“I think you’re gonna get up and speak today. And, then you’re gonna blog about it.”
“Maybe” is what I reply aloud. “Nope, not happening,” is what I hear in my head.
Just as I have for the past four weeks, I sit down in the same, hard, plastic chair, next to the same u-shaped table, in the same chilly room. And, immediately, I begin to sweat.
I’m able to say my name and why I’m here, without too much trouble. Then the Table Topics Master begins her normal spiel, “Table topics are random topics that you will be asked to speak about for 45 seconds to 2.5 minutes.” Easy, right? Easy for me, because I’m not speaking.
Just as she’s wrapping up, she says, “I think Kendra’s gonna speak today.” I can feel my face turning bright red as she looks right at me and continues, “it’s your fourth time here! I have a feeling!” And she smiles.
I, of course, smile back and do my classic nervous-giggle. Yeah, that’s not happening, lady.
As the main speeches near the end, I can feel my heart racing, my hands are getting sweaty, my legs are starting to stick to my hard, plastic chair. Table topics have to be soon. How am I gonna say no when she asks? I’ve already declined before.
Then, as I hear, “the meeting is running a bit behind, we’ll only have time for three table topics today.” I feel my heart start to slow to a steady pace. Whew. No way she’s calling on me, especially if she only has time for three.
Finally, I’m able to pay attention to the meeting again, “for these table topics, I’ll be giving you an undesirable location and I’d like you to tell me why you love living there.” She starts with Tom, “You live by a nuclear power plant…”
Holy hell, thank god I don’t have to actually do one of these. What in the world would I even say for that?
Of course, Tom’s already talking and it’s funny, “the best part is soon you’ll start to glow…” I was laughing and certainly relieved I didn’t have to give a speech. After all, I am a guest and they don’t pressure you into anything at Toastmasters.
As Tom takes his seat, she looks around and says, “Well, I did say I thought Kendra would speak today. So, Kendra, would you like to do the next table topic?”
Was that my name? That was my name! Oh my god, that was my name! Am I hyperventilating? No. I’m fine. I’m fine.
As I hear her saying, “You don’t have to do this. We don’t pressure you into anything.” I stand up.
Wait, what?! Why in the hell am I standing up?
I smile and with a nervous giggle, I sputter, “Um, make it an easy one!”
“Oh, I will, it’s so easy! You live in Garden City. On a farm. Everyone knows how awful it smells in Garden City, we’ve all driven through it. The cows, the…”
She continues talking, but I’m no longer listening.
Everyone is looking at me. I can feel their stares. I’m not looking at anyone. I can’t focus on anyone. Except the timer. When is he gonna start the time? I wonder if he’ll start it if I just stand here? I don’t hear a click. Maybe I should just say one word and he’ll start it.
Nope, he’s still not starting that damn timer. Think. Think of something to say. Don’t just stand here. Maybe in a few seconds something will come to me. Yes. Think. Think. Think. Nope. I can stand here all day. Not saying a word. SAY