Flashing Lights

I was on a flight a few weeks ago late at night. Two seats on each side, but I didn’t have a partner. I happened to be sitting just behind the wing. It was a short flight, just over an hour from Indy to the east coast.

I was trying to close my eyes and sleep. Even for just a half hour. I wanted some rest.

No luck. Flashing lights.

The strobe from the wingtip was going off. Not only could I see it through the window across the aisle, but it was reflecting off of my window. The person by the window was somehow passed out, though. I thought that maybe I could get up and close it. But then it would get super awkward if I woke them up. Like, what the hell are you doing in my personal space on this airplane?!

Drinks were coming by. I got a Diet Coke. I had to do something. Old me would have said, look, it’s only what, a half hour more? 45 minutes? Close your eyes tighter. Look down. Look away. Lean your seat back. Get a shirt from your carry-on and wrap it around your head if that’s what you need. Check if there are empty seats in the back.


“Excuse me, could you close that shade?”

“Oh, the light from outside?”

“Yes, thanks.”

They finished with the drinks, but didn’t close the shade. Should I get up? Risk that awkward situation? Should I be a full-on weirdo and open my carry-on and–

One of the flight attendants came by, leaned over to the window, didn’t wake up the person there and quickly closed it. Done.

I closed my eyes and was able to relax.

Who will you stutter with today?

I had the chance to travel home during the holidays, and I noticed something interesting with regards to stuttering and interacting with people. Namely, if given a choice of people — male, female, young, old, calm, flustered, etc., who would you want to (try to) talk to?

I’m at the airport, and I need to check in for my flight. I’m there pretty early, so there are more counter agents than customers. So I drag my suitcases through the little maze and … well … who’s it going to be? The young man who’s typing on his computer? The young lady who’s looking at me? The older man who’s also looking at me?

There’s so much to consider in just a few seconds — will the old man care if my suitcase is a half kilogram over? Will the young lady be pulled aside by the young man and asked how to do something, thus dragging out the whole process? Will the young man — who might be new — not understand my visa and start asking me questions that I’ll stutter on?

I’d like to think that I don’t think about my stuttering until just a few seconds before it starts to happen. But I think since I’ve been doing it for so long, it’s really burnt into my head. It’s driving the bus. I try to fight this by going up to the counter, smiling, saying hi, and handing over my passport. I take another deep breath. Breathe!

But how do I usually decide? Well, after interactions at the airport, retail store and bank, I’ve noticed that I’m usually partial to the person who’s smiling. As long as they’re not standing next to someone else talking. Because hey, if I’m going to stutter, I’d rather have an audience of one.

The smiling does a lot to disarm me. It says, “hey, you’re welcome here, I’m open to helping you, and I’m not going to jump down your throat and interrogate you.”

I always, always, return the smile. Disarm you! Disarm me! Now I can breathe again. And say hello. And hand you my passport. And say, “two bags.” And even ask a question that I already know the answer to! (Confirming that the bags aren’t checked all the way through to my small town.)

On the one hand, I don’t usually have to say that much to the counter agent. I’m well prepared. But is that because I stutter? And I don’t want to talk to them that much? No. I don’t think so. I think as I get older and figure things out, I realize that being prepared while you travel makes life a whole lot easier. If that means less chit-chatting, then so be it.

So what about you? When you reach the front of the line and have a choice, who does your stuttering fear the least?

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