Say My Name
By. Lindsey Sailors
My name is Llll..LLlll...LLL (*deep breath*)----indsey.
I already saw their eyes looking for somebody else to talk to. I saw it 4 seconds ago, when I first started to say my name. It’s a cruel trick of the powers that be that on top of developing a stutter during childhood seemingly out of the blue, the hardest sound to say was L. You can’t say Lindsey without L. And so, for years, I couldn’t say my name.
Stutters are nominally understood to be disorders of too much activity. “You just need to slow down your thoughts” my mom used to tell me. I don’t blame her for thinking that—what if I was just particularly precocious and too brilliant for my 5-year-old vocabulary? I wouldn’t mind having that problem, and I wouldn’t mind having a daughter who had that problem. Too brilliant! Too fast for her own good! That ol’ broad, just give her a few years and a Fulbright.
But that wasn’t the case with me. I’ve learned in my life that any story that involves me also involves anxiety, which explains why I still stutter, but only when I am nervous or anxious. At 5 years old, I was nervous and anxious a lot. And when my voice became the most unsafe and volatile part of me, I didn’t know whether or not it was going to work, and so every syllable felt like a risk.
Shame doesn’t have a definitive milestone; it always comes and it always hurts, but how and when is the intricate beginning of all that we carry with us. The first time shame took me was when I stuttered my way through talking to my mom in our living room, explaining to her what I was excited for that day. She hadn’t asked me a question—she had four young kids and ran around efficiently, quickly, harried—but I had come to her wanting. What I received was swift and harsh.
“Just get it out, Linds” was what I heard more often than not. I stopped trying.
Stutters are torturous for everyone. They are painful to listen to, they are painful to speak through. I’ve never been so angry as when I’ve been in the middle of a word, and it’s 5 seconds...8 seconds...15 seconds, and the next syllable won’t come, and I’m still left there, naked with inability. The anger forms hot in my throat, that great traitor, when the panic of the stutter sets in and the recognition that we could be here for a good long while, and then travels up to my eyes. To have a debilitating speech impediment and be an easy crier is an unfortunate combination if you want to be in the world.
When my Kindergarten teacher wanted to hold me back in school for communication delays, I took an intensive year of speech therapy to try and get better, a desperate last resort. I remember her office was located in a hospital, and as part of our working together, she would make me go around to different rooms to talk to strangers and have conversations with them. I remember one day we made popcorn together in a microwave, burned it accidentally, split it up into paper cups, and gave it to patients who were in rooms alone. And I remember my speech therapist in one of our sessions telling me to get firm. “You’re unsure”, she would say.
“Pretend to be sure instead and see what happens. Think about banging your fist on the table because what you’re saying is so important.”
My voice today is deep but not raspy, with a strong California accent and unusual cadence; I speak intentionally without many fillers, and with a conviction that’s striking. I still stutter, though seldom, and I can always make it through a word. I’m 32 years old with a brave and full life behind and ahead of me, but when I say L’s, when I say my name, I can feel that sweet, angry little girl. I feel her eagerness, I feel her frustration. And I tell her to get firm, that what she is saying is important.
Lindsey Sailors is a poet and essayist based in San Francisco. By day, she is working to make the tech industry more diverse, thoughtful, and intentional. By night, she is writing her first book. Follow her talk about everything we’ve been told never to talk about at enterthegray.com
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