My first stuttering memory

While it is not really the first time I recall myself stuttering (or stammering, as I used to call it back then), it is my first major memory of realizing I have a speech impediment that will cause me problems.  The reason this memory popped back in my mind is because I was wondering about stuttering in other languages.  I do stutter in all languages I speak.  But I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of people only stuttering in certain languages, or not stuttering when they put on an obvious accent.

Anyway, back to my memory.  I must’ve been 12 or 13, I was probably in the 6th or 7th grade.  I was chosen (for what I can’t recall) to participate in a school debate.  In my second language. Hindi.  My history with Hindi is not a fun one.  I disliked the subject so much in school, that I even now have nightmares about my 10 grade final exam which involved memorizing literature from 3 text books.  I always went to “tuition” classes for Hindi, not that it helped much.  Anyway, now that I agreed to participate in this debate, I started preparing for it.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what the subject was, but I remember preparing for it with my Hindi tuition teacher, a kindly old woman who taught my friend and I for a few hours after school, when we’d rather be outside playing Tennis or Cricket.  I had my essay written out, she marked it up, I wrote it out again.  I practiced it, she praised my performance.  I practiced it again the night before the debate, and I was good to go. Or I thought I was.

I got up on stage the next day in school, in front of a crowd of about 150 kids (or maybe it just seems like 150 now and it was actually more like 35). I started to deliver my memorized speech-debate.  But my stomach knotted up, my throat went dry and my brain stopped working.  I was panting for breath.  I was stammering worse than I ever had.  It seemed like every word began with a vowel that caused me to struggle and repeat it, excruciatingly.   With things going so badly, my eyes glazed over.  I stopped paying attention to the audience or the delivery stance and poise one had to have while debating.  Instead all my attention was focussed on my own stress.  All I could think of was finishing this ordeal as fast as I could so my heart would stop pounding in my chest.  But the faster I tried to speak, the more I stuttered, the more I stuttered, the longer it took.

In hindsight, I don’t think I was ever nervous going up there to give my speech.  I don’t think it occurred to me that my stuttering would be a problem. And when I got up there and it became a problem, it took over me.  I can’t remember much after I was done.  I can’t remember what I did, where I went or how I felt.  Knowing me, I likely took my seat in the audience, listened to the next guy speak and when my heart and stopped beating, I probably forgot all about it.