For more than a year, I met with Dean Loge every weekday in his office from 4 to 4:30. This is how I remember it.
The first time I met Dean Loge was in the buffet line at the Timothy Dwight freshman barbecue. He stood in front of me, dressed in a sport coat, a button-down shirt, and earth-brown trousers. Noticing me, he turned and put out his hand.
“Hi, I’m Dean,” he said.
My palms went cold and sweaty. “Hi, I’m Ch-Chen-Eddy,” I replied, “but you can call me just Eddy.”
I had wanted to say “Hi, I’m Eddy” but feared my name would get stuck. I’ve stuttered my whole life; I can sense when my jaw is about to tighten on a word. My name is the hardest word for me to say.
Growing up, I avoided stuttering at all costs. During every interaction, I used words that were easier on the lips. “What’s up, dude?” became “What’s up, man?” Other escape routes were hit-or-miss. Tapping my foot sometimes got me through. Other times, if I got a running start on the words, I could burst through the block. But not always. In high school, when it was my turn to introduce myself or read aloud, I would often go to the bathroom and stand in front of the urinal without unbuttoning my pants, then wash my hands extra long with extra soap. After school, I chose activities that excluded speaking: I would study for APs, lay out the school news magazine, and play piano in the school auditorium long after everyone had gone home. I avoided the coveted get-togethers and slumber parties that became topics of conversation the next morning.
One time, I was called on to read in class. Instead of hiding, I decided to power ahead, but at every other word, I stammered violently and my mouth jerked. I could feel everyone’s eyes on me. My face burned. Finally, my teacher said, “Why don’t you let me read?” I sank back. I was never called on again.
At Yale, there was no hiding in the bathroom. My high-school self was welcomed to Yale by rap music pounding the suite walls on Thursday nights and whoops of drunken delight serenading me as I tried to sleep next door. At my first YPU event, political parties hissed and applauded Rick Santorum, the former United States Senator. I left the Extracurricular Bazaar after only five minutes of constant solicitation. For someone who monitored himself around the clock, I was taken aback by the unapologetic style of living that seemed to come so easily to everyone around me.
A few weeks after school started, I Googled “stuttering therapy” for the first time. I craved the fluency and the spontaneity of my peers. Taking an extra week off after fall break, I left Yale that October for my first stuttering therapy program. Two weeks of eight-hour-a-day sessions later, I stepped out of Union Station, my speech improved but still not cured.
I didn’t give up. My clinicians at the program had recommended finding someone with whom to practice, so I scheduled a meeting with Dean upon my return and floated the idea of practicing my speech with him. Despite his busy schedule, he set aside half an hour every weekday to meet with me.
I began by reading aloud from things around Dean’s desk and from his library: picture books, nature poems, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Most days, he would work quietly at his computer while I talked, after politely asking if I minded. But once in a while, he would swing around and lean back in his swivel chair with legs crossed, giving me his full attention.
At first, my face flushed during words that tied up my vocal tract. If I couldn’t say a word, I apologized. He didn’t seem to mind. At the beginning of every appointment, he would ask me, “How are your ‘targets’?” (the therapy program’s term for the speech techniques they taught us). No one had asked me how I felt about stuttering before.
There were good days and bad days, but I would always reply “They’re OK.” I was fearful that I couldn’t sustain the good days or that the bad days would last forever.
Gradually, I began to develop a gut feeling about an alternative technique. I discovered that I was most fluent when speaking very slowly and softly, at a few seconds per syllable. To read a single-page poem could take me up to 10 minutes, and asking a simple question required sustained concentration. But if I had a question for Dean, I only said “Dean?” After a few seconds, he would reply “Yes?” and turn to face me across the table. We homed in on the meanings of certain words and poems. He talked about his recovery from a car accident in 2010 and learning how to walk again.
Shortly after our appointments began, I received an email from TEDxYale inviting applicants for the Student Speaker Competition. I made a move and decided to audition. If there was an arena to test my fluency, this was it. I drafted a speech centering on my time at therapy. I stood up and successfully rehearsed it in front of Dean. He promised that he would try to make my audition. True to his word, as I stood alone on the stage of Sudler Hall waiting for the go-ahead, I saw him sneak in the back and take a seat.
