The story begins on an early morning in September, the bus ride to school seemingly longer than usual in my mind. I wonder why.
“T-thut up! Thut up!” mocked the older twin girls whose cackling rivaled the roar of the bus we were riding. They were turned around in their seat, kneeling on the rubber cover as they peered down at me, wisps of blonde hair bouncing around their grinning faces. Frustrated, I stared at them, my mouth slightly open, racking my brain for words to say that wouldn’t result in further taunting. My shoulders sagged as I gave up, turning to gaze out of the window instead. I tried to focus on the roar of the vehicle I was in, the cracks in the sidewalk outside, anything that could help me forget the fact that I was speechless.
At this age, I recall not being able to pronounce certain consonants, such as ‘s’, ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘th’, and more. This particular incident occurred when I was in the 3rd grade (year three for my British constituents) and while it wasn’t the first or the last incident, it is the one that I look back on the most.
Every week for a year, I was escorted into a tiny white room that resembled a closet to attend a one-on-one Speech Therapy session. And every night before I went to sleep, with my head buried in my pillow and my eyes squeezed shut, I prayed that the lessons would work and I’d wake up speaking normally. But it wasn’t for a couple more years that I would overcome my speech impediment.
Despite this, my speech lessons ended soon after they begun.
“In her head, Jaida knows exactly how she’s supposed to say things. It just doesn’t come out that way,” expressed my therapist. She essentially explained to my mom that there was nothing more she could do for me, and if I’d just practice some more, it’d probably wear off soon. That soon felt like centuries.
“I like your accent. Where are you from?” my friend innocently asked out of the blue one day. “Spit out that gum,” my sixth grade English teacher commanded before realizing I didn’t have anything in my mouth. “Why do you speak like that?” questioned a boy during my first year of high school, not even bothering to ask for my name first.
A day didn’t go by where I didn’t repeat a sentence or two in my head before I said it, hoping it would come out right this time. However, despite the questioning glances and hurtful taunts I used to receive, I never shied away from speaking. I was known for being loquacious and vibrant, shouting whatever came to mind. My speech impediment was an obstacle, but not a barrier, and I never let it interfere with the plans I had for myself.
From an early age, I knew I wanted to devote my life to literature and performance. As a young girl, everything I wanted to say but couldn’t was conveyed in my writing. And as I grew older, I turned my obstacle of speaking into an opportunity and now I’m an actress.
To this day, I can still be overly aware and self-conscious of my speaking, but I try to make it a point to never shy away from saying what I want. As an emerging writer and actress, I feel as though I’ve turned my pain into peace and have found my voice in the world.
Feeling speechless as a young girl
This post was written by Jaida Imani