COLUMN: Stammering through to observe the niceties

I hate it when my stutter gets the better of me.

It’s a recurring nuisance that fails to dwindle with the passing of time. It arises when most inconvenient, leaving me with a pair of sweaty palms and an awkward silence.

Unexplained pauses feel odd, but when your face sours and your hands make desperate gestures, things can get a little weird.

Though it is a subtle attribute – my stutter – the results are anything but mild.

The other day, a barista, with pen poised and ready to scribble on the cup, asked for my name. It was my time to shine. Unfortunately, I’m all too aware of how difficult it is to pronounce my name on the spot, especially with the barista throwing lazy, half-hearted daggers at me.

Nonetheless, the spotlight persevered. Voilà, the grand entrance. Meet my stutter, lazy barista.

Picture this: my mouth opens optimistically, but is left hanging like I’ve somehow managed to zone out.

And what is worse is the pity as the eyes retreat to the side. Thank you, dear barista, for offering me such merciful sympathy. I am awfully grateful to blabber on clumsily as though you haven’t noticed.

Talk about humiliating.

The voice in my head is exceptionally capable in saying – screaming – my name, hollering the three syllables with such desperation that I seriously contemplate the likelihood of telepathy.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m comfortable with people. Even with my stutter looming over my shoulders, I find it within myself to shrug it off.

A chain of unintelligible words isn’t about to discourage me from public interaction – much less ordering a coffee, thank you very much.

Because, as we all must know, talking to strangers can be wonderfully revitalizing: Who could this person possibly be, strolling along the sidewalk? Where do they hope to be in, say, 20 years? Do they think Crocs are the most hideous shoes invented, or are they content in adorable frog-looking feet?

I offer a smile, but, in return, receive a pair of retreating eyes. They swerve to a boring, unimpressive street lamp – and that’s without my stutter.

I wonder why this is, why people have become content with silence and dodging eye-contact. I’m told there is a growing lack of connection. Compared to the good ol’ days of VCRs and quality service (ouch, burn), society has crippled into an introverted shell of communal disinterest.

Still, keep in mind the reasons why your fellow passerby is, well, just that: a passerby. Perhaps it’s due to mildly self-demoralizing struggles – such as a stutter – or a fear of making eye contact, or their mind is occupied with to-do lists and whatever they ate for breakfast.

Or, perhaps, they simply don’t care.

Regardless, it can be uncomfortable opening up to strangers. Many have no problem displaying information on Facebook, yet the idea of personally acknowledging each other seems excessive.

Stutter or no stutter, it makes sense to summon the effort. In fact, if you ask me – or any other delinquent teenager who secretly longs for moments of real-world interaction – a summoned smile or chirped greeting can go a long way.

It’s the little things in life that make it so extraordinary, after all – even if that little thing is sputtered into irregular clips of incomprehensible sounds.

And, hey, moments ago, a pleasant stranger took on the task of opening the door for me and, heaven forbid, presented a smile. An amiable chat unfolded and, as brief as it was, it sparked that little extra something that makes life more enjoyable.

“How has your day been, young lady?”

“Absolutely wonderful. And yours?”

And guess what: I didn’t even stutter.

Emily Fenton, a Grade 11 student at Earl Marriott Secondary, spent last week on a work-placement program with Peace Arch News.


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