenny.” The narrator said. “Jenny is about to have breakfast.”
The view broadened and suddenly, it was revealed that Jenny was sitting across from an older woman who must have been her mother.
“May I please have some toast?” Jenny asked.
“Here you go, dear.” The older woman replied.
Jenny gratefully took the toasted bread and replied. “Thank you.”
“Please and thank you are the polite ways to ask and receive things from others.” The narrator continued.
Jenny seemed pleased as she politely began eating her breakfast. Soon she had asked for and received the entire meal before it cut away to a boy sitting at a different table. “This is Billy. Billy has not learned manners the way Jenny had.”
“I want toast!” Billy demanded. Instead of receiving toast, Billy got scolded by the man sitting across from him for being rude. Billy didn’t get breakfast and had to go to school on an empty stomach.
Back to Jenny, we now watched as she had taken the folded napkin that was next to her plate and lay it across her lap. The narrator instructed that this was in case of a spill. Next, we were explained how to use a knife and fork, and not to eat with our fingers. Finally, the instruction was how to clean up after you finished eating. Sophie watched all of this with fascination.
When the movie had finished, Tom turned the lights on. He then went to the front of the room and asked, “Do you have any questions about what you just saw?”
I could see the wheels turning in Sophie’s head. Whatever she had wanted to ask about, she couldn’t quite put into words. Instead she sat there gawking like an idiot. After a minute or so, Tom took it as a ‘no’ and asked, “Are you ready to go eat breakfast?”
That was something Sophie knew how to answer. Well, she knew to nod.
Tom scolded her, “Manners!”
In my head, I said, ‘Sophie, say yes, please’.
As I was saying that to Sophie, she managed to speak the words, “Yes, please.” Had she heard me? I wasn’t sure.
“Very good.” Tom said, and for the first time since we had met, I saw a slight smile cross his lips. It only lasted a moment, but it was there. Sophie saw it too, and she immediately began beaming as though he had given her high praise.
Tom led us to another room where a dining table had been set up. “Take a seat.” Tom instructed. Sophie didn’t hesitate this time, she went and sat at the table in front of an empty plate. It looked a lot like the setup from the film. Sophie studied it for a second before remembering to place the napkin on out lap.
Very pleased with herself, she remembered the line from the movie. “May I have some toast, please?” Sophie asked in her usual squeaky voice.
She looked around expectantly, but I immediately noticed that there was no toast on the table. Instead, there was a bowl of cut fruit, some oatmeal and orange juice.
“Do you know what these are called?” Tom asked.
Not surprisingly, she didn’t know any of these things. She decided to guess, “Breakfast?” in a shaky voice.
Tom drew a circle with his finger indicating that he was talking about all of the dishes, “Yes, this is breakfast. But that is just what the meal is called. This…” He said, holding up the cut fruit, “… is called Fruit. This…” He said, holding the other bowl, “…is called oatmeal. And this is orange juice.” He said lifting the cup. “So what do you want to ask?”
Sophie looked at the arrangement. Making her decision, “May I please have fruit?” She asked.
“Here you are, Sophie.” Tom said, handing the bowl to Sophie.
She immediately pulled the bowl up to my face and began to eat.
“No!” Tom yelled. “Not like that.”
Startled, Sophie stopped and retraced what she remembered from the movie. Shaken, she managed a “Thank you.” And waited for his response.
Tom nodded slightly and said, “You’re welcome, Sophie.”
Taking that as a queue, she pulled the bowl closer to my face before Tom stopped her again. “Set it down.” He said.
She had no idea what she had done wrong, but quickly followed his instructions.
“Use your fork.” He told her. Suddenly remembering Jenny’s example, Sophie picked up the fork. It was awkward in her hand as she had all of her fingers wrapped around it. Tom picked up his own fork and demonstrated how to hold the thing. Sophie did her best to emulate him.
“Eat.” Tom said.
It wasn’t easy, she had never used anything like this before. I had wished that I could have taken control the way I had with the crayon yesterday, but try as I might, Sophie was in control. She managed to get most of the fruit into her mouth, though I could feel bits of it dripping down my chin.
When Sophie had finished, Tom asked. “What would you like next?”
Sophie struggled with the word, but eventually asked, “Oatmall, please?”
“Oatmeal?” Tom asked.
“Oat-meal… oatmeal, please.” Sophie repeated.
“You say, ‘may I have some oatmeal, please?’” Tom said firmly.
Sophie repeated his words. They were feeling more comfortable coming out of her mouth. “Yes, you may.” Tom said, as he handed the second bowl to Sophie.
Remembering her lesson from before, Sophie set it down and said, “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Sophie.” Tom repeated, and for the second time, I saw a smile creep across his face. Sophie was so elated that she nearly forgot to use her fork. As she was about to plunge my face into the bowl, I screamed in my head, ‘Use the spoon!’
Sophie stopped. She studied the fork in her hand and the spoon that was sitting on the table. She looked at Tom for instruction. He didn’t give any. Finally, she decided to set the fork down and pick up the spoon. Dipping it into the mushy oats, she pulled out too big of a bite and pressed it into my face. Some of it got in my mouth, but most ran down my chin and dropped onto the napkin.
Tom burst out laughing, which caused Sophie to start laughing as well. After regaining composure, he told her, “Take smaller bites.”
Eventually, we had finished breakfast. Tom took us to the bathroom to wash up before heading back to class. The rest of the day was like that. We would watch a film with instructions of basic manners, and then we would go somewhere to practice what we had learned. Each time, it was reinforced by insisting that we remember the earlier lessons; such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ when something was given to us.
I don’t ever remember being given such detailed instructions on manners as a little girl, but I must have gotten them because everything Sophie had to learn was very familiar to me already.
We broke for lunch a couple of hours later and then a few hours after that, we broke for dinner. Tom occasionally asked if Sophie needed to use the bathroom. When she did, he would take us back to the men’s room the same as in the morning.
By the end of the day, we had watched maybe 4 hours of movies on basic social skills. To be honest, I was rather shocked on how quickly Sophie was able to pick everything up. She was like a sponge, just soaking up everything that Tom wanted her to learn. She got scolded a few times, but not out of forgetfulness, just misapplication of the lessons we were learning. When he led us back to the small room, Sophie and I were both exhausted. I’m not sure which of us fell asleep first, but I’m sure it was close.