Amy Kierce – Me and My Staccato

June 30, 2014 | By | 4 Replies More

I will never see The King’s Speech but I’m glad it was made.

No one knows this about me, but I always counted ahead to see which paragraph was mine. Once, I counted incorrectly and read aloud the wrong one. The teacher waited until I finished and told me to read the correct one. I couldn’t believe my mistake. I counted twice. But I listened to my teacher and read the second one and after it was finally over, my hands emoted for me and broke the pencil I was holding.

Phones were worse. In college, a friend got me a job at New York Newsday for the Sunday night shift. I was thrilled, but on my first day, I realized the job would require picking up a ringing phone. Worse, I had to read a column over the phone to the paper’s editor, Donald Forst.

It was set up that I had to wait for his phone call. I sat at the desk, being busy, sweating. That horrible first ring always changed my body physiologically. As the Sundays ticked on, I kept thinking, When is he going to complain about me? We did not chit-chat. I was too respectful and incompetent and figured I had a job to do, and he needed me to read.

I tried to be fluent. I said something like, “copy desk,” or some editorial office phrase, but I always knew it was he because he called at the correct time. He waited patiently, quietly, without any interruption as I barreled through his prize writer’s column, killing the words with my stabbing repetitions.

But then I would get on a roll and rattle off a few perfect phrases, words that were silken. For those seconds, I pretended me into a different person, lifting me from the prison of my mouth and my desk chair, relieving me of the emotional lava. But soon the monster would deploy and depending on how far I fell, I was grabbed and caught in the net of my “block,” or I would simply drown. Through this I pushed, continuing to read, to get it out. At the end of the column, I wouldn’t even know how we’d signed off. But I needed to pretend again, hoping that the writers around me hadn’t heard.

Why didn’t he accept a fax?

Do I stutter now? I do a smidge when I’m overtired and I don’t have the energy it takes to “care how I sound.” But I never stutter to that extent anymore. Later when I worked for PARADE magazine, a kind colleague anonymously placed a flyer for a stuttering program in the pile near my desk, and I took the cue. I was bold and desperate and asked my boss if the company could pay for the program because it cost $3,000, and I didn’t have that. My boss agreed, and it became a gift of a miraculous sort. Since then, life has been remarkably easier.

Today I’m 47 and frankly, I just had the best interview of my life. My thoughts came out pure and unrestrained, elite! I was an Olympic swimmer doing a brilliant stroke across Walden Pond. My words were there for me. I did have a few “hard onsets,” as they’re called in my program, but I recovered with grace. A who-cares whoops. I figured, hey, it makes me interesting.

I never suffer from it anymore but even more than that, I’m not silent anymore. During those stuttering days, much of me stayed unspoken in an unmarked cardboard box. Did anybody really know me? The habit of avoiding speaking kept my opinions on the down-low, and I struggled to break it for years. But I’m over it now. I make jokes, even. People laugh at me for the right reasons, and it’s entirely enjoyable on my end. I feel cured. Once in a while a good friend will fill in a word for me, a maternal thing, and I’m good with that since for the most part, I do speak cleanly. Frankly, I now have a habit of speaking aloud as I write.

I shouldn’t regret the past, but I do wish I hadn’t stuttered so voluminously with the patient Mr. Forst. After my shifts would end at ten pm, I would run in a sprint down the dark sidewalks to Grand Central. I was trying to make a train back to Fordham, a city girl on the go, but I may have also needed to run out my discomfort. I was a young woman who really wanted that job on her resume.


Category: Knowing

Comments (4)

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  1. Betty Carroll Fuller says:

    You are funny, articulate, a great writer and a strong woman. I admire you greatly. Nice essay.

  2. What a journey you have made. Here you are speaking so clearly, with a bit of humor, with a writer’s gift and a speaker’s heart.

  3. Amy Kierce says:

    Thank you for saying that, Mariah! :)))

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