A Writer’s Irony

October 5, 2009

pubulic-speaking-fear

There’s nobody that can compare to a writer reading their own writing; as oppose to somebody else reading it aloud, especially, non-fiction narratives. I mean, it’s obvious right? The writer wrote in their voice. As the words formulated in their heads and rushed out their finger tips, they knew exactly how the words are meant to flow. The writer is most familiar with the rhythm of the language, which syllables or words needed stressing, and pausing in the right place. The writer is the one who best knows the tone, how the voice of the characters and the narrator are meant to radiate off the page. Writing is a personal practice, an art form, a self expression. All former considered, To be a writer who can’t effectively read their own writing aloud is sort of ironic, and annoying.

I can read aloud, I mean mentally, physically, and vocally I am able to read. Then why would I not just suck it up and do it? Well, according to what I proclaimed to my professor earlier this week, because I didn’t want to “mess it up”.

Isn’t that fascinating? Just the mere fact that I could mess up my own writing, my own personal voice. Not only is it fascinating, but it’s frustrating. Maybe I shouldn’t have used the phrase “mess it up”. Because, of course, my stutter isn’t intentional, but nonetheless people unintentionally mess things up all the time.

This recalling of my angst about reading my writing aloud boiled back to surface earlier this week. It was Monday, and I was sitting in English 3700- Writing Creative Non-Fiction. As the professor calls upon the first of the papers we were work-shopping that day, she says, “will you please read a couple of paragraphs for us”. Damn. I had been hoping that this class would, for some nonexistent reason, be different from my other writing classes. Meaning, that typically, in writing classes the professor has you read your writing for class critique and response. Of course, this is a very reasonable request for a college writing class. It is just a request that causes my stomach to knot. However, luckily for me, my paper was due to be work-shopped Wednesday thus giving me time to seek mercy from my professor.

So, instead of swallowing my pride and preparing myself for a mega stutter exposure in two days, I take the low road. Class is dismissed and I find myself glued to the chair putting my things away agonizingly slow while the rest of the class eagerly heads for the door. When the coast is clear, its time for my ritual confession. This has become a frequent occurrence throughout my entire academic life. From elementary school, begging my teachers to not choose me for read-a-loud, to high school where I would audition in private for the annual musical. And now, five years into college, where I confront my professors with my vocal apprehensions.

“I just feel if I read it, it would distract from the story”

“It’s not that I just don’t want to read it to avoid embarrassment-well that’s part of it”

“Would you mind reading a section for me on Wednesday”

It’s been said before, quite a few times actually. For the most part my argument is completely valid. I mean, if I were to read it I do believe it would distract from the story and the flow of the narrative. But, on the other hand, the class had read the piece prior to coming and therefore has (hopefully) already established the concept and narrative tone of the story. So, in that case, I could read it without hindering their opinion on the writing itself too much. But what about their opinion of me? For some reason, that has always dictated my many vocal cop-outs.

Wednesday comes and rather than my anxieties being calmed by the reassurance that I would not be reading aloud on this day, a new anxiety sets motion inside my brain. Suddenly, I realize that my fellow creative non-fiction classmates probably think it’s pretty bizarre that I am not reading MY writing. Following the announcement “alright, now let’s move on to Melissa’s” and then directing her attention toward me, “Where do you want me to start” , I mechanically throw out a paragraph which was far from the one I intended her to read. As she carefully reads an admittedly boring section of my paper I follow along closely, mainly to avoid eye contact with anyone. The voice in my head goes through the boring paragraphs with a slower more dramatic rhythm. My muted voice reads along with exaggeration on different words, pauses in different areas, and no pauses where some were placed. Just a little different, but different enough.

There will come a day when I will stand up, among many, and read an excerpt from something wonderful I have written. The stress and anxiety that having a stutter brings me each time I am confronted with public speaking is a heavy weight I have been carrying around for far too long. The tightening in my chest, the clamminess of my palms, my subconscious toe-tapping, and the pounding of my heart that coincides with my stutter bears burden on my social and academic life. Then why allow it? Why allow the anxiety I feel about my stutter accumulate until it pushes me to seek escapes? It is my personal apprehensions that keeps my writing from being heard straight from the authors mouth- a stuttering mouth.

