That day I went home a very frustrated kid.
The mocking laughter of my classmates were still ringing in my head. The sceptical and sinister look on the face of my class teacher could still be seen in my mind.
“Are you sure you want to join public speaking?” Laughter again erupted from the whole class.
My head was bowed so low, I thought at that second I could impersonate the ostrich by burying my head into the ground. It was so embarrassing and so humiliating that I wanted to run out of the class and never return.
But that just didn’t happen. And before I knew it, I thought I heard myself mumbling, “Yes teacher, I’d like to join public speaking.” She sighed, doubting in my ability to handle it and she handing me the participation form she reminded me that I had 3 months to prepare for it.
“Haha, stammer boy wants to speak.”
“Yeah right, he can’t even talk a proper sentence, let alone deliver a speech.”
“I can’t understand why the teacher would let him disgrace our whole class on stage.”
So much for encouragement. So much for being so thoughtful.
Did I do the right thing?
I’d never know.
I stammer, and I stammer real bad. When I was still small my mom took me to see doctors and after a speech therapist checked my mouth and vocal cords medically, they deduced that I will face speech problems for the rest of my life because my tongue was 2cm shorter than a normal person. And that’s true, if I were to stick my tongue, all you’d see is just a little bit of flesh that could be easily mistaken as my lips.
“Dad. .Dad.. Daddy, I’d li.. li.. like to.. to.. to ha.. haave some wa.. wa.. water..”
That was how it went like. When my parents first thought me how to speak, they thought I was mute, then when I could pronounce slightly better they thought I was repeating what I said, and when they corrected me and I’d just keep on stammering, they thought I was being cheeky and disobedient, and mistakenly disciplined me for that very matter.
But later on did they realise that it was a real problem after all. No fooling around business, I was really stammering. That was when they got really devastated and worried. They took me to see doctor after doctor, speech therapist one after another, even boiled herbal medicine for me but still couldn’t ‘cure’ my speech condition. Then my dad lashed the ultimatium.
“Joash, I’m going to teach you how to speak without stammering.” Trust me, it was worse than the Japanese torture method used on the British POIs. He’d whack me up every time I accidentally repeated a word. And I’d be crying and crying while he was making me repeat sentence after sentence. This treatment kinda lasted for 2 months until my dad finally gave up.
“No hope,” he concluded. When I saw my dad turn his back on me and walked into his room, as he closed his room door, I cried. I sensed disappointment, despair and hopelessness in his situation, and yet felt so helpless. I loved my parents so much, and it hurt me to the bone to see them in despair over me.
I tried, but I couldn’t. It was just beyond me.
And here I was, joining public speaking. What on earth made me do that? I would never know.
I had to hand in my script together with my application form. The only topic I had in my mind was..
I scratched my head, not knowing what to talk about. My dad suggested globalisation, but what on earth would a standard 4 kid know about globalisation? That was pure insanity.. and besides my script could qualify to be a secondary school thesis.
“Something wrong dear?” my mom spoke from behind. I turned back and saw my mom looking over my shoulder. She picked up my public speaking form and analysed it closely. “When’s your competition?”
“3 months time..”
Got a title yet?
“Talk about something close to your heart, something that you would like to share with your friends, something that you can experience on your own, and something that people would like to hear about.” She pecked me on the forehead lightly and walked away.
Then I thought about a topic. This should work, I thought and started writing. Thoughts started to flow and everything just fell into place. I spent the whole night writing and writing. As I looked through my script I thought it was a bit too long, so I threw it away and wrote a shorter one. I checked through the script and realised there was still a tad too much nonsense inside and decided to re-edit it. After editing, was still unhappy with it and decided to write it again.
The alarm clock rang, and I woke up realising that I slept on the table for the first time in my life. I nearly thought I was late for school, and in my hands was a nicely written out script. I still had barely enough time to let out a weak smile before running upstairs to bath and get changed.
With the script written out, I now had to practice my speech.
“Joash, you missed out one whole paragraph.”
“Joash, why are you stammering on that line?”
”Joash, can’t you even pronounce the word ‘meticulous’ properly?”
“JOASH, WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!? If you can’t even speak properly, why did you sign up for public speaking?!?” and that was the last time my teacher coached me for public speaking.
That’s right, maybe I should just go back home and forget about the whole thing. Maybe I shouldn’t have joined public speaking. Maybe I shouldn’t have signed up. Maybe it was all a mistake. Maybe I shouldn’t do things to embarrass myself and my class.
Even my dad gave up on me.
I slammed my room door and tore my script to bits and pieces. I crumbled it then and threw it into the wastepaper basket. All my hard work, all the sweat and tears, now equates to the waste in that basket. Nothing more than futile.
Did I even realise that I was crying? I didn’t know, but I thought I remembered wiping my tears when my mom suddenly appeared at the door.
“I may be deaf, but I can always sense pain and the tears of my son.”
Oh no, I never wanted my mom to see me cry. That’s the last thing that I’d ever ever want to do to my mom. She had already gone through enough pain for me already, and I’m not going to put her through more problems.
