I tried, as well, to ignore that patient's mother or father, who I was certain was using that moment to reflect on the unfortunate turn their lives had taken, how they'd never thought they'd be sitting in a room like this.

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And there are other groups: the Stuttering Foundation of America, the American Institute for Stuttering, Friends (a group for young people), and Passing Twice, a group for gay, lesbian and transgendered stutterers.

I was suspicious of self-help, and became more so when I read the National Stuttering Association's mission statement, which ends with this groaner: "We who stutter, and those who support and help us, are not alone.

Together we are strong." I expected stale coffee and teary hugs, but the meeting I attended at Brooklyn College on a weeknight in March was more complicated than that.

In a sterile, brightly lit classroom on the second floor of an old building, a handful of people, mostly young men, spoke eloquently about their lives, and I joined in.

Well, we've covered despair, or something close to it.

So, now, it's straight ahead to acceptance, right? I even have the perfect setup, because last spring, after years of hiding from other stutterers, I finally started to meet them.

Each object in the room -- the stuffed animals, the toy train set -- was a reminder of the people who passed through every day, my people, the disabled and disordered.

I tried to ignore the voice coming from the other room, where a patient like me was trying -- and failing, I hoped, since I was failing -- to learn to speak fluently.

That makes sense, though, since I rarely met their eyes, and under no condition would I speak to them, since the two of us in conversation would have been a reminder of the shameful thing we had in common. I became, finally, a petulant, terrified subject of a malicious and incomprehensible god.

And so I ignored the other kids, never joined group therapy classes, and convinced myself that we shared nothing. One of my biggest fears, along with the low hum of fear that I always felt about speaking, was the prospect of meeting other stutterers, and in hearing their voices and seeing their contorted faces, confirming my own grotesqueness. One that follows an arc from despair to self-acceptance and emotional growth.

James Earl Jones was the shining example I heard about again and again.