My heart beat in anticipation and I felt warm as I finished the speech unscathed in front of the TEDx team. My muscles were loose and my arms hung to my sides. I mentally rehearsed each word, then spoke it, syllable by syllable. On words that didn’t come out immediately, I waited patiently for my vocal tract to relax. My heart didn’t skip a beat.
On my way back to TD, I saw Dean Loge. “That took some courage,” he said, grinning as he made his way to his apartment.
I was invited to speak at the TEDxYale flagship conference in February. I couldn’t sleep one night thinking about what would happen if my voice got blocked during the middle of my speech. I expressed my fears to Dean; he convinced me to do what felt right. Without knowing whether I would succeed or fail, I decided to commit myself to the conference.
Before I knew it, I was walking onto the stage of the Shubert Theater in front of hundreds of students, faculty, and New Haven residents, flanked by cameras that were live-streaming the event and photographers that clicked at every pause.
I walked to the center of the stage and bared myself to the audience.
As I looked out, I felt a strange calm.
I spoke about going to speech therapy and coming back to Yale, and admitted that I was still in a stutterer’s mindset: “I spoke less, feeling out of place, and afraid to produce the disfluent speech that I had worked so hard to get rid of.” I felt that I needed to talk more, to more people, and in more situations, and recognized that that would require more courage on my part.
After finishing, I smiled broadly in relief. I had done it.
I rode the remainder of freshman year on my TEDx high, and then Dean’s office was closed to me until August. Away from Dean’s office and the rest of the community, I had a partial relapse over the summer.
I came back to Yale this fall more determined than ever to speak at my own pace and live the way I felt right.
Resuming my appointments with Dean Loge brought back the feeling of self-acceptance and the desire to be more sociable that had grown in his office. That fall, I stayed in the classroom for introductions, waiting patiently until it was my turn.
“Hi, my name is…” I would begin. My mouth would silently waver as I tried again and again to say my name. After a couple of seconds, I’d breathe out and say, “Sorry, I’m having trouble on my name.” This happened in the classroom, at club meetings, and in the dining hall, but it was an honest introduction each time.
I returned each day knowing that Dean’s office was somewhere I could right the ship. I recounted each humbling experience to Dean, and our subsequent conversations always seemed to lead me to the same conclusion: to be myself.
At the end of the term, I found myself again stuck on my name during an introduction. Though it took longer than it ever had, I didn’t let the extensive pause deter me. My name stuttered out: “E-Eddy.”
When I later told Dean, he looked at me with his half-smile and gleaming eyes, then said, “You are finding your voice.”
I wrote a piece on my relationship with my dad and brought it into the office. Dean told me stories of his own father. I started to be vulnerable in other areas of my life, showing people all my colors and being frank about my condition.
I’ve since done things that would have been impossible in high school: trying out for a play, reading my humor piece in front of my English class, reading Proust at the 100th anniversary celebration of Swann’s Way, asking questions in a lecture class, and more. I brought every experience into Dean’s office and left every day with a clearer picture of how to live next.
My speech has gotten faster and stronger. I can say my name, although often with hesitation. I still stutter, but I’m not so intent on shedding that part of me anymore.
I am sitting at a pastel-colored table outside the Art Gallery when I read Dean’s email announcing his retirement. The sun is out and a late-summer breeze is making itself known. As I come to the end, my insides clench together. When I talk to friends about Dean, there are similar feelings of the surprisingly easy connection, and the comfort of being with a man who understands. Some have only talked with him on a few occasions, but the effect seems to be as immediate and moving as it is for me. Although the TD class of 2018 will not know him as Dean, they will become part of the accepting and welcoming community he helped build, where they can feel safe and discover themselves.
I only meet with Dean twice a week now. Soon we will both be moving on, he to his cottage by the lake, I to my junior year in TD, where Dean’s portrait will soon hang in the dining hall.