Rachel Hoge | Longreads | August 2017 | 17 minutes (4,315 words)
Róisín would do all the talking. She’s the chapter leader of the support group in Brooklyn, and accustomed to the microphone. She’d wear jeans and a tunic, glasses, her hair twisted in a clip. The only odd thing, to me, would be her mouth. It would be loose, relaxed—an intentional muscle movement, perhaps a symbol of acceptance after years in the self-help community that my strained jaw wouldn’t recognize.
There are 100 people in the conference room, 100 people waiting for her to begin. Half are in their 20s, from places like Boston or New York. Some have never been farther south than Illinois. Some are from Iceland, Serbia, and beyond. All convene in a hotel on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, Georgia—the blistering peach pit of the South.
They are all connected by the way they speak.
“Welcome to Take it to the Ssssssstreets,” Róisín would say into the microphone. Everyone would clap. “Thank you for p-p-participating in one of our most p-p-p-popular workshops. I’ll give a brief explan-explan-explanation, then we’ll bbbbbreak into small groups and head outside.”
Outside. Julia and I are already there and having our own unofficial panel. We call it Pool Time. We call it Necessary. We’ve spent three days in big groups, small groups, chatty groups, quiet groups. There are 800 people at the National Stuttering Association Conference. Most of them stutter, like us, but there’s also speech language pathologists, researchers, scientists, family members, significant others. More people than we could ever interact with, more names than we can remember. The conference has been held for over three decades, but Julia and I are both first timers.