You’re standing in line at your favorite coffee shop, but it isn’t your usual barista at the register. There are three people in front of you in line; this means that after those three fluent speakers recite their order and name, it will be your turn. You know your order because you order it every single day. You know your name; you’ve been saying it for the last twenty-four years. But you’re still anxiously awaiting your turn to communicate; you’re still wishing that there was some non-verbal way to get your daily required coffee and move on. The back of your neck tightens in some weird anxiety prepration way that you can’t get to stop.
You know. The usual.
Your turn now. “Good morning! How can I help you?” the smiling barista asks. You feel a pinch of comfort; she looks kind.
“Good morning. I’ll have a grande iced caramel coffee in a venti cup, extra ice.”
You think: Yes! I totally nailed that. No stuttering.
Damn it. “Yeah. B-b-b-b-b-b-b-breve.”
Her eyes look up in interest. Then you get it: the sympathetic smile of encouragement.
“Breve? Okay. And your name?”
Now you’re even more nervous. Her smile grows more sympathetic in the few moments that pass. “J-j-j-j-j-j-j-j-j…” You take a deep breath. In. Out. Try again. “Jaymie.”
You smile because you feel slightly accomplished. Please don’t.. please…
“Did you forget your name?” she giggles and sets your drink on the counter to be made. She looks at the next customer and forgets about you.
You force a laugh because the conversation is over anyway. But it isn’t really over for you. It replays on repeat. You rub your neck as you try to get the tension out of it. It’s over, but it’s not. It’ll happen again and again… and it seems like it will happen for the rest of your life.
People who think you can’t remember your name. People who think it’s a funny joke to make. People who see you tighten your body just to get a few words out, and decide to use their own fluent speech to mock your broken words.
No, I did not. You imagine yourself stating to this young woman. I actually have a stutter, which is a speech impediment. In the future, please don’t try to make a joke about this. It’s rude and harmful.
But instead you pick your drink off the counter, smile at the other barista for a “thank you” because God knows you’re not willing to risk speaking again for now, and then leave.
It’s not always this way. Sometimes I forget about my stutter until it’s out there, and typically it goes unnoticed. Most people don’t care that I stutter, but too many people feel unfamiliar with it. They think a smile will encourage me to not f**k up on my sentence.
But the truth is this: 1% of the world stutters. If that doesn’t seem like much, keep in mind that 1% of the world has red hair. For everyone one person with red hair you see, you see one stutterer. The media has a strange perception on this particular disorder, and people aren’t sure what to make of it. Is it cute? Is it pathetic? Do only awkward accountants with no social skills have it? Does it consume their lives? Why don’t they just fix it? Isn’t there some earpiece they can wear – I heard about that on TV once – doesn’t that fix it? I stutter sometime when I’m nervous – do I make them nervous?
Every stutterer is different. Yet we can unite around a common shame that we either feel or once felt. It’s a shame that every person feels at some point. We all have something. My stutter is my something. It’s also my way to communicate. And it’s time to address some big misunderstandings about what that means.
Let’s start off this blog with conversation!
My name is Jaymie, and I’m 24 years old. I work full-time in San Diego. Who are you? What do you know about stuttering? Do you or someone you are close to stutter? And what do you wish you could tell the stuttering world? Let us tell this story together.