I’ve had my share of shitty stuttering experiences. Here I’ll share three of the worst that I can remember.
I say “that I can remember” because there very well could have been others that were so nightmarish that my mind did me the favor of repressing the memories. If so, thanks for that, Mind. Feel free to throw a few more locks on whatever door is keeping those monsters in the mental basement – I’m doing fine without them.
My earliest Shitty Stuttering Memory (SSM) is actually a memory I don’t even have. It’s a bit of hearsay from my mom. According to her, and as alluded to in the About section, at the age of three I once came home from Pre-K and informed her that my teacher told me that if I couldn’t “talk right” then I shouldn’t talk at all.
Naturally Mom went up to the school and flipped on old girl, but I doubt anything actually came of it. People didn’t really get fired for saying offensive stuff back then. It was the Eighties. There was crack and DeBarge to contend with.
Fast forward about seventeen years. I’m in college working a campus job that requires me to sometimes answer the phone (every stutterer’s favorite activity). Working the same job was a girl…eh, I wouldn’t say I had a crush on her, but I saw potential, meaning she looked good and we hung out sometimes.
One day we’re both on the job and a phone rings. I look around the room and everyone else is tied up on a line. I’m not sure which curse word I muttered, but I’m sure I muttered one. There was no dodging this one, no malingering until someone else answered it. Get the phone, Mike.
“Hi,” I said, starting off strong before following up with, “this is M——MMMMMM——-”
Yes, The Block hit me like a fucking freight train, my own name blazoned across the front of it in bright neon letters.
On and on it went, the word lodged in my throat like a fist-sized dirt clog, me literally straining and sweating to push it out, probably to the point that I was risking a hernia or brain aneurysm, all the while the person on the other end of the line repeating calmly, maddeningly, “Hello? Hello?”
Finally I managed to blurt it out – MICHAEL!, like I was yelling at myself – and it was then that I noticed, probably with blood in my eyeball from all the exertion, Ms. Potential sitting at the desk across from mine DYING laughing at my misfortune. Tears rolling down her face, mouth wide open but no sound coming out, the whole nine. Like she was the one having the damn stuttering fit.
Needless to say, whatever potential there might have been withered and perished that day.
One more time jump, this time about decade into the future for the last SSM. I’m a hotshot lawyer now and my stuttering is mostly under control. A client asks me to give a presentation on a subject in my practice area. She’s expecting maybe 50 people in the audience.
Sure, no problem. By this time I’ve given plenty of talks in front of big groups. Is the audience local, I ask, or will I need to travel?
Oh no, the client says with a chuckle. We can do this over the phone.
Oof. There goes the wind from my sails. You remember from SSM #2 how good I am on the phone, right?
But whatever, I’m a pro, so I say sure, no sweat. I get my slides together, draft my talking points, and on game day I’m feeling pretty good. The presentation starts off well enough too. But then I have to say a name beginning with the letter R, and BOOM, The Block comes barreling into the room, flattening me like a bug on a windshield and pushing me right back into the phone room with Ms. Potential.
Only this time it’s not a cute girl sitting across from me. It’s my practice group’s managing partner, an older bald man. And he’s not laughing. He’s looking at me with horror in his eyes, like he isn’t sure whether he should call 911 or run to find a priest and holy water. Who knows, maybe the priest would have helped.
Eventually Mr. Partner muted the line. I was sweating so bad I had to loosen my tie and unbutton my collar.
“Sorry about that,” I said sheepishly.
“It happens,” he said. He could be generous that way.
And then we carried on with the presentation.
What else can you do?
. . . . .
Why am I telling you these stories? Two reasons, and neither has anything to do with eliciting sympathy, which is like raw sewage to The Stutter Blog.
The first is to show that it’s alright to look back at events like these and laugh. Maybe not laugh as hard as Ms. Potential did, but yea, get a giggle off. The Block loves to be taken seriously. Almost as much as it loves the phone. So don’t give it what it wants. Laugh at the prick. You’ll live longer.
The second is that I want you to have a frame of reference for where I’m coming from. I’m not opining on stuttering in the abstract over here; I live this. I just gave you three examples of The Block kicking my ass, and trust me, there are plenty more where that came from. I have more minor disruptions on a daily basis. Multiple times a day. But I handle it. Next time we’ll start getting into how.
For now, let’s just share SSMs.
You’ve gotten all you’re getting out of me for a while. Leave some good ones of your own in the comments.