I am a writer who avoids reading their writing aloud at all costs. Silly, but unfortunately true.

I’d like to think we’re not alone (we’re meaning stutterers). I am completely aware that they are many other individuals out their who stutter. After all, I had to share speech therapy sessions for four years with a guy named Alex; he had a more more severe stutter than myself. I was thinking about Alex the other day because I was trying to think of people I knew who stutter. Him and another boy were the only two I could think of. Both Male. And the pondering begins….

So being intrigued by the most trivial things my mind stumbles upon, I had to look up the numbers corresponding to stuttering. If I didn’t, I would have bothered me. So sitting down in my computer chair I used the most practical approach to finding my statistics, Google. In the search engine I Typed “stuttering statistics” and “stuttering statistics gender” in hopes of satisfying my curiosity. Here are some of the statistics I found about individuals who stutter:

It effects 4 to 5 percent of people worldwide, and 1 percent of the United States population

Okay, that doesn’t seem like very many people right? 1 percent of the U.S population is more than 3 million people. Not very many comparatively. But this makes me wonder who they are considering as a “Stutterer”. I mean, there are different degrees of stuttering, what severity do you have to be at to make this statistic. Am I apart of it? Probably.

75 percent of the children who stutter will eventually outgrow of it by adulthood.

That’s a very big percentage. But that makes sense to me. I used to work in childcare centers and preschools. Many, if not most, of the little ones had a slight stammer. I always thought of that as a part of the process of their natural speech acquisition; as you learn how to talk better and better, a child’s speech should ultimately improve. Well not every mini-stammer grows out of it. Those 5 percent in the world who didn’t can tell you.

This one struck odd to me: Speech therapy does appear to help an individuals self esteem.

Speech therapy had a pretty significant impact on my self esteem, but I don’t necessarily think it helped my self esteem at all. I dreaded having to go to speech therapy. To me, it was embarrassing. I never wanted to admit where I was going because I didn’t want my classmates to look at me differently. I was ashamed. Therefore, the idea and process of going to speech therapy always seemed to damper my self esteem. This statistic is just silly!

The theory is that with decreased dopamine levels, stuttering decreases. Likewise, with an increase in dopamine levels, stuttering increases. This would explain why those who stutter have “good days and bad days.”

This was very realistic to me. When I am stressed or very excited about something, my stuttering increases greatly. On the other hand, when I’m relaxed or sleepy, my fluency then increases. I definitely have good and bad days. There are those days when I feel like I should just not talk because it was too much of an effort. And then I have those days when I completely forget that I have a stammer.

Stuttering begins in boys twice as often as it does in girls, but girls recover at a higher rate, such that males outnumber females in persistent stuttering by a ratio of 5:1.

To me, all this says is that many more men stutter than women. I guess I am one of the rare privileged women to obtain that crazy linkage on my 21 chromosome giving me my staple stutter.  (Another Statistic I found explains the biology behind how a linkage on a females 21 chromosome may be a factor and/or cause of a stutter). But if you thought about all the people who you have met who stutter, are most of them male? Or does that just happen to be my experience?

Individuals do not stutter when they sing.

This ones kind of silly, but true! A least for me.

There is actually a lot of research and discussion on stuttering/stutters. I guess a stammer is a fascinating thing, I certainly think so.

Here are the articles where these stats came from, enjoy:

http://www.microarraybulletin.com/community/article.php?p=192

http://www.peaceandhealing.com/stuttering/index.asp

Stuttering and a Spanish Class

September 20, 2009

arriba!

When I am speaking every day I have the opportunity to mentally select the words I am going to say. I, like many people with speech impediments, have trained myself to use words with the sounds that I have the most fluency with. This is why reading out of a book or magazine word for word is so much more difficult to me, and my fluency rate is definitely much lower when reading script. It seems that I have almost become a master of disguise with my stutter by avoiding the difficult words during conversation. But doing that unfortunately has sometimes caused me to limit my vocal vocabulary greatly. Certain sounds are much too difficult for me to produce, so(on many days, but not all), I avoid words that contain those difficult sounds.

