The first day at a new school is typically not a welcome experience. It ranks somewhere between a root canal and watching an infomercial for the Psychic Friends Network. And that's under good circumstances.
I had just moved from Dallas to a small town in rural East Texas during the summer of my Junior year. Like a typical high school student, my main objective in life was to attract as little attention to myself as possible and just blend in. With the cool crowd, of course. I was planning to just lay low the first few days, and get a feel for the complicated intricacies of the high school social scene. I still believed firmly in the "success through avoidance" approach to dealing with my stuttering at this time, and thought that if I could get by without speaking for long enough, I was bound to have a breakthrough experience in my sleep and wake up a fluent speaker.
Life seems to have a way of upsetting the best made plans. I arrived early the first day of school, and observed the students milling in the hallways. I listened to the aspiring young scholars conversing as I was trying to divert attention away from the churning in my stomach. I quickly realized the importance of first names, because every guys' middle name was "Bob" and every girls' middle name was "Jo."
My first class was social studies. For some inexplicable reason, social studies teachers like to be innovative. Its' not bad enough to bore students according to traditionally accepted methods, they have to be creative and make us uncomfortable as well. I expected that sometime during the first day of school I would have to introduce myself. I was as prepared as I could be for this, meaning that my hands were sweating so profusely I could have extinguished a small forest fire. But my social studies teacher asked us to introduce the person sitting next to us. As long as the person had a one syllable name I was unlikely to stutter on, like "Uh," there would be no problem. I turned to the student next to me, a very pretty blond girl who told me that it was her first day here as well. We had something in common -- maybe the first day of school was not going to be so bad after all. With considerable difficulty, I introduced myself to her. "Hi, my name is John Wade." As luck would have it, her name was not "Uh." She politely told me that her name was Camilla Titsworth. Being someone who stutters, I can detect potential embarrassment a mile away, somewhat like a bomb-searching dog can detect a particle of gunpowder at a crowded airport. This situation had the makings of a five-alarm disaster.
As the teacher went around the room, calling on pairs of students to introduce each other, my apprehension mounted. Dropping out of school was looking distinctly inviting. Or maybe if I snuck out to the bathroom for the rest of the class period no one would notice.
The dreaded moment arrived. Being the gentleman that I am, I let Camilla go first. She effortlessly informed the class that my name was John Wade. I felt a momentary wave of relief, since she had said my name for me, saving me from the usual struggle. Perhaps I could arrange to have her travel with me as my designated introducer. But the 30 pairs of eyes focusing on me brought me back to reality. After what seemed like an eternity of struggling, I finally got out "Camilla." I think that I pronounced it "Camel-la," but I don't think that the subtleties were noticed over the cacophony of my stuttering. Emma Jo and Veta Sue were looking at me like I was a wounded puppy, pleading with me to go on, and shooting hateful glances at anyone who would even think of snickering. In the back of the room, Earl Ray was explaining to Jimmy Bob and Billy Bob that I must have been kicked in the head (pronounced "haaay-ed") by a horse when I was young.
Now to the moment of truth, saying Titsworth. I had the feeling that after taking 15 struggle filled seconds to say Camilla that everyone in the class had their lead story of the day to talk about with their friends. But I persevered. "T-T-T-T-T-Tits." I got the first syllable out, but then nothing. What was this, I never get stuck in mid-word! Of all the times to develop a new way to stutter. I had to get the rest of her name out, and fast, before I was branded for life as a pervert. The mind does not always think clearly under times of stress. I decided to try the "running start" approach, which involves backing up and repeating what you have just said, hoping it will somehow help you be more fluent. (It seems to make sense until you put it on paper.) "Tits-Tits-Tits-Tits-Tits." Nothing was coming. If anyone happened not to be paying attention before, this scintillating repetition certainly got them on the edge of their seats. This guy has great material, even if his delivery leaves something to be desired. "Tits, Tits, Tits, TITSWORTH." I finally got it out!
Throughout the ordeal I did not make eye contact with poor Camilla. I'm sure she did not appreciate me magnifying her parents' sin of not legally changing the family name. I was pretty sure that although suffering can draw people together, I could cross her off my list of prom-dates. Camilla moved several weeks later, never to be heard from again. To this day no one knows why, but I have always had my suspicions.