Freedom of speech; saying what you want to say, when you want to say it.
Expressing yourself. Your opinions, beliefs, desires.
Seems like a basic human right.
Denied to many people over the course of human history. People have fought and died for speaking their minds; people have fought and died for speaking their own language.
However, that’s not what I’m speaking of; I’m talking about being able to speak at all. Some people are physically incapable of of speaking, or even hearing, at least in the traditional sense. The more fortunate amongst these people have adapted through sign language (which everyone should learn, hearing impaired or not), lip-reading and other measures. No decent human being would ever show derision towards someone who couldn’t hear or speak.
And then you have people like me. Different story.
I had a terrible stammering/stuttering problem as a child, something which my friends have a hard time believing, because they wish I would just shut up. But it’s true. It’s also true that when I was a child, it was not seen as bad manners to mock someone for stuttering. Children and adults alike took great pleasure in teasing me for my trouble. There was no cruelty behind their teasing, but I took it poorly, and by the time I was seven years of age, I could not look an adult in the face.
I just stopped talking.
At home, I rarely stammered or stuttered. At school, if I was called upon to read in class, I did so without issue. While playing sports, however, the stuttering came out with full force. It usually began with “I” at the beginning of a sentence.
“I, I, I”…
And so I became known as “Aye-Aye.”
It didn’t bother me so much when the other kids called me that; I was called worse. But when adults said it, it made me furious.
But there was nothing I could do.
One of my teachers recommended to my parents that I be put into speech therapy; my father refused on the grounds that it would only further stigmatise me; he said I would grow out of it. I was happy about this, because two of my friends, a boy and a girl, had lisps, and were in speech therapy, and they were indeed seen as something “other” than everyone else. We became even closer as a result of our shared troubles; the boy, Nathan, was a gifted athlete, and stood up for me when the other kids would tease me. The girl, Rachel, was so intelligent that she made most of our teachers look like…what they were. She protected me from the girls.
And so the teasing mostly stopped.
But the stuttering and stammering did not.
When I was eight or so, we had a school function; there was to be all sorts of skits, short plays and dances, and everyone, children and adults alike, would be attending. One of the assignments was to recite a rather lengthy historical speech.
No one wanted that one.
My teacher, Mrs. Cochran, asked us, “Any volunteers? If no one volunteers, I’ll have to choose someone myself.”
No one raised their hand.
She pointed at me and said, “You.”
Devastated is not a strong enough word to describe how I felt. This woman had been extremely kind and supportive towards me; I felt betrayed. After school let out, I approached her.
“How can you do this to me?”
She said, “I’m not doing this ‘to you’. I’m doing it for you. You can do it. I know you can.”
“It’s three days away, and I don’t even know the f—ing speech, and how am I supposed to memorise it and recite it without f—ing stuttering in front of three hundred people?”
I blurted it out. I shocked myself. She was my granny’s age. I thought I was dead.
She smiled and said, “You didn’t stutter just then, did you? Maybe you should curse more often. Go home and memorise the speech.”
I still wasn’t having it. I begged my parents to get me off the hook.
No luck. My father had me recite the speech in front of a mirror, again and again. I was able to do it without stuttering or stammering.
Then the day of reckoning came. My recital was the last “performance” of the event.
I have absolutely no recollection of the recital itself; I blanked out. I remember walking off the stage afterwards, and hearing applause. I sat down next to my friend Nathan.
“Did I stutter?”
“No. Not once.”
“Really. You need to calm down.”
I never thanked Mrs. Cochran for what she did for me; it didn’t cure my stuttering; that came later.
But it was a damn good start.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, speak your mind, in whatever fashion you can.
I want to hear your voice.