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Here, where I don’t stutter

/ 05:03 AM January 26, 2020

I was once told that I buffer like a YouTube video. Typically, the sentiment is coupled with impatient eyes, or foot-tapping like merciless knocks on the floor. Tap! Tap! Tap!—almost like cracking an egg open into boiling oil. Sometimes I just purse my lips and stop.

But oftentimes, I get tired of my own silence, too.I have a stutter. A mild to intense one. It’s a problem that erupts from my anxiety and manifests any time, from giving orders to fast-food strangers to just chatting with friends.

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I stutter like a word interrupted by an urgent dash—a sudden pause—that occurs in each syllable. I s-stutter just l-like that.

In Quezon where I grew up, crowds of coconuts are as ubiquitous as the faces that used to mock me for my speech. In my early years in school, kids in my class called me “utal” and “bulol.”

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I never found it funny. I just finished college, and now my skin is as thick as coconut husks unbothered by irrelevant friction.

Growing up tight-lipped with a noisy mind was never easy. In jeepney rides home, a simple “para po” gets shackled back into my throat by the curling of my tongue, as my teeth battles for dominance to release the words from my quivering lips.

So, I let my knuckles signal drivers to let me alight. And when the stutter attacks, I get an extra mile from my supposed stop. Sometimes I still feel people staring deep into my back as I descend. I blush hard and hot, like exhaust pipes.

So, arm in arm with my mother whom I call “Nanay,” I went to a speech therapist in a hospital closest to us. I could still recall each moment vividly in my head: the long, dimly lit corridors, the double doors that closed and opened like mouths, a yellow light flickering softly like a Morse code for help. Help, I thought silently.

How eerily appropriate.

The doctor pulled out a perpetual calendar from her drawer. She pointed to a sentence so small I could barely see it. And when I read it out loud successfully without stuttering, she smiled at me and my mother and gave her diagnosis: “Hijo, you don’t have a stutter. You just need friends.”

Spoiler alert: Friends don’t cure stutters. When Nanay and I went home, I remembered we weren’t friends when she messed my hair with that familiar grin and told me it was okay.

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I decided that day that she was my favorite person, because I do not stutter when I say her name.

Speaking of names, I ceased being Kyle at Starbucks. But I can’t be Marco (for I stutter with the letter M), Pablo, Timothy, or Bob.

I can’t be anyone with an M, T, P, S, B, K and L. So, instead of my birth name, I use “James” instead, and now it’s the name written in thin marker on every grande latte cup I sip silently in the mornings.

I remember this movie, “100 Tula Para kay Stella,” a cliché Filipino romance that starred a well-spoken JC Santos as Fidel, a timid high school wannabe poet with a stutter so intense he could only speak three words without stammering. That IS me, I thought.

I almost teared up at the representation, until I was swallowed by soft laughter and suppressed giggles from all sides of the cinema. They weren’t laughing at what Fidel said—this was no comedy—they were laughing at how he spoke. And I also almost laughed, I swear, at how surreal and oblivious the audience was.

I sulked like a child in the darkness. “Please stop laughing”—that’s only three words long. I laughed along instead, but unlike everyone else, I never found anything funny.

What I cannot do in speech, I translate into writing. At first it was essays. I would always be the “pambato” in essay competitions in high school up until college.

Then I drew comics, where I released all the unsaid punchlines in common conversations, all the jokes that I set aside for fear that I would not give justice to the delivery.

In written words, I was funny, important and unashamed. Then I became a journalist.

Campus journalism was something else. It’s just like a teenager’s bedroom where the clothes and posters are intimately familiar yet also so foreign.

If I had to make a point, I knew I had to speak. Words felt warm in my hands, but painful in my mouth. It’s like the same distasteful joke—“bulol ka”—grinding into the muscles on the inside of my cheeks.

I d-don’t like it.So instead, I write. I let my fingers talk—Tap! Tap! Tap!—on the keyboard, where my thoughts are unencumbered by the sudden jerks of my tongue, unbridled and irrepressible across the screen that is my audience.

I take my pen and I speak, words printed on paper like paint, as the ink forms what my mouth cannot. This is how I talk comfortably, unafraid finally.

This, for me, is my only safe haven in which I won’t be judged, pitied and laughed at. Writing will always be the best medium in which I can express myself. It is the only thing that smoothly flows in me—from my brain down to my pen’s ink.

In writing, I do not stutter. So, I wrote this, almost like a validation, but also for inspiration. To all the other bulol in the world whose voices pause for the most inexplicable of reasons, but also the most understandable ones.

To my s-s-stuttering friends: Life goes on even when uttered in various pauses. Life is meant to be lived one word at a time, anyway.

Kyle Cadavez, 22, is a civil engineering graduate and a former editor of The Luzonian, the official student publication of Manuel S. Enverga University Foundation in Lucena City.

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