My mom lost her hearing in a freak accident. That time both of us were in the garden pruning the rambutan tree. The branches were giving her too much trouble when parking the car in the garden, so some branches had to go. After pruning the branches we started collecting it, when suddenly a dried branch that has been consumed halfway by the termites snapped and fell from on top of me. My mom, in all motherly instinct, pushed me to the ground and the branch hit her on the temple of her head. She suffered a concussion and was in hospital for 2 weeks. That accident took 90% of her hearing, and as a result she had to learn how to lip read.
And I felt so bad for her. It was my fault.. I caused my mom to lose her hearing..
“Mom? I’m fine.. really..”
“Then what’s that in the basket?”
Oh, nothing much.. I’ve just decided to quit public speaking..
I wanted to say that but I couldn’t will myself to do that.. she’d be so disappointed.. she wanted me to join public speaking so badly.. “I believe that this is an opportunity for you to break from your shell of stammering.. take it as a challenge that will groom you to be a normal person that speaks normally..”
But I’ve so let her down..
She sat by my bed and gave me a hug. She whispered into my ears, “I’ve prepared a simplified speech for you, ready to give it a try?”
3 months flew past, and that fine morning when the sky was brightly shining, I stepped up to the stage and adjusted the mike. The hall was silent except for the murmuring of my classmates. Occasional laughter could be heard from that particular spot occupied by my classmates, but I couldn’t care less.
Mom, this speech is for you. With a deep breath, I spat my first word.
“Ladies and gentlemen, people have fears. Many fears. And as a kid, if you know me well, I stammer. That is not my fear, that is merely my problem. My true fear is that I fear being ridiculed. I fear being rejected, I fear being not given an opportunity to try and fight even if I am at a disadvantage and at a losing end. I fear that I will never be given a chance to prove my salt, and this day I stand before you, honourable judges, ladies and gentlemen to deliver my speech entitled ‘Facing your darkest fears’.”
And everything flowed out so naturally. From the stage, I could see the jaws of my classmates nearly hitting the floor. My teacher was dead stunned and speechless. The judges had their eyes fixed on me, and every time they nodded in approval it gave me the extra boost of energy to press on and continue to do it.
Honestly the real boost of energy didn’t come from them, it came from my coach who was willing to teach me how to stand up and speak, when everyone else didn’t wanted to teach me.
She may not be able to hear me, but she can train me to speak properly. “Try it again Joash, start slow, everything begins from scratch. No one speaks like a bullet train in a day.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll never go away, just take your time and do it slowly ok?”
“Remember not to rush in this part, every time you rush you end up stammering ok?”
It’s amazing how my mom did it. She could lip read when I was and wasn’t stammering, she could tell whether I was mumbling or speaking clearly, she could just tell me how to speak slowly when no one else could.
She trained me. She made me hang on when I wanted to let go. Mom, it’s getting so hard. I know, but I’m by your side, always and ever. Mom, but it’s not fair for you.. you’re going through all the trouble for me too.. You’re my son, any greater trouble and I’d go through it with you. I am with you, so let’s do this together ok? Try your speech again, shall we?
More than anything, she gave me the chance to speak and be normal.
“This day, I stand before you, overcoming all my fears of stammering, to show you all that though rejected and ridiculed, I can still deliver a speech. More than a speech, but a message to challenge all of you people in this august hall, to rise up and face your darkest fears. Thank you.”
I took in a deep breath, stepped back from the mike, and bowed meekly. The hall erupted into a grand applaud. I could see my teacher and my classmates giving me a stand up ovation. They couldn’t believe that I spoke for 7 minutes without stammering, and it was amazing.
Unbelievable. The judges applauded me, the teachers were beaming with joy.
“He did it! He wasn’t stammering!”
I closed my eyes, and as the voices and sounds from the hall faded away, what was left was my mother’s applause. Every time I finished practicing my speech, she would applaud me and give me a big hug. That was my reward for not giving up, and it made me look forward to working even harder and training more with her.
Something tells me that she’s in this hall.
I opened my eyes, and at the end of the hall I saw a lonely figure clapping. I thought I heard a familiar applause, and I didn’t think twice.
I dashed from the stage, across the hall and ran up to her. My tears may have blurred my vision, but I couldn’t have mistaken.
“Mom!” I cried. I ran right into her embrace, and my mom kissed me on the head.
“I heard your speech, every single word of it. You didn’t stammer son, and I’m so proud of you.”
“Mom, that speech, was for you. I did it for you.”
I might not have noticed the little grey thing stuck onto my mom’s ear – doctors call it the hearing aid – but that didn’t matter. What mattered most, was that my mom saw and heard me speak, and at the end of my speech, the one that mattered most was to hear her applause. It was her applause that taught me at the end of the day, our tears, struggle and pain can be exchanged for the promise of a better tomorrow, opportunities to shine and hopes of success, if only someone would be there at your side to show you how that can be done.
That someone was my mom.
Disclaimer: This is an edited story that I used for an essay back in SPM days for my Chinese subject. My mom is not deaf, and my dad never gave up on me where public speaking is concern. Both my parents have been terribly supportive by helping me edit my scripts and were my audience more often than not.