This is where my love for writing comes in. I can flow freely and use all the words I would love to say on some days. I can write how I wish I could talk. And I wish I could talk more freely, like how I’m thinking in my head. And I wish I could talk more beautifully, like how it sounds in my head.

I don’t really mind being a part of class conversations, or raising my hand to inquire about something confusing that my professor is rattling on about. My stutter is minimal them, because I am picking and choosing my most fluent vocab. That is why I could never be a Drama major (although I would have loved to been).  Theatre classes are full of reading scripture: word for word, how it is written. I couldn’t use my trusty word substituting technique . And so, I have avoided class which would require a lot of reading aloud. It actually sucks. I would love to take a drama class.

(The sounds I seem to have the most difficulty with are -sh, -th, -p, -d, -s, and various others; Depends on the day 🙂 )

This past spring I went to my adviser to fill out my audit for graduation. During this process we go over my transcripts and make sure I have met the requirements for my major. Surprise, surprise, I had not met all of my requirements. Now, in my last year at the university, I am stuck in the most painfully embarrassing class I could be required to take: A foreign language. My native words and sounds have been a constant challenge during my life, which I have worked and worked on to make them more fluent. Now introduce a new array of sounds and vocabulary to me, and it’s like I’m five years old again. stutter, stutter stutter. I tried the past four years to avoid taking a foreign language because I knew what a challenge it would be to my fluency. And thus far, I have been proven right.

I signed up for Spanish 1000 for this fall, and I am now two weeks into the semester. Unlike most of my 2-day classes, Spanish meets an annoying four times a week, 9a.m. Okay, I’m actually enjoying the class, but I would enjoy it a lot more if it did not required so much vocal interaction.

I think the part that bothers me so much is the fact that I understand the chapters. I’m grasping the adjective form, positions, agreements, and the pronouns. And when la profesora asks for volunteers to to converse with her in front of the class, I so badly want to raise my hand and volunteer. But I don’t. And I probably won’t the rest of the semester. I know that I definitely could participate, I would just have to find enough confidence to handle the embarrassment. However, I would rather not put myself, or the class, through the tedious and uncomfortable task of me slowly stumbling over my new Spanish vocabulary.

It does bother me that I cop out a lot. I avoid opportunities to join in on conversations even when I feel I have something genuinely good to say. I just sit there in silence while I let other students take the stage. I am not usually the quiet type in my classes. Like I said, I can respond well in English because I can choose from my English vocabulary. In Spanish though, I am the quiet one.

I cannot completely avoid vocally interacting en la clase de espanol. Each morning when class meets the profesora calls off roll, and as she quickly goes through each name, every student quickly responds “presente“. All is going smoothly, until she reaches my name. I always seem to put a very obvious stop to her roll-call flow. It usually takes me about 10 seconds to say the one simple word. 10 seconds. That’s a long time for a single word. I’m hoping she learns everyone’s name eventually and gives up on this morning routine.

Even as an adult I am still hiding behind my stutter, and always seeking ways to avoid being publicity scorned for my awkward speech. It seems that although this class is forcing me to come forward with my stutter, that it may be good. Spanish class is what is going to force me to stutter openly. I kind of need that, it’s about time.

I stumbled upon this video while tinkering around on youtube. It was on Good Morning America and it was for a segment called “Miracle Friday.” Some place called SpeechEasy had supposedly designed a device for stutters that fits in your ear and greatly improves your fluency. I actually got a little teary eyed watching the young woman in the segment. I could practically feel her humiliation myself. She bravely goes on Good Morning America with her very apparent stutter to show off the device. It’s a little long, but worth the watch. Oh and what do you think about whatshisname, the host? I don’t think he handled it very well…

They Called me Special Ed.

