Ever Since I Can Remember

by Ashley Callan

Ever since I can remember I have had a stutter. I don't know where it came from but at some times in my life it is worse than others. I have dealt with this for almost fifteen years and have found that it seems to be related to fears. When I was younger it was thought I would grow out of it. Here I am in my second year of college and the stutter seems to be as bad as ever. For me, having a stutter is like a personal barrier that must be torn down each time. I often open my mouth to say the word and nothing comes out. I speak. It is the worst feeling in the world. Either I can force the word to come out or rack my brain for a replacement word.

During second grade, at the worst time of my stuttering, I could hardly get a word out without repeating it several times. In second grade it didn't seem like a big deal. My parents, on the other hand, didn't want me to develop an ongoing speech problem so I went to speech therapy. Going to that first session of therapy I imagined that the therapist would have me doing tongue push-ups in order to combat my tongue tied syndrome, or maybe whip me when I stuttered. It was petrified.

When I reached the therapy room, I walked in and discovered the therapist was a close friend's mother. I feared my friend would come to school the next day and tell everyone that I had to go do tongue push-ups with her mom. I remember very clearly what the therapist always said to me, "Ashley, don't let anyone make fun of you--your brain just works faster than your mouth can handle." I held on to that for years. It gave me a sense of pride -- my brain was faster. The therapist never tried to embarrass me but it sometimes happened anyway. When I would come in for my sessions she would pull out some kindergartner book like "The Cat in the Hat," and I would have to read it out loud.

By fourth grade my stutter was under control. This was when Mr. B became my teacher. We had to read several books that year. After reading a book we had to meet with him and talk about it. He would also ask us to read a pagein order to test our reading skills. I had read Matilda a story about a young girl that has a horrible family and an even worse school administrator. When Matilda gets scared she stutters her words slightly. He chose a page for me to read where the administrator was yelling at Matilda and she was defending herself. Instead of just saying the word, I added in a stutter. I thought he would find my creativity exceptional, but he didn't. After reading the page, Mr. B laughed and remarked, "Boy you sure have a lot of practice at those stuttered words." That comment sent my stutter back in to full force.

I became one of those kids that never wanted to talk in class. I even looked forward to my speech therapy because I didn't have to be around Mr. B. I would sit in class and not raise my hand fearing I would stutter and he would make fun of me in front of the whole class. Reading aloud in class turned into a nightmare. It seemed the harder I tried the more I stuttered. Kids would try not to notice-- but I always knew that they did.

I never told my parents about what Mr. B. said or how the stuttering gave me unwanted attention at school. I didn't like saying that I had to go to a speech therapist. When I would talk people would stare at me as the words stumbled out. It took a painfully long time for me to complete a sentence. Teachers, except for Mr. B, always tried to make me feel normal. Some tried to fill in the words that I had trouble with, but this hurt, too. I didn't want them to talk for me. After sixth grade I didn't have to go to the therapist anymore because they considered me graduated--but if anyone were to listen to my speech now it is clear I still stutter.

The one place that the stutter always crept into was public speaking. During high school, speeches were often class requirements. I would try making note cards or practicing in front of a mirror, but when it all came down to speech time--I would stutter. After one slip up the audience just notices that the speaker has a slight problem, after two, people start to feel embarrassed for the speaker, but after three they completely lose interest in what the person is saying which makes me even more nervous

But, by the end of high school I thought I had it conquered.

When I arrived at college and my parents left me in my empty dorm room I began to unpack my belongings. Somewhere, from a deep locked cavern came the stutter; it seemed to plague me even more than before. I was scared to be away from my comforting small town and the shelter of my parents. College was so intimidating. However, after a while I got used to the idea of being on my own, made some friends and managed to get decent grades, and the stutter slowly receded. That stutter that had embarrassed me in grade school seems to follow me throughout my life. I never grew out of it like I had always hoped and it has now lingered into my adult life through fears and uncertainties. Maybe this stutter will be one of those things that fades in and out of my life, each time it visits giving me a new sense of awe in the ability to talk fluently. And perhaps someday I will not stutter even when I get excited or am frightened.

added with permission of author
April 29, 2000