Thursday, April 3, 2008

My (not so) Silent Shame

I stutter. Perhaps you've noticed. And while it isn't severe, and in no way impedes my ability to speak articulately and often, it has without a doubt made its impact on my life.

I do not typically speak about it, because, well, like my tongue ring, I can go months, even years without thinking about my stuttering "problem." It is so much a part of who I am, so essential to my being, like the color of my eyes, that it rarely even enters my brain. That is, of course, until some stranger, or loud-mouth bitch friend (Hi, Brandy! Kisses) brings it to my attention. And then, suddenly, it is ah ah ah ah awkward. To say the least.

For as far back as I can remember, I have done this. My mind often works much faster than my mouth, and I find myself always racing to catch up. And inevitably, I trip over a few words now and then. It is always on the first sound, of the first word of a sentence, usually the word "I." And it is, without exception, always the "ah" sound that is repeated. It's hard to describe the sensation. I am fully aware of the words that I intend on saying next, but suddenly, and without any warning, there is a traffic jam, and it feels like someone has shoved a ping-pong ball into my mouth. And the harder I try to push the words out, the faster the ball spins. I often need to take a beat, a half of a second, to stop forcing, and then I am off to the races again.

My Spanish teacher in high school wasn't aware that I stuttered at all until one day, while on a field trip she heard me speaking to one of my friends. Because when translating my English thoughts into Spanish I had never stuttered. Nor did I stumble over my delivery of lines in the many stage productions I was in. Something about being inside of the character, having studied the words in advance, lent itself well to not stuttering.

I hadn't much paid any attention to this affectation until college, when my boss (who also had a bit of a language problem) asked how I felt about my speech impediment. And I have to say that I was just a tad bit horribly offended that he would categorize my little stutter in this way. I certainly didn't. Which isn't to say that it hadn't been brought to my attention before this. In fact, as you can imagine, I have been relentlessly teased about this over the years, although none more painfully than by those about whom I cared most.

Too often, has this affliction been thrown in my face in the middle of an argument, taking the form of a mocking impersonation. It is my one shiny big red button, and when scratching the bottom of the barrel of clever come backs people don't hesitate to push it. And let me just tell you that there are few things in life that trigger in me the flight or fight instinct as much as this mocking. Say what you will about it, rationalize all you want, but mocking someone's stutter is patently offensive, patronizing, and reeks of pompous intellectual superiority. Like interrupting someone to correct their grammar, it is simply rude. Period. My first instinct is to verbally annihilate this person. Like I feel the need to prove to them, and to me, just how capable I am of expressing myself clearly. But, more often than not, I take a breathe and try to let it go. Throwing low blows isn't productive, even in retaliation. It may feel good. But my pleasure should never be dependent on someone else's sadness or pain. Never.

I have often wondered if I would, in fact, wish away this "problem" if given the opportunity. I think not. Like wishing my eyes blue, I fear that this tiny change would alter my entire being. Like the flapping of tiny butterfly wings, it would reverberate throughout my entire life. That the uniquely Jacob quality that I have would somehow be inextricably linked to it, and would disappear into the mist. Too much of a risk I'd say.

Ah-ah-ah-ah-and that's all folks!


gabrielle said...

it is so hard when the 'flaws' most apparent to others can still be of utmost horror when pointed out.

Gawd!, you're short.

Like shouldn't we have 'dealt' with our embarrassment by now? And in many ways we have, but we're all still so vulnerable.... so very very vulnerable.

And for the record, I'm sure that people correcting your grammar are doing it out of love and best interest that we use the English language --- properly. ;)

mental chatter said...

I am so happy to have found you! I was sent here by Brandy.

Anyway, I feel your pain. I used to stutter and get tongue-tied when I was nervous. Usually, though, it wasn't from my nervousness that my tongue tripped. It was from trying to get the words out of my mouth too quickly. I have so much to say and I'm afraid I won't be able to get it all out in a timely manner. People have always commented on it and there are numerous (yes, numerous) inside jokes with friends about my 'speech impediment'. It is so cruel, but I think I am finally accepting that, although I have a Love affair of epic proportions with words, my eloquence is likened to a puppy dog that just wants to be loved, tripping over its own feet and tail to get to its master.

mental chatter said...

Oh, and my poor sister has this affliction worse than I. In one of her first college classes the professor asked everyone to go around the circle and introduce themselves. She said "M-m-m-my n-n--name is J-j-jenna. Yeah, Jenna", all the while she said it with a nervous tic, a weird grimace and an involuntary head twist, all occuring the same time. Unfortunately, her name isn't Jenna. It is Janet. She just couldn't get her name out of her mouth. "Welcome, Jenna!", said the prof. He continued to call her Jenna for a couple of weeks. She was too embarrassed to correct him, thinking she might accidentally say a different name, like Jezebel or Jasper (which someone else really thought was her name). She was in such fear of stuttering again she just dropped the class and never went back to college.

Cheyenne said...

"Like interrupting someone to correct their grammar, it is simply rude."

Duly noted. :(


B Kinch said...

Well I find it charming (yes, I know we're not supposed to use that word). I actually didn't know it was a real stutter. It comes across more like repetition for effect...kind of like when you shake your head in mock disbelief and say, "no, no, no." Also, there is a little hand motion that goes with open hand cross between a wave and a Diana Ross Stop in the Name of Love motion. Like Obama in an effort to quiet his chanting supporters, it seems to say, children, children, one at a time, you'll all get a turn.

I thought it was schtik. I'd like to say I wouldn't have mentioned it if I had known it was real, but we all know better.

Cheyenne said...

B- Stop in the Name of Love is sheeeeer genius.

You're in a league of your own.

And major points for incorporating my Obama into this brilliance...

Love you.


Hennifer said...

Ok, I'm probably leaving myself wide open but "I'm the one in the family without the speech impediment". I'm the only child of 6 that wasn't pulled from their peers to another classroom for speech sessions. I remember how horrified I was when someone asked me why my sister had an accent. I was so mad and eventually embarrassed when I realized what they were talking about. As a parent of a child with a "speech delay" I'm so very, very sensitive about him being left out because he's hard to understand.

I guess my main point is that I'm sensitive to that kind of baggage.

Hennifer said...

B - I'm right with you! As I read the post I was able to pick out what Jacob was talking about but I so thought that was what it was


"it seems to say, children, children, one at a time, you'll all get a turn."

Megan said...

I never noticed. Maybe its because I stutter too. The I's get me too. :)

Adam said...

I tend to trip over my words a lot too... I don't know if I have a speech impediment, or if it's just nerves... I never talk enough to find out. :^D