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Unpolished nails dug into taut, raw skin, creating a pool of iridescent blood that dripped down the sides of my thumb. The puddle of blood seeped into the folds in my fingertips as I bowed my head and averted the gaze of my teacher, who was choosing people to read parts in the famed play Twelve Angry Men.
“Julia? Will you please read the part of Juror Nine?” my teacher innocently asked. I winced, knowing the doom that lay ahead in the black, one-dimensional text.
“Um…sure,” I hesitated, trying to prolong my commitment as long as possible. I crossed my bloodied fingers for good luck and started on a guttural journey that would be forever etched in the minds of my classmates.
Two awkward seconds passed as my classmates patiently waited for me to begin. It was eighth grade English class, and I was surrounded by an even mix of old friends and strangers. My friends, whom I had known since the carefree days of childhood, were fully aware of my condition and treated me as just another girl. The strangers, kids from a nearby town, had greeted me with a particularly surly reception; they regularly sneered at me or shot me condescending looks in the hallway. Finally, I spoke.
“Aaaaannn...,” my voice quavered as I attempted to regain control of my vocal cords, “…dddd thhhatt our tempers will get short.” My deliverance of the line sounded at first like an indecipherable language, elongated sounds smashed together to form a dead tongue that echoed in the pyramids of the Egyptians. However, I regained composure towards the end and finished in a strong, confident voice with no semblance of a speech impediment.
My classmates snickered, giggled, and laughed in the face of my disability, treating it as if it were a hilarious sexual reference. A handful of kindhearted students spared me humiliation and merely looked around the room, expressionless, but I knew what they were thinking.
The continuous cycle of embarrassment, mockery, and shame lasted for two class periods until I finally came clean to my mother. Her blonde brows furrowed into an expression of sympathy and sadness, and she enveloped me in a Clinique â€˜Happy’-scented hug. With gentle blue eyes brimming with tears, she told me that if there was anything that she could do, she would do it. I inexorably told her that there was nothing to be done; it would be utterly mortifying to tell the teacher that I stuttered, even if she had already figured it out. If I received special treatment and was singularly excluded from reading, malicious comments would be fired my way. So, I psyched myself up for another day of reading, reassuring myself time and time again that my past faults would not be remembered by my classmates; I was getting a fresh start, or so I thought.
My mother stopped me just as I was about to catch the bus.
“Listen,” she asserted, glancing down at her scuffed fleece slippers. “I can’t bear to see you suffer like this any longer. So, I e-mailed your teacher last night and asked her to exclude you from reading,” she said, in a soft voice that anticipated my anger.
I was irate. “Why would you do that? I don’t like being treated like this; just because I stutter, that does not mean that I should be treated like a baby! I’m sick of this!” I shrieked, iridescent drops of rain streaming down my face.
She stepped toward me, dirty blonde hair tousled, gray sweatpants falling limp on her svelte frame. “You’ll thank me, Julia. I love you,” she offered, planting a tender kiss on my acne-studded cheek as I sprinted out the door.
As I raced down the steep hill, hoping to catch the 7:50 school bus, reality sunk in; my mother was right. Though I was reluctant to admit it, she was a wise woman who knew the inner workings of her daughter. Then I thought of the possibilitiesâ€”I was granted absolute liberation from the play’s imprisoning, cream-colored pages; what a joy! Thoughts of elation and happiness filled my mind until I nestled myself in the crackled brown leather seats of the bus; then, my mood changed entirely.
The strident sounds of the engine’s roars were diminished to background noise as I pondered my future. I was molded into a person that was always “the exception to the rule”; the girl who stumbled over words in class, yet there was a tacit agreement that you could not make fun of her. What would my life be like without a form of solid communication, the basis for all human life and relationships? Would Mom always be there to mend a difficult situation or comfort me when I was down? Would people continue to make excuses for my stutter? This is the life that I face now, and though people tell me that my future looks bright, I wonder if they are just saying that to bestow a compliment on an unconfident, stuttering girl.
I think of stuttering as the almonds in a Hershey’s chocolate bar. When you first open a fresh bar of chocolate, sometimes the almonds are visible through the thick layer of creamy chocolate, while other times, they are not. Many people figured out that I was a stutterer the first time that I met them, while for others, it took them a few encounters to figure out my affliction. But no matter how you choose to eat the chocolate bar, you will always encounter the almonds; their distinct, sweet taste always lingers in your mouth. And no matter how long you go without seeing a person, you will always connect their face with their disability; almonds to chocolate.
I can only dream that one day, my chocolate bar will be dotted with only the occasional almond.