Author: Sara Alardi
“Can you repeat that?” is a phrase that I hear far more than I ought to. I stutter, sometimes in short bursts that leave me gasping for air, other times I stutter myself into silence. Standing with my mouth wide open like a possessed vulture. Occasionally, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to complete a sentence or two without stuttering. My stutter shows up like an uninvited guest, waving a cheery “hello” and digging its heels into the ground as I tried to push it out the door.
Stuttering isn’t just not being able to speak properly. It’s the agonizing realization that no matter how hard I tried, the word would not come out of my mouth. I’d stand there, eyes wide, frantically trying to come up with a replacement word. Some other word, any word, that could express what I wanted to say while also seamlessly bandaging my mangled sentence. It’s the rush of blood to your cheeks, it’s the short breaths and sweaty palms, the feeling of someone squeezing your heart until it beats wildly in your chest, and the occasional light-headedness. It’s the feeling of wanting to flee and never return, the feeling of rushing to the ice – cream truck only to discover short breathed it’s closed. I’ve stuttered for as long as I can remember, and while I’ve never let it define me, it still haunts me like a silent but deadly companion who never seems to steer clear. Though there was a moment where I had the most profound epiphany in my life.
I decided to broaden my horizons and learn from the best during the summer of my eight-grade year since I have such a passion for reading and writing. I applied to a creative writing program that specialized in the field of literary studies. It was the most bittersweet feeling when they accepted my application. I felt torn between two worlds, not knowing what to do and not knowing who to turn to, it was as if I were at war with myself. After considering all the factors, I begrudgingly decided to give it a shot because I wasn’t going to let my speech stop me from pursuing my dreams this time. This program was a real-life test of my ability to do what everyone around me takes for granted: the ability to speak. I was mesmerized the first time I stepped foot in the building and took a good look around me, looking at the various posters varying in shades of green and beige hung around the room and the beautiful, color-coded bookshelves. I came to the realization that there could have been many times where I could have experienced remarkable things that I love like this, but I let my own fears hold me back. When we are asked to present our first writing piece, I remember mine was a descriptive piece about the beauty of the sea. Standing on the small stage, I felt as if I was going to pass out right then and there, but after I collected myself and reminded myself why I had come in the first place, I felt reborn. “Hello, my name is Sara Alardi,” I somehow said clearly. The following sessions were jam-packed with presentations, group work, and plenty of discussion and dialogue. My nightmares about leadership and workplace failure gave way to long telephone calls and conversations with good friends, casual acquaintances, and mentors. Nothing, not even speeches in front of thousands, no, millions of people, could compare to being completely at ease in your own skin.