September 4, 2009

Since starting this blog last week, it has  forced me to come to terms with certain challenges I have experienced in my past with stuttering. I have buried  many things from my childhood that have had a lasting impression on my speech insecurities. I did though, begin this blog in order to finally be more open about my stuttering. This means then that I must admit the memories that have hurt me the most from my past.

While writing my first post, I briefly talked about my experiences having a stutter throughout my childhood and up until now. After writing that post, one specfic memory quicky boiled to the surface. It is something that had bothered me very much, especially when I went to school. They called me “Special Ed.” “They” meaning Kalamazoo Public Schools.

It was eighth grade and I was sitting in the tiny white brick room that I visited twice a week for thirty minutes. This room sat loudly in the main hallway of my school sporting an obnoxious sign: “Mrs. Thompson: Speech Therapist”. That day I was whining to Mrs. Thompson about how everyone was going to have to read “The Diaries of Anne Frank” aloud in class. The assignment heavily weighted on your grade, and being completely obsessed with grades, I started to freak. The idea of reading aloud anywhere, let alone in front of peers, made me nauseous and completely terrified.

My goal was always to avoid situations such as these whenever possible. So I began my plea with Mrs. Thompson to figure out a way to excuse me from the assignment. This is when, is my paranoid little head, I became “Special Ed.” She explained to me that every teacher has a list of students who are considered “Special Ed.” If I just told my teacher to look at the list, she would excuse me from the assignment.

I began to quietly cry. They call me special ed. Does that mean I’m retarded? Will I have to start taking Special Ed classes? Will everybody find out? I felt very isolated. None of my friends were “Special Ed.” And I certainly never thought of myself in that way either. I was an eighth grader that had just been labeled to the most embarrassing category I thought possible.

I remained on the “Special Ed” list throughout my junior year when I eagerly took myself out of Speech Therapy, which made me “normal” again.

Recently remembering about my place on that terrible list, is not as painful as it used to be. Looking back, I don’t know why I was so obsessed with the title public education had given me. It made me sad, angry, and frustrated. But after all, I did have to get “Special Education” twice a week, for thirty minutes. I just had never looked at it like that. But nonetheless I had the most normal high school experience (just, plus a stammer). I had tons of friends, played volleyball, edited the school paper, and participated in choir. Labeled or not.

I do find it unsettling that kids are being labeled by the school systems. There’s lists out their that are seperating young people according to income, handicap, intelligence, and whatever else. I understand that its logistics, but I still don’t like it. Maybe its because I’m a victim of being labeled, unfairly. Or maybe it’s because we should really let kids grow up without being categorized. Adolescence is difficult enough without having a label stamped to your forehead.

The Dreaded Job Interview

September 2, 2009

It is against the law for an employer to not hire someone based on age, sex, or race. But what about someone with disfluent speech, is that mandated somewhere? I’m sure its covered under some kind ethical code, but it has still always seemed to bother me. Are they not going to hire me because I stutter?

I have been working for six years (Starting with Dairy Queen at 16). During those short six years I have somehow managed to obtain jobs where I am interacting with the public frequently. However, Each time I have gone into an interview I am always confronted with the harsh fact that this employer is probably looking for somebody with good communication skills, Someone who can speak clearly and confidently with the companies patrons.

I haven’t been very good at maintaining jobs over the past years because of irresponsibility or just plain boredom, so I have been through the interview process many times. These anxious feelings begin about a half hour before the interview. My speech always gets worse when I’m under anxiety. My muscles tense up and my face gets a little warm as my body temperature slightly rises. My heart beat becomes irregular and the stress sets in. In those thirty minutes while trying to control my irrational anxiety, I mentally prepare myself for my interview. I tell myself to breathe, slowly. I remind myself that I can speak fluently, it’s up to me to do it. I think about how necessary obtaining this job is and how I should stayed focused on that. Always trying to relax my body and concentrate on my breathe (old lessons from years of speech therapy)

My anxiety about interview situations manifested after an encounter with a woman who Interviewed me a couple of years ago. I was interviewing for a server position at a restaurant/bar. The day of my interview had been hectic and stressful between oversleeping an exam, fighting with the roommate, and car problems. Also, Due to the inconvenience of my car not working I was unavoidably late to my interview. I arrive Ten minutes late (incredibly), with my make-up smeared from the summer heat and a head full of stress, it became time to step into the restaurant wearing a happy mask and a confident smile.

