Monday, January 03, 2011

trying to find the words


when i was a kid i had a stuttering problem. it only went on for a few months, this stuttering problem, then it went away, like a virus or a scar.

i dont know when it came, this stuttering problem, i guess i just woke up with it one day. it was startling, not just to me but to everybody around me as well. like waking up with set of different color eyes, or suddenly being considerably shorter. a small change, but still a hysterical absurdity. out of nowhere i had this sudden affliction. an unforeseen characteristic had been formed. without warning, a had a stuttering problem.

and i liked it.

i dont think i developed this stuttering problem on purpose, although i did find something fashionable about it. when i stuttered —and it was always a brief hiccup of syllables, a short series of them. but never would i get so stuck on a word that i had to catch my breath and restart the sentence— it felt unique and novel. it made me feel somewhat special. it wasnt tragic, but it was sort of sad. and it wasnt contagious, nor called for the burden of assistance. it was just a slight disorder, one that signaled a quirk in my psychology. it could sometimes even be cute, a reason to pinch my cheeks.

clearly —and i was aware of this even then— it really was a quirk in my psychology. and yes, it was very sad. i cant pinpoint which issue it was i had been suffocating for so long, that it decided to return in the form of a speech impediment, but i had a lot of chaos in me back then so it doesnt really matter. choose a card. pick a number. draw a straw, they're all short.

i was living in a group home in the richmond district of San Francisco, then. only a few blocks from golden gate park, nestled in a row of Edwardian style houses just a few miles from the pacific ocean. there were five kids there and always two counselors on duty. none of them had a stuttering problem. i was about eleven years old and i was the youngest, the others were all in their early to late teens. we shared bed rooms. two boys in one room and two girls in one room. the oldest kid got his own room. or the girl, if there was only one.

we ate breakfast in the morning before school. it was there i unveiled my stuttering problem. i asked for something or was trying to say something and it came out in sputtering starts. like an engine that couldnt catch. i pushed through it and finished saying what it was i wanted to say, but everyone noticed it and for a moment i grew red in the face.

no one said anything though, they all just looked curiously at me for a moment, and then continued on eating their food or saying something or just staring at their plate and not making a sound at all. the counselors glanced at each other though, wordlessly discussing me with their eyes. i noticed this and have to admit i felt a little warm and wanted.

when it happened at school my friends would poke fun and we would all laugh, even me. it was just a small thing, a little nervous tic. even though it was the sign of some deeper, unaddressed anxiety i had, one that i was too young to consider, it wasnt terminal, it could have been worse. none of us were worried. we knew kids that sucked their thumbs. kids that were allergic to half the cafeteria food. kids that were quiet and were always bruised. kids that never showered and were mean and angry. i just had a little spasm when i spoke. a slight stuttering problem. nothing to get dramatic about.

some of my teachers looked at me sideways, and a couple asked me if i had always stuttered, as if they couldnt remember either way. a guidance counselor, whom i had to visit quite often on account of my spotty attendance record and apathetic approach towards homework, sat me down and asked when this stuttering problem started. i couldnt give her an honest answer, so i just told her a couple weeks ago, and she nodded her head and wrote something down and then looked at me gently.

when i spoke to my mother on the phone she immediately noticed and asked how long it'd been going on. i dont know, i said. she grumbled something i couldnt understand and then said, well stop it, it makes you sound dumb.

the counselors at the group home never directly addressed it, but they took special care at keeping an eye over me. id feel them in my peripherals watching as i had a conversation with one of the other kids, or when i was on the phone with someone or simply sitting at the table concentrating on my food. they would stare at me and bite their nails. they were all in their early twenties, they only took the job to pay their way through college or grad school. so they had nothing but curiosity for this oddity. and until it became of great concern, they resigned themselves to stealthily studying it. this stuttering problem.

i suppose i took the same approach, and just waited for it to pass. i made no attempts to stop stuttering, but i didnt encourage it either. i only delighted in it while it lasted. embraced the burden and suffered the concern. i was the stuttering boy. the kid with the little problem. it would go away, i knew, and it eventually did.

it went on for a few months and then just as quickly as it was realized it was forgotten. gone. and i was back to just a boy and the world grew big again.

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:gray matters: by jkg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at downtownalleys.blogspot.com.