I could feel the eyes on me, the browns, the blues, the hazels, the greens and even the grays. They watched me, all 24 pairs, all 48 individual eyeballs. They watched me as i fiddled with my paper, dog ear folding the ends, then smoothing it out, then folding the paper back again, I continued like that, looking out into the crowd of 3rd graders. Their bored tired gazes lingered on me. My oversized pants and my powder blue uniform shirt suddenly felt 4 sizes too small. The room seemed to be closing in, everybody looked as if they were getting closer.
“Whenever, you’re ready” my third grade teacher Ms. O’rourke coached, her kind smile was the only thing that reassured me. I held the paper up high so that it blocked my view of the now impatient 3rd grade class.
“..T-hh-e b-b-b-ook,I read, fff-oor summer reading, w-wass.” I began, nervously picking at the edges of the paper.
“Naihema,” Ms. Chi my now fourth grade teachers sharp voice interrupted, startling me.
“That is not how 4th graders present, lower your paper, so the audience can see your face. Take a deep breath, slow down, and for goodness sakes stop mumbling.” My face felt hot, I lowered my paper as instructed, and tried my best to ignored my classmates giggling.
“The, book, I read for ssssu..ssummmer, reading, was Charlie and The Chhhocolate Fffactory.” I had only begun to read the first sentence of the passage in our reading textbook before Ms. Lacy my 5th grade reading teacher stopped me,
“Naihema, slow down, take a deep breath... hold it.. hold it.. now let it out. It’s okay, there’s no rush.” I sunk down in my chair, ashamed to still be getting told the same thing i was getting told in 4th grade. “Slow Down, take a deep breath. theres no rush.” Nobody else in the 5th grade had this problem, this stutter, nobody but me. I reluctantly did as I was instructed, inhale and exhaling, trying my best to ignored to whispers and giggles of everybody in the now 6th grade classroom.
“Naihema, did you want to pick up where Deion left off?” Mr. Snyder my 6th grade reading teacher asked, I shook my head, and averted my gaze so that he wouldn’t ask any other questions. He nodded understanding, and simply turned to the next person to read. When Sierra was done reading her part of the passage, Ms. Conkey my now 7th grade writing teacher had instructed her to pick somebody else to read their summer essay. I was the only person who hadn’t read, so it’s not like Sierra had much of a selection. The whole 7th grade class turned my way, there they were, all 24 sets of eyes, staring into my soul, waiting for me to begin my essay. I racked my brain for any possible out. Soon resulting to having a “coughing fit” and claiming to just be coming off of a cold.
I never actually had a speech impediment according to my mother, she would always say, my brain worked faster than my mouth. I had too many thoughts and not a fluent way of communicating them. That I simply talked to fast. But I always thought otherwise. All my life, throughout middle school, there was always this feeling of being less than the average student. I couldn’t raise my hand in class because, of the other kids constant giggles, whispers, and snide comments. I couldn’t read any of the papers I’d written, and the reports I’d spent sometimes days on. I couldn’t ask questions, or share with the class that the answer to number 4 section A was actually 56 instead of 57. Not like all the other kids. I eventually stopped trying to voice my opinion, get involved in class discussions, and volunteer to read my paper, by the time I realized that my stutter was a burden. I was a burden. Class had to be put on hold for about 15 minutes as I struggled through my paper. If i talked too fast, as my mother liked to think, shouldn’t i be finished reading my paper in half the time it took my classmates to read aloud?
I remember in reading Mango Shaped Space by Wendy Mass in the 6th grade, then having to write a report on the book, I remember loving the book so much, I read it twice. I remember the excitement I felt as I finished the report after spending all weekend plus the extra monday we had off to work on it. Bouncing excitedly on my tiptoes as the printer in the school library spat what i thought was the best thing in the word. Shoving it into my backpack, then walking swiftly to Ms. Conkey’s reading class. I went through the first 20 minutes of class, doing daily routines. Copying down the sentences on the board and picking out grammatical errors in them, going up to the handwriting bin, picking out the handwriting sheet, and tracing the cursive letters then rewriting them over. Then listening to the whines of my teacher as she complained about our inability to get finished our daily routines in a reasonable amount of time. All of that leading up to the moment where Ms. Conkey looked at her clipboard and began to read off names of the people she had preselected to read their presentation today. My heart rate sped as I patiently listened to the names she called out, hoping that one would be mine.
“Amirah, Kyleel, Andrew, Deion, Inayah, Naihema, Shannon, Jeffrey..” My heart skipped at the sound of my name. I sat patiently as the other 5 students before me, went up and read their reports. I began to get impatient as Inayah lingered on her last paragraph. She came to her last sentence, and i jumped up out of my seat with my paper. I went to the head of the classroom and stood on the presenting stool.
“Lets make this switft” Ms. Conkey said not bothering to look up from her notepad. I stepped on the presenting stool, it was suppose to act as if it was a stage. All eyes were on me, those same 48 that had been on me in 3rd, then again in 4th, alittle in 5th, not so much in 6th, and now as i stood here in front of the class for the first time in 7th.
“The book i read was, Mango Shaped Space” I started being sure to take a deep breath before i started, i read slowly, to make sure i didn’t tangle my words. I hadn’t even gotten through the 2nd paragraph of my paper before Ms. Conkey interrupted, “Thank you Naihema, you can sit down now.” I stood there in awe, my face felt hot, the familiar sound of my classmates giggles filled my ears. My grip on the paper tightened crinkling, i just looked at her, unsure of what to say, unsure of what to do. Everyone else had gotten a chance to finish their essay, why not me? How was I any different. I looked down at the ground, standing there on the presenting stool. i remember feeling like i wasn’t good enough, feeling like i was incompetent. I began to doubt myself, and my ability to excel, how was i ever going to if i couldn’t get through my paper? That was the last time, i spoke in front of a crowd willingly, there was always times where the teacher had forced my to share or to read aloud. I never wanted to feel such humiliation, such disappointment in myself, i didn’t want to ever feel like i was anything less than normal. I learned to keep to myself and lay low, in the classroom. Knowing the correct moments to “sneeze”, to go in the hallways for a drink of water and when to that a quick bathroom break.
Although my mom was right, i did talk too fast, i never stuttered and i eventually grew out of it. But I could never erase the emotional toll it took on me, or the sounds of the familiar giggling of my classmates, or the feeling of having all those eyes on my, all 24 pairs of the browns, blues, greys, hazels and the greens.