A woman named Lisa interviewed me. My speech was shitty from the second I sat down, I couldn’t relax and I couldn’t control my blocks. (The worst part about stuttering is that sometimes, no matter how hard to try, you can’t seem to spit it out). Since stress and anxiety seem to go hand-in-hand with my fluency level, the longer the interview went on, the higher my anxiety got and the worse the stuttering. As I continued to struggle through my answers Lisa’s face went from smiling to uncomfortable. I think uncomfortable is the best way to put it. She was looking at me as if she didn’t want to be looking at me. Her eyes widened with confusion. Her face was so still as if she were to make any movements it would insult me. The interview seemed to last forever, each question felt like it took me minutes upon minutes to respond. I finished the interview with a flush faced from the stress of the stuttering blocks, and thanked her and left.

I walked out of this job knowing that I would not hear from her. I could see in her face that it made her uncomfortable to listen to me talk (not to mention I WAS late). Also, why would she want to hire a server who can’t communicate professionally to her patrons? We all know that she can’t legally not hire me because of my stutter. But whose to say it doesn’t have a great effect on her decision?

Whether or not I did not get the job because of my speech, I do not know. I just know how it feels to have to impress somebody with your communication skills, when it is your communication skills that you are most insecure about.

I wrote this story last year. It is a reflection about an incident I had while working at a Dairy Queen. During this horrible period of my teenage years is when I was most insecure about my stuttering, and therefore mortified whenever my stammers came flowing out of my mouth. Please read and enjoy.

Ice Cream with a Side of Stuttering

There was ice cream and fudge caked to my arms. My oversized faded blue polo was a sticky mess between the strawberry sauce and Berry Blast Slushy. A warm drop of sweat began swelling up from under my equally faded blue baseball cap, before making its way down my left cheek; god I hate sweating. The moisture covering my skin is no question a condition of the heat that hung heavily in the air on this day. And finally, after seven hours of fulfilling my duty as head cashier, the superficial smile that had been so carefully plastered on my face was beginning to fade. But I know Pam is lingering somewhere near and I don’t feel like listening to her lecture me on the importance of pleasant customer service.

Hang in their Melissa, you’re almost done. I often find that I give myself peps talks to get me through the day.

Pam had already reprimanded me for my not-so-professional look. She has been barking orders and bitching about everything since my shift began. And it’s certainly not easy to keep clean through all the chaos. After a year of working here it has become an art to block her out. Pam takes pride in each and every detail, down to the peanut count on the Peanut Buster Parfaits, the perfectly weighted four ounce ice cream cones, and a stemmed Maraschino cherry centrally placed on top of each sundae. Pam is a Nazi, a Dairy Queen Nazi.

Luckily Pam is stepping out back for her cigarette break. She had one about 20 minutes ago, and probably another one 20 minutes before that. Those four minute periods where Pam “reduces” her “stress” are the moments I look most forward to in a day. I am not the only hostile Dairy Queen employee who secretly cheers when we notice Pam heading toward the back. Now I have four minutes to relax my aching grin, take a deep breath, and regain some of the clarity I have lost. I look toward Shannon and Brandy and noticed them quickly stepping aside to gulp down their now warm water. Even the idea of a drink of warm water looks perfectly satisfying. But the line is looking more anxious than ever, and on to the next ice cream connoisseur.

Repeatedly, I look back at the clock to check the time, only one hour until close. The fact that time is going so slow, even through all the commotion is part of the pile of anxiety the rests on my shoulders on this particular day.  Over my register and through the crowd I focus my eyes on the now orange sky that it seems was just blue; maybe time hasn’t gone so slow after all. I wish I could focus better on the calmness of the sunset but the crowd that surrounds this Diary Queen is cluttering the potentially pleasing ambience. The screeching of the back door opening sounds through the front of the store. I imagine Pam marching back up near the registers, so take a quick peek at the clock. 59 minutes until close.

“Excuse me”, a woman shrieks. The irritated shrill of her voice snaps me out of my daze.

“Yes, what can we get for you”, I say flawlessly, with an obnoxious smile. “Buster Bar, two Arctic Rush, two Banana Splits, a Chocolate Extreme Blizzard, and three Chili Cheese Dogs.”

Holding in my frustration, I tell her, “Ma’am I am sorry, our grill is shut down for the night.”

I hope Pam didn’t hear my lie. She believes that we should keep the hot food available right up until ten o’ clock before we lock the door. Pam couldn’t care less that it is an excruciating task to clean the grill and properly prepare the hot dogs and hamburgers for overnight restoration. When Shannon, Brandy, and I work together we like to close it down early, that way we aren’t stuck in this hell hole until midnight making sure to scrape off every last particle of processed burger grease.

My co-workers dash up to me to confirm the large order. Their exhausted eyes catch mine looking for an answer. I try to remember exactly what the women had just said, but it was difficult to keep up with her rambled order. The large orders are usually the orders that Shannon and Brandy need to get confirmation on. I can’t blame them though. Sometimes an irritated customer who receives the wrong order can be too much to bear and not worth the risk. Naturally, they are waiting for my response.

The beating in my heart grows louder, harder. The anxiety of speaking quickly begins to take over my thoughts. I try to relax and remain calm. The sudden fear of speaking doesn’t always get to me anymore, but this is certainly one time where it is. People are waiting on me, depending on me to keep the flow of the line moving. I could feel my eyes darting from left to right, left to right, left to right, trying to avoid eye contact with Shannon and Brandy until I can find the confidence to fluently tell them the large order. There is incredible weight in my throat, but it has become part of my vocal identity. I know I need to just tell them so these customers will leave, but sometimes it takes me a while for to get words out. Sometimes it is more difficult for me than others. Sometimes I can’t bear the thought of other people hearing me stammer horribly over my words. Shannon and Brandy usually understand.

Finally, I gaze over the faces of my stressed coworkers to see if anyone is noticing the unnecessary length of time between the utterance of their question and my response. I know that they notice, but they never say anything. I scan the back for Pam to be eavesdropping but I catch a glimpse of her chocking down a chili dog; which is of course free for her, not for us. Gathering my breath, relaxing my mouth, and mentally evaluating the words I am about to say, I let the words out. When I say the order to Shannon and Brandy it is not the particular way or manner the woman ordered them in. But it is in a way that would be easiest and most comfortable for me to say them. I re-utter the order carefully; trying to be as clear as possible without stumbling.  But they are used to it, and are very sweet. I wish they knew that I really do appreciate their patience and understanding. I find that not everybody accepts a stutterer so kindly.

My face is still bright red from the anxiety of speaking, and not to mention the dreadful heat. I watch Shannon and Brandy frantically prepare the large order. My job as cashier is much less demanding than theirs. They never have an opportunity to stand still. Earlier today a woman approached Shannon with her half eaten Blizzard complaining that Shannon neglected to put enough Peanut Butter Cup pieces in her medium Blizzard. This woman wanted her Blizzard remade. From what I could see there were only about four spoonfuls left in the Reese’s Blizzard she claimed to have so much distaste for. The point is that this shrew was making a ridiculous scene. Shannon refuses. Shrew bitches more. Shannon walks away. The amount of bullshit that Shannon and Brandy have to put up with because someone’s ice cream cone didn’t have a curly cue on top, or something of that trivial nature, is astounding. But I would trade positions with them in an instant. I do not understand why Pam puts me on the register. Maybe it’s to spite me. I wouldn’t be surprised since she is fully aware of my fear of public speaking.

My head turns to greet the next customer. It is only one man, and for that I am incredibly grateful. Maybe he will order a small vanilla cone. Easy and painless.

The tall burly man steps up. His leathered wrinkled face is stoned and silent as his glaring grey eyes try to focus in on the large hanging menu above my head. That is where the Blizzard menu is located; I am guessing he won’t be ordering a small cone. His eyes are moving from left to right with incredible contemplation. The silence between us grows awkward but there are well over fifty Blizzard flavors listed and the awkwardness is just increasing with each letter his eyes roll over. Pam is probably somewhere hiding behind the slushy machine waiting for me to suggest the Blizzard of the month, Peanut Butter Oreo, and I probably should. I am just too tired and lazy and I am not going to, so I’ll just wait until he is ready.

“Mint Oreo Blizzard”, he finally decides.

“Would you like a small, medium, or large sir”, I ask him routinely as if on autopilot. He looks at me as if I just ask him the dumbest question in the world.

“I don’t care”, he snaps back at me.

Smiling, but unable to respond, I quietly select the “16OZ” button, the “mint” button, and then the “Oreo” button. Since he took so long to order and he seems to give a shit less about what size we give him, I highly doubt that he knows the price off the top of his head. You know, that’s the great thing about our regulars; they know all the prices by heart so I never have to tell them. The ancient registers that we use don’t show the price to the costumers. If I don’t recognize a customer’s face I worry about having to tell them the total, because most of the time I stammer when I say it. It is just one of those small things that I begin feeling unnecessarily anxious about. There are many other things too.

The Burly man is looking at me now. He is standing eagerly holding open his billfold waiting on my response. He is waiting for me to tell him the total for his Blizzard is 3 dollars and 19 cents. But I can feel my vocals lock up. I am trying to relax, but his eyes are bitter and unkind. I don’t feel like talking today, especially not to him.

My breath is stuck in the pit of my chest. I can’t get any air to come out and my cheeks get hotter and hotter as the anxiety builds within me. Time is ticking and he is waiting, the longer he waits the more stressed I become. I have to just tell him the price! Looking down toward the green letters on my register I begin to force it out, “th-, th-, th-, th-“. I have to stop, breathe, and start over. My face is gets warmer with each heavy beat in my heart, the color must be close to that of a tomato. This must be taking a long time. I lower my head trying to regain any ounce of confidence that I had just lost.

“Thhhh-, thhhhh-“, I try again.

“What? Th-, th-, th-, what are you saying? Spit it out”, he cries out pouring embarrassment down on me.

His words hit me like a brick to my chest. Suddenly, I can’t hear anything. Where did all of the screaming children go? What happened to the deafening blare of the mixers spinning the candy around the soft serve? The sound that stands out above the rest is my heart that beats painfully against my chest and the gasping for air that I can’t seem to get. Now I am completely focused on the tears that are quickly swelling up under my eyes. Once again my stammering habits have gotten the worst of me and I feel terrible. It seriously cannot get any worse. The water in my eyes finally cusps the service of my lower lid and comes freely flowing down my red, sweaty face. Everything is blurry; I can’t even remember the price anymore let alone say it.

A hand touches my shoulder, and gently moves me out of the way. It is Pam coming to my rescue to take over the register. It is rare form to see Pam act this way. I rush to the back, and before I knew it I make it to the bathroom. The employee bathroom is the least desirable place I could choose for my mortifying escape, but I remain. My back is pressed against the closed and locked bathroom door and my shaking legs slide out from under me as I make my way down to the floor. I desperately wish I were anywhere else. Somewhere nobody has seen my face or heard my voice. Somewhere where I wouldn’t have to talk, and where people walked around communicating with smiles and genuinely kind expressions. But I am here. I am in Kalamazoo and I am at my Dairy Queen and I can still hear the crowd hustling, the children moaning, the mixers screeching, and my co-workers scampering around to keep up with the anxious ice cream addicts while I sit here and wallow in self pity. As hard as I try to regain my composure and act like a mature and sane seventeen-year-old, I lose control. Here in the Filth and Chaos of a small Kalamazoo Dairy Queen I quietly sit and cry reprimanding myself for my uncontrollable influent speech.