I inherited a stubborn stutter from my father. And to say that it eventually went away (as I hoped and prayed for) would be false. Though it stays, it doesn’t bother me. Well not too much.
“Why don’t you talk much,” my sister asked me after I refused to say the Lord’s prayer in Sunday school.
“Because, I don’t wanna talk in front of all them people,” I told her in a whisper. Everyone was required to say the Lord’s prayer that Sunday and I was not having it. Mainly because I was shy, but more because I had a stutter that I knew would come out in public. It’s like I could feel the beginning letters of words failing to form on my tongue. So, no, I was not about to get up there in front the church and have them laugh at me.
“She don’t talk a lot because she stutter,” my sister told my Sunday school teacher after hours of her trying to convince me to recite the prayer.
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” she said in a calm, sweet voice. She looked at my sister with care in her eyes. I couldn’t bare it so I walked as fast as I could to the bathroom and stayed there until, when I felt like, the recitations were finished.
In grade school when all my friends were getting jobs, I didn’t want to. Not because of the money, though. I was terrified because I didn’t want to speak up. And at any job, I knew I would be required to open my mouth and talk to someone; no matter how much I stumbled over my words. But just the thought made my stomach turn. I knew I’d probably be doing something involving customer service or retail and I was not here for it.
My first “real” job was in college as an assistant to a woman with a beautiful soul. It was an office in admissions of about eight people, all woman, who were all very inviting. I liked it because I didn’t work exclusively with anyone. I went to a small liberal arts college so to see that the woman interviewing me was an African American, I immediately felt at ease… but that didn’t last long.
No matter how much I attempted to calm my spirit or whisper reassuring affirmations to myself, I still couldn’t do it. As I walked through the doors, stammering and stiff, and sat down behind the desk waiting to be called back, a million thoughts bounced around in my mind like raindrops filling a glass mason jar. What if I’m too early. What if I’m too late. What if I wore the wrong color nail polish. I hope she doesn’t ask me anything about my studies. Maybe she won’t ask me anything at all. But is that even a good thing.
My interviewer asked a string of familiar questions. The ones you’d expect any candidate to answer when applying for a job.
Once I answered the first question the rest were a breeze. I am sure I was still nervous given the thumb twirling and scratching the outside bend of my arm every so often. But it was a healthy kind of nervous – the one required for success.
“This is the filing room. You’ll spend most of your time here or in the big conference room preparing mailings for the office,” Mrs. Tiffany, my boss, told me. She was significantly older than me so I felt compelled to put some respect on her name.
“Do you have any questions so far?” she asked.
“Um, n- well, w-ill I be working ca-lose with anyone else?” I asked in a staccato.
“No, you’ll mostly have independent work to do and if not, I will not have you come in, but I will still put in your time.”
I smiled faintly. I didn’t have to work with anyone I didn’t know, and I didn’t have to speak much. And she was basically giving me free money. Heaven.
A typical day looked like filing new donor letters, preparing mailers and cutting up and pasting papers. I worked alone and didn’t mind the silence. Though it was a small job that paid $150 or so every other week, I kept it for fear of having to go through the whole excruciating interview process again.
I realized I needed her probably more than she needed me. As I grow and learn myself more, I know that I need to be around people: at my job, at school, at the grocery store. Mainly for my sanity. My stubborn stutter, lack of street smarts, highly specific brain, shyness and then rudeness (namely fear) forced me to eventually break.