Spit it out: My Life as a Stutterer

Amanda Branham writes about the trials of stuttering. Photo by || Kayla Nick Kearney

I showed up at Benny’s, the neighborhood bar, late on a Friday night. The bar was so packed I literally had to shove my way through the jungle of beers, shots and sweat. I headed directly to the outside bar to find my friends. I looked around, and they were nowhere in sight. But he was, the Johnny Depp of Midtown. We locked eyes to the point where it made me uncomfortable. So I turned to the bar to order my drink. Before I knew it, his tattoo-covered arm reached over my shoulder and gave the bartender $5 for my beer. A modern prince charming. I could smell the smoke and beer resonating from his Social Distortion T-shirt, and my heart fluttered.

As I turned around to look back, his long, curly locks that perfectly framed his face were topped with a fedora. He had big brown eyes and a beautiful mouth that smiled back at me. If this was what “love at first sight” was supposed to feel like, I was feeling it. Then… it happened. The question I have always dreaded and as much as I try to ignore it, it’s inevitable.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“M-m-m-m-my name i-s-s-s-s…”

And there it was, all of a sudden his soft smile turned into horror, as if I’d just spit in his beer. He was back at the bar quicker than I could stammer, “Amanda.”

Finally, my friends arrived to find me alone in a huge crowd of people, frustrated.

“What’s wrong?” they asked.

“Oh, just my stutter again,” I solemnly replied.

Story of my life.

Ever since I learned to talk, I learned that I cannot talk. Well, I can… just not like all the other kids. Luckily, my parents decided when I was a little tyke that they would not let it stop me. They insisted that I was just like everyone else and had nothing to worry about. And I believed them… until the first day in the second grade.

I was starting a new school in a small town and I didn’t know anyone. It was a Catholic school, so all the kids had already completed kindergarten and first grade together. I was the new kid in class, and I was assured by my parents that I would be fine. Nobody would notice. So I walked into that classroom without a worry in my mind. I’m just like everyone else, until I talk.

“Please introduce yourself,” Ms. Bushman said.

And again, it started. At that point, I had less control, so slobber was coming out of me every which way and my mouth was moving in ways I had never experienced before.

I will never forget the look of awe and disgust in my classmates’ faces. What else would second graders do? Laugh. I nervously sat down in my seat and swore to myself that I would never speak again. In my head, I cursed my parents for telling me that nothing was wrong with me. Had I known otherwise, I would have been a little more guarded about introducing myself. Maybe they could have talked to my teacher, so I wouldn’t be subject to such public humiliation and embarrassment.

Unfortunately, the humiliation and embarrassment continued throughout the day. Vowing never to speak again, I refused to ask Ms. Bushman to go to the bathroom. Afraid of getting in trouble, I remained in my seat. And then the waterfall started—all down my leg and onto the floor. I tried to blame the accident on my invisible soft drink. Come to find out, that excuse only works when you have an actual soda to use as a scapegoat and your soda smells like urine.

When I got home from school that day, my face was flushed, and my mom could tell I was crying. I told her the story of what happened at school that day, and she grabbed me and held me close. She knew the torment. She had stuttered most of her life, and because of it, she was very shy.

“Don’t worry about them,” she said. “You are the only person you can be.”

So I took her advice. We joke about it now, but I took it a little bit too far. My report cards typically read, Shows great promise but talks too much or Disruptive to others. As a high school freshman, I decided I wanted to act. So I took theater and was in the drama club. A couple of productions later, I changed my mind. While I loved to hear myself talk, I decided to spare the audience and found another venue to let my energy run free—writing.

Up until college, I practically lived in a uniform: a white button-up collared shirt and plaid skirt down to the knees, or at least close to them. This is where my creative side was born. I started painting on my school clothes so they would look different. When I didn’t have paint, it would be nail polish. I liked clothes that had imperfections, because they were just like me.

As it turns out, I ended up with a lot of friends who were just like me as well. Strange as it may seem, we outsiders formed a union. We made a pact to never follow anyone else’s paths but our own.

And now, I am following my dreams of doing something that I never thought I would do: I am a journalist. And while it does have its downside—to ask for an interview, you have to actually be able to ask for one—it has been the best struggle of my life. Because I have learned that there will always be someone trying to get you down, but as long as you are comfortable with yourself, it shouldn’t bother you.

It turns out that I am different. And I’m OK with that.