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“Okay, let's go around the room, and each person will read aloud the question and answer on the worksheet.” Mr. Ludwig's voice rang out, deep and loud.
My pulse quickened. I could feel my heart drumming painfully against my ribs. I had to concentrate on my breathing to keep it steady. My hands started to shake so badly that I had to put down my paper and fold them across my chest.
Each person read their number from the worksheet. My turn was fast approaching. I was almost hyperventilating. Finally, the student before me finished his turn, and I had to speak.
I opened my mouth and got stuck on a silent block on the very first sound. It was hard and tense, but I tried to push my way through. But my stutter grew worse, and I could hardly control my choppy, ragged breathing. My face was hot with embarrassment. Still, I pressed on. I had made it to the third word and I could sense every pair of eyes on me. I didn't look up; I couldn't. I couldn't face their expressions of confusion and judgment. I finally finished my sentence; my round of torture was over.
“I'm just going to finish the rest of these.” Mr. Ludwig's voice sounded again. I couldn't shake the sense that I was being watched.
My lip was quivering and I could feel the sting in my eyes. I bit down hard on my bottom lip, drawing blood. I wouldn't allow myself the luxury of crying in the middle of class over my stutter. No, I'd wait until I got home so I could curl up in a corner on my bed hugging a pillow.
My teacher finished the worksheet and signaled for me to follow him out of the room. Another wave of tears threatened to spill over but somehow I kept them back. He closed the door behind us and sincere remorse filled his eyes.
“I'm sorry,” he said. “I won't make you do that again.”
I nodded. I didn't trust myself to speak; I knew that if I started crying I wouldn't be able to stop. I followed him back into the classroom and concentrated on not breaking down.
Lunch and the three remaining hours passed excruciatingly slowly. When I got home, I allowed myself to cry for half an hour. When my mother arrived home, I focused on keeping my composure until I was in my own room.
I said good night an hour before I normally did, but my parents didn't notice anything suspicious. I washed my face and closed my bedroom door. Undressing slowly, I let the tears build up until they overflowed. I turned off my light and allowed myself to cry into my pillow. A million thoughts bombarded me at once, making my tears uncontrollable.
They don't realize what they have, I thought to myself. They all take it for granted. They can just talk without even thinking about it. I would kill to have one stutter-free day. To be able to address a crowd with confidence, without having my heart beat painfully, or shaking to the point of seizure. To be able to talk freely, leisurely. I've never experienced a single day like that.
My breathing came out in wild gasps and I had to press my face further into the pillow.
I am confined by it, I thought. It controls me in a way I wish it didn't. It is always looming over me, just waiting for me to utter a word so it can strike me down. But I will allow myself only this one night of crying. I will never cry over my stutter again.
It was a couple of hours before exhaustion won over and I passed into a restless, dreamless sleep.