Yo Mama’s Speech

I went to see “The King’s Speech” a few weeks ago.  At the end of the movie, while the credits were rolling and the audience was applauding, I sat there sobbing.  Why?  Because I was once a stutterer.

When I was in junior and senior high school, I had such a debilitating stutter.  The phrase “tongue-tied” describes this handicap perfectly.  You feel as if your jaw and throat are paralyzed, all the while searching your mind, fast and furiously, for a word that can be used as a substitute for the word you really wanted to use but could not get out of your mouth.  The intended meaning of what you wanted to say was always compromised and the sheer physical process of being “locked up” was exhausting, not to mention humiliating.  However, blocked speech in no way means a blocked mind.

I will never forget an incident in Spanish class when I was in high school.  I attended a small, single-sex private school.  The teacher’s name was Mr. Fernandez and he was an exterminator when he was not teaching.  Totally appropriate: he was a rat, a cockroach, of the highest order.  Even back then, in my confused adolescence, I knew that the real problem was not my stuttering but Mr. Fernandez’s cruelty and lack of sensitivity.  Anyway, he asked me a question, I stood, and then nothing would come out of my mouth.  I stuttered, and after my third try, Mr. Fernandez said that if I did not answer on my next try, he would send me to the principal’s office.  Of the ten or so other girls in my class, no one said anything …… except for a girl named Marsha Gildin.  She spoke up and said, “Come on, Mr. Fernandez.  She (me) has trouble talking.  She is not doing this on purpose.”  Mr. Fernandez did not back down, and while Marsha’s comment gave me a minute to regain my composure, I was able to utter the correct answer.

Case closed?  Absolutely not.  As I sat in the movie theater I realized why “The King’s Speech” hit me right in my gut.   Back then in school, Marsha was the only person to feel compassion for my plight and go to bat for me.  Stuttering was a physical ailment but carried with it overwhelming social and psychological effects.  Even those closest to me would write off  my disability by simply saying, “You have brain damage.”  It was more important for these observers to be dismissively right than compassionate.  As I have aged, I see that selfish tendency more frequently and amplified in those that demonstrated it in their earlier years.

As the years passed, my stuttering faded.  Was that due to my growing self-confidence or was there a “lifting” of some unknown physical malady?  Who knows?  Occasionally now, when I get fired up about something, I will stutter.  But I simply stop speaking, verbalize that I am stuttering and move on.  Most important, this momentary debility does not bother me because I couldn’t care less what the others  think of me.  My stuttering is not the all-encompassing diagnosis of brain damage nor is it an indication of myself as a lesser person.  That’s what maturity will do for you.

However, wherever you are, Marsha Gildin, I thank you for your courage to speak up and defend me when I could not do it for myself.

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5 Responses to “Yo Mama’s Speech”

  1. amy lilley Says:

    yomama…I had no idea…stuttering never kept you from killing a tennis ball or having the energy of a space shuttle in flight…Tavis Smiley had the director of ‘The King’s Speech’ on the show a couple of weeks ago, and lo and behold, my Tavis shared that he was a ‘stutterer’ as well…and it does happen, on occasion, on the show…so, here’s to overcoming, and to that one person who CAN make a difference…

    Just for the records, Jimmy and I loved this movie as well…it should win Oscar gold in record number…:))

  2. EGR Says:

    Beautiful post. Sad story. I remember the stutter, but I think we just ignored it. It didn’t change who you were (and you NEVER stuttered when you yelled “CHUCK”!).

  3. sarahsouth Says:

    I want to give Marsha a big hug.
    Love you.

  4. Marsha Gildin Says:

    Dear Yomama,
    Marsha here.
    Amazed and shocked to google myself and find your story, our story. A reflection of moments in time, not remembered, and life changing.
    So it is that we serve one another. Thank you!

    Great love, Marsha

  5. Sheryl Nelson Says:

    My name is Sheryl. I’ve known Marsha for years. We met while working together and have become life long friends. The roots of our friendship have grown deep and strong. As a girl at school Marsha stood up for someone who was doing her best against a teacher bully. It can be hard to do the right thing especially against an adult. Marsha didn’t remember that experience while her class mate has held that experience as a valued part of her life. This experience represents hope that some day others will be met through life that stand up too. Employment, social, psychological and other barriers exist which are supported by statistics for people with disabilities. The barrier often most difficult to overcome is stigma and negative attitudes about disabilities. It seems, people are either a part of the problem or are part of the solution. As a girl Marsha became part of the solution to do the right thing and stand up for someone doing their best. Its easy to walk away and do nothing which unfortunately happens all to often. I have a full time job while owning a microroasting coffee roasting company. I love people and animals, am friendly, own a house, love gardening cooking and entertaining. Years ago I was fired after having a job I loved for almost five years. The manager on his first day told me that “blind people should not work.” Imagine my shock to learn that. What other people think about my disability often creates opportunity or a closed door to many things such as socializing, working and playing. Each day I am reminded by questions and doubt about my abilities from people along my path. I often wonder if they doubt me or see themselves as unable to function if they had my disability. The vision they may have of themselves has nothing to do with me, who I am or how I live my life. As I have gotten a bit older the life time of questions have become exhausting. Each day as I walk through life I do know that the chances of most people knowing or interacting with a person who is blind are slim. We are a relatively small group of people in the population. I try to be patient, understanding and answer questions people direct to me. Sometimes its difficult when their voice is full of doubt and disbelief when they ask their question. I know that no matter how their question is answered they likely won’t believe me and often I am right they walk away huffing and puffing. Recently someone asked me: “how did you overcome your disability?” I said that I am blind, will always be blind and that being blind is “normal” to me. I explained that overcoming what others seem to think about blindness is much more challenging than blindness is to me. Thank you to yomamaforobama for having the courage to write and express your experience. you knew “that the real problem was not stuttering but Mr. Fernandez’s cruelty and lack of sensitivity.” And to you Marsha my dear friend thank you too for your “moments in time, not remembered by you and life changing too for someone who remembered who you are and that you stood up and respected her while she was doing her best.

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