“Hey,” the chat-head suddenly pops up on my phone, “you’re the girl from the party, right? The one with the speech problem?” No matter how many times I hear comments like that, they still send a stab of shame right through me. Have you ever wondered how people remember you? I have. I’ve given my own share of nicknames to colleagues and customers. Here comes No Salt Fry Guy. I’ll have to ask the Smiley Waitress to take their table – she’s always good with requests. Of course, once I’ve been there long enough, I learn their proper names. Problem solved. But even still, isn’t there that one detail that stands out to you? Without overthinking it, what makes Steve, Steve or Karen, Karen?
When you have a speech impediment, it is one of your defining features, like it or not. That was always a hard reality for me to accept. It’s a gift that very few people actually take the time to recognize – the ability to speak fluently and clearly. So, yes, I am the girl with the speech problem, specifically a stutter. And maybe it’s not that bad. How could I forget the night I tried to take that older man’s order? I was beginning to repeat it back to him, as per company policy, when he suddenly waved over a manager. “I can’t understand her!” he bellows. Trying to decide which was worse – being humiliated or treated like I wasn’t even there – I blinked back sharp tears. After some busywork and a reasonable window of time, I excused myself to the bathroom and let the tears flow free. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. My brain was in overdrive. Who does he think he is? That was so rude! And he can’t “understand” me – like I’m some kind of hieroglyph that needs to be deciphered. Not like it was the first time my stutter made me feel awful, just a day in the life.
Flashback to 17 years old. I’m at the kitchen table flipping through thick college catalogs, not yet being crushed by the weight of my mental health issues. I’ve wanted to be a pediatrician for as long as I could remember, and now the stage was set. Above-average standardized test scores and graduating with honors. Nothing could stand in my way. Optimistically, I hold two booklets up. “Which has the better pre-med program?” I ask, almost to myself. Then my father, King of Brutal Honesty, a trait I’ve grown to fear and admire, chimes in. “Amanda. Doctors don’t stutter.” I feel myself deflate, but was he wrong? Thinking back to check-ups and hospital visits, no, not even one I can remember. It must be a coincidence then. After all, speech patterns have nothing to do with intelligence.
So maybe I don’t have to try to be remembered, even for the wrong reason. Maybe my life-goal won’t be serving stuck-up, grouchy old men. And maybe I’ll work a little harder for my respect. But in the end, it’s a part of my life that’s not going away. So, thank you, stutter for helping me become a stronger person. I wouldn’t have it any other way.