Author’s Note: This post was written in anger. Anger and frustration. Not at anything or anyone, just at life and the world. My intent was to vomit all those raw, painful emotions and get them out of me as fast as possible, then come back later and polish it up and make it into a pretty post. But now I don’t want to. There was nothing pretty or polished about that moment, so why should I try to represent it as otherwise? It’s not my best writing ever; shit it’s not even good writing. But at that moment, it wasn’t about good writing. It was getting it out of my chest and into the universe where it could distribute itself evenly among the world as untied shoes and misplaced keys instead of concentrated anger bottled up inside me. And that’s still what it’s about. So I apologize for the poor sentence structure, the wild ramblings, and my inability to appropriately express myself; I won’t like, this is going to be a tough one to get through. But I won’t apologize for what I felt then.
I’m 26 years old, and I can’t make phone calls.
I mean, I can in that I know how to work a phone. But when I make a phone call, I can’t talk.
See, I have a stutter. A mild one, in the world of stutters; I’m in the 40th percentile. Most people who know me as casual acquaintances don’t even realize that I have it because over the years I’ve gotten really fucking good at hiding it. They just think that I’m a little awkward, maybe nervous around people. That I forget things easily or don’t have a great vocabulary because they assume that the reason I pause in my sentence is because I don’t know the word to use, not because the word got stuck in the back of my throat and I can’t get it out. I sometimes phrase things a little funny because I’m feeling a block on a word coming and I try to get around it by rearranging the words in a way that they come out easier; nothing that screams “SPEECH IMPEDIMENT!” but something that might stick in a person’s brain and make them think, “That was weird,” before moving on. Shit, Kyle and I were dating for several months before he knew about it. Even then, when I get close enough to a person to divulge this information, it’s rarely an issue. I may stumble on my words from time to time, and a few friends have gotten close enough to me that I feel comfortable letting them fill in my blocked words for me, but it certainly doesn’t keep me from having meaningful friendships. And at work, I lead and manage crews with confidence and authority without a blink.
For the most part, my stutter is a mere annoyance. It means that sometimes I’m a bad joke teller if I get stuck on the punchline. It means that sometimes I will let people rudely talk over me without standing up for myself because I was having trouble getting my words out anyway. It means that I have to resist the urge to punch people in the face when I do have a block and I hear the ever-popular, “Come on, spit it out!” Because that totally makes my stutter go away, thanks doc. The worst is sometimes my name can be a trigger word, which means that introductions come out as, “Hi, my name is…um…um…um…Stephanie.” Which is inevitably followed by, “What, you forget your own name?” Which makes me feel just great.
A little side rant for a moment. Sometimes I wish my stutter was worse. Debilitatingly bad. Because right now, it’s not bad enough that people hear it and recognize it as a speech impediment, which gives them the freedom to make fun of me. Which is the worst feeling in the world. Because behind this stutter, I’m actually a very eloquent speaker, and pretty fucking intelligent. But because I have a bit of a stutter, instead I have to field insults for being an idiot because people are too fucking stupid and too big of an asshole to recognize that no, I did not forget my own name, I have a stutter. Who forgets their own name? No one. So maybe there’s another goddamn reason that I can’t say it, maybe one you shouldn’t be giving me shit for. I mean, when did that become okay? There’s something about watching a person who looks and sounds otherwise normal struggle with their speech the way I do that is incredibly uncomfortable and painful for people, and they can’t handle that discomfort. A lot of people just look at me with pity and quickly try to pretend it never happened, but I think a lot of people try to deal with the discomfort by turning it into a joke, and that’s when they can be the meanest. Oh, and not to be sexist or anything, but just pointing out that I’ve never once been made fun of by a woman. So whatever that’s worth.
Anyway. The point I was getting at is that for the most part, my stutter doesn’t hold me back. Sure, it’s annoying as fuck, but it doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to in life. But there are two situations when my stutter becomes debilitating. One is when I’m ordering in a restaurant. I can’t do it. That one moment when all eyes are on me and the sentence I’m supposed to say is expected and I have to say the exact words of my choice without the ability to substitute easier words…I block every fucking time. Everyone’s sitting there, staring at me, waiting to say it, and no one can move on until I have spoken this sentence. It’s painful for the waitress, who just wants to get my order so she can leave. It’s painful for my fellow diners, who if they didn’t know about my stutter they fucking do now. And it’s traumatizing for me to be reduced to such embarrassment and degradation. For normal people, it takes less thought than the proper procedure for blowing your nose but for me it’s nearly impossible. So a lot of times I’ll have Kyle place my order for me. Except that then people think that I’m a stupid subservient woman who lets her husband decide what she’s going to eat for her, which is still less painful than having to deal with the trauma that comes from stuttering through my order. It’s not the best solution, but it gets me through.
The other situation when I stutter the most, however, doesn’t have such an easy answer. That’s when I’m making a phone call. I’m fine if someone calls me; I may have my usual trip ups here and there, but I don’t crash and burn. But if I have to place the call, especially if I have to leave a voice mail, I am a fucking mess. I will stutter through my name. I will stutter through my message. I will talk too fast in an attempt to keep the words flowing and get though it quickly and if I do stumble I will say stupid fucking things like, “Whoops, my morning coffee must not have kicked in yet!” I sound like a goddamn idiot and it’s horrible to have to listen to on the other end. The woman who works the call center at my dentist (they have two offices and calls get funneled through an outside office before getting connection to my chosen office) has gotten so pissed off at having to talk to me that she finally broke the rules and gave me the direct line to my dentist so that she doesn’t have to talk to me anymore. When I worked retail and we had to cold call customers for whatever reason, I was banned from this task because on several occasions I had to have my manager call a customer back and explain that this was not a prank call.
But the one time when I’m just…trapped, is when I have to make work phone calls. Because I can’t just make Kyle make all my work phone calls for me. I try to avoid them at all costs. I will go to ridiculous lengths to do all of my communications through email. But sometimes I’m forced to make phone calls and the results are disastrous. Just now I made a phone call to the director of a space I’ll be taking a show into and got his voice mail. All I had to say was, “Hi So-and-So, I’m Stephanie Van Sandt with Such-and-Such company. I had some questions about your space and I was wondering if you could give me a call so that we could discuss your setup and what I can expect. My number is this, and I look forward to hearing from you.” Instead what followed was a five minute recording full of ums and awkward silences and sentences spit out with a hint of desperation. I said stupid things and phrased things poorly and talked too long and said none of the things I needed to. When I hung up I went into the bedroom and asked Kyle if he’d heard that. The look on his face told me that he had, and he was hurting for me. “If you received that voice mail you’d think I was an incompetent idiot, wouldn’t you?” I asked. So now I’m entering a working relationship with this guy thinking that I’m a fucking idiot, all because I have a stutter. My inability to call and order a pizza is one thing. It’s okay if the woman at the insurance company things I’m stupid. But making phone calls like the one I just did is going to hurt my career, and that’s the most frustrating and depressing thought in the world. I feel scared. Scared by the phone calls themselves; every time I have to make a work call my whole body seizes up and I’m terrified. But I’m also scared that these fucking phone calls and voice mails where I’m calling and representing myself as a fucking incompetent idiot are going to hurt me and my career, and keep me from becoming what I want.
But what scares me the most is that there’s not a motherfucking thing that I can do about it.