|About the presenter: J. Wayne Rabalais holds a B.S. in chemistry and mathematics (Univ. of Louisiana) and a Ph.D. in chemistry (Louisiana State Univ.). He did postdoctoral research with Professor Kai Siegbahn, a noble laureate at the Univ. of Uppsala, Sweden. As a professor of chemistry, Rabalais has taught and conducted research at the Univ. of Pittsburgh, Univ. of Houston, and currently at Lamar Univ. He has published 4 science books, over 350 articles for chemistry and physics journals, has presented over 170 lectures at meetings and universities in 14 countries, and is a member of the Golden Triangle Writers Guild in Beaumont, TX. His recently published book, Speaking Freely: My Triumph Over Stuttering a memoir about his stuttering ISBN 9 780983 014713; 678-0-9830147-1-3; Golden Triangle Writers Guild Books, is now available in many bookstores|
J. Wayne Rabalais My speech had not improved throughout high school; in fact it was worse than ever. My father had programmed me for a college career, which was fine with me. I really wanted to continue my education. I liked the sciences and mathematics best, and I leaned strongly towards a major in chemistry or physics.
In a bleak barnyard setting, my father chose to talk to me about my impending college plans.
"Have you thought about what will be your major in college? You know, it's coming up soon."
In an outright lie, I responded. "N-No, I h-h-haven't given it much t-thought".
"Mr. Mac (the high school mathematics teacher) and I were talking about what would be the best major for you. We both felt microbiology would be a good choice for you, and you are good in science. With such a degree, you could just work in a laboratory and would not have to talk to many people. Your speech would not be a problem for such a career."
Being the dutiful son that I was, I politely listened to this advice but I immediately became upset and fuming inside. I merely responded, "Yeah, m-m-maybe so."
He answered, "Think about it!"
His words stung me more than the falling raindrops and I immediately felt anger consuming me. Containing anger was not so difficult for me if I let my mind make me believe I was a wooden Indian, standing in front of a cigar store holding a box of cigars, mute with no feelings. But I was a teenager. Frustrated and feeling belittled, I contained my feelings, but I silently vowed to become more than a freak in a back laboratory or a cigar store Indian.
With the feeding chores over, I managed to say. "I-I-I'll take my r-r-r-rifle and walk out b-(pause) back through the pastures towards the w-w-w-woods. R-R-Rabbits like to come out in this kind of-(pause) weather".
Hurrying through the pastures, I reached my special secrete sweet gum tree. I imagined this place and this particular tree to be known only to me. It was just me and the tree, surrounded by silence. It was my tree, my special secret place. The tree served as an icon of my own isolation, my inability to socialize as I would like, my torturous speech, and my constant fixation on speech. This was a peaceful place for me where I did not have to struggle to speak to anyone or worry about stuttering and my speech. The surrounding silence was delightful. Here I knew no one would laugh at me or try to anticipate the word struggling to escape from my locked vocal cords. No one would blurt out a word in an effort to help me. I would not be embarrassed and humiliated here. This place provided a friendly respite from the struggles of speaking. I did not stutter at all, and had perfectly eloquent and fluent speech at my secret sweet gum tree. Anguished, heartbroken, and defeated, I cried while I asked myself important questions.
"Why me? What did I do to deserve this handicap? Why do I have to suffer because of it?" I vowed never to stop trying to overcome it.
Sometimes I would bring along something to read out loud just for me to hear my beautifully fluent articulate voice. Since I could read and speak easily under some conditions, I surmised the problem to be neither biological nor chemical, but primarily psychological. The more I thought about my father's recommended plan for my future college education, I grew more and more angry at what I perceived to be an insulting, derogatory, and insolent comment. I am sure he meant well, but it was a cruel thing to suggest that I take a 'back room' job instead of going for a profession where I could experience my full potential.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as I shouted, "WHAT? Am I a freak or cripple, only fit for isolation and confinement to a back laboratory where my affliction will not be noticed and will not disturb other people."
Did my stuttering make him ashamed of me, or did he feel ashamed of himself for having fathered a son that was not perfect? Probably both feelings applied. I was furious, gnashing my teeth at the thought. As tears of rage flowed down my cheeks, I shouted out as loud as I could, "NO WAY"! NEVER!
It was as though a life of isolation and segregation from normal society was being planned for me. I would be forever locked in a mundane backroom job. It made me determined not to be a 'freak in a back laboratory'. I shouted several times as loud as I could.
"DAMN IT, NO! I'M NOT GOING TO BE A FREAK IN A BACK LABORATORY."
Feeling insulted, enraged, and belittled, the thought made me more than ever determined to prove them wrong, and show them that I would rise above this stuttering problem. I resolved to accomplish more and achieve higher goals than both of them had ever dreamed about.
"I'LL SHOW THEM! I WILL CONQUER STUTTERING. Just give me more time. Wait and see!"
Although at this time I did not realize it, this was one of the most important motivating events that instilled in me the determination not to give up on my speech and my ambitions. I felt that my stuttering was a severe handicap, but I was determined to conquer it. The only problem was I didn't know how I would achieve this goal! There was no apparent physical reason for my stuttering. I should be able to overcome it. My determination continued on with a lucid effortless oral discourse.
"Eventually, I will beat this stuttering monster for me to be capable of speaking to both individuals and groups of people without excessive difficulty. Damn it, I'll prove them wrong and show them I can do it."
Although my handicap was extreme, I resolved that it would not hold me back from achieving my goals. While speaking was torturous for me, why would I want to choose a career requiring speaking in classrooms full of students and at scientific meetings where many intelligent and articulate people were listening and discussing? Because I believed to give up at this stage would be disastrous. I would always be hiding behind my impediment, reluctant to talk, embarrassed, and pitied by some and laughed at by others. I did not want pity or laughter; I wanted the ability to speak as effortlessly as other people. I made a vow to myself that I would improve my speech so I could speak to individuals and groups of people without undue difficulty.
This barnyard incident with my father still stands out in my mind as a life-changing scene, one that motivated me to not give up on my speech and convincing me to pursue a career of my own choosing to make me happy.