My real name is Sarah.
My Starbucks name is Kim.
My work nickname is Ralph.
I tend to introduce myself first so I can set the cadence of the intro.
“I’ll have the same,” is my favorite dish.
When I answer the phone, I blame my garbled greeting on the Mondays, but that only works on Monday.
I make my husband order our takeout.
I will sooner recite the Declaration of Independence from memory before reading it out loud.
I have a st- st- stutter. It is a str-str-struggle. This is my st-st-story… Damnit! Why do all these words start with an S?!?
I read 1% of the population has a stutter. I also read 2% of the population has green eyes. So I consider myself super special to be in the elite 1% of stutterers; all you beautiful green-eyed goddesses are nothing more than common folk.
I’ve had a stutter my whole life, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to follow me to my mausoleum. It’s been a struggle, and regardless if you suffer from this problem or not, I’m hoping everyone can relate to these fundamentals of life:
Kids are assholes.
The system is flawed.
And YOU determine how you deal with it.
We can at least all agree that kids are assholes, right?
To preface my story, I want you to know I now look back and laugh at this. It took me 33 years, but I now laugh. I can’t sit here and be sad about it, there’s no point. So I try my best to find the humor in 1.) how insane this all is and 2.) how clever I am.
The earliest I can recall that sting of embarrassment was the 2nd grade. I was reading out loud, fumbling through some Berenstain Bears book, when a kid in my class, hiding behind his own book, shielded from being outed, says ‘St-St-Stupid!’
The room grew silent; only the window fan could be heard. My face turned red. Tears began to pool in my eyes. And the silence was broke by the screeching of my chair being kicked back and my saddle shoes hauling me as quickly as humanly possible to the bathroom to hide.
In the following years of elementary school, I’d get tapped on the shoulder every now and then so the schools speech teacher could have a go at me. She was a cold women. Lacked empathy. Felt her tough love attitude would, I don’t know, smack the stutter out of me.
She’d record me and play it back, pointing out the errors in my speech. Thanks lady, but I caught my screw up at ‘b-b-bottle’ the first time around. No need to make me relive that.
When I got to middle school, I guess there wasn’t enough stutterers, lisps, and other speech impediments for a dedicated speech session, so once a week I attended a class with special needs children. That messed with my mind more than anything. I didn’t have the emotional intelligence to understand what was going on. No one explained it to me. I felt like I was failing at life. I was getting straight A’s, but this disorder ruled over all of that. Putting me in that class, in my very linear way of understanding things at the time, meant I was part of that class.
So I refused to go. They would call me down to the office and I would still refuse to go. I refused and refused and refused until one day they stopped. And I got a letter in the mail from the school saying my stutter was cured and I no longer had to attend speech class. YES! VICTORY IS MINE!
But I wasn’t cured, far from it. I just learned how to manage it. I knew what words I couldn’t say. I grew my vocabulary. I got really good at describing things. I coped. My freshman year of high school I found a speech pathologist that took my parents healthcare and had a consultation with her. It was amazing. She understood my struggle and mapped out a plan to get this wild dog under control. I’d never felt hope for my stutter until that moment. She said in 10 sessions, I could very well be cured!
And then I got the insurance denial in the mail. See, they found that letter from the school saying I was cured back in 7th grade, and therefore no coverage would be given. My family couldn’t afford $100 a session out of pocket, so as quickly as my hope arrived, it was all ‘Bye Felicia!’
I went back to coping, and structured my four years of high school carefully around reading and speaking out loud. Sometimes I opted for College Prep courses vs AP because I knew the AP teacher cold called a lot. I’d find out from friends in the morning English class if we were doing popcorn reading and intentionally leave my books in my locker. I still have an adverse reaction to the word ‘popcorn’. Eventually my grades started to take a downturn for all the forgotten books. Then I’d just skip the class altogether, hiding in an empty classroom. Enter in some after school detention.
But I coped, I got through. I still went to college, made it through fine. It was acceptable to drop classes, which I’d do if I sensed a lot of reading out loud. I found I could communicate best if I tried to be funny. Swear words became my best friend, they still are today. Thankfully my ailment seems to disappear with all things swearing. I never miss a beat there.
I’m not gonna lie, I let this stutter stop me from applying to certain jobs. I let it stop me from bringing really good ideas to the table, or from saying something really compelling. For the longest time, I let my desire to write a novel be overshadowed by it, because in the rare chance it became successful I’d have to do book readings. Are you kidding?!?! Book readings! I’d rather peel off my skin. At one point, I stopped having faith in any higher power. What kind of God would give a speech impediment to someone who feels like they have so much to say. It’s just rude.
I once read out loud for an hour a day for a month with my teeth clenched because I read in some paper it would cure stuttering. I looked into buying this ear piece that emulated your voice to sound like you were talking with a group of people, which is supposed to help you speak clearly.
Only recently did I get better at accepting it. I can’t control it. My life isn’t determined by it. Sometimes I let it get the best of me. I mean, do I want a Triple, Venti, Half Sweet, Non-Fat, Caramel Macchiato? Maybe. Probably not. But I want the option, damnit! ‘Tall coffee’ for me. ‘Room for cream’ if I’m on a roll. Oh, you need a name? Kim.
I hope to one day say ‘screw it’ to the whole thing, and make that barista watch me sound out that fancy white girl drink order, but for now… tall coffee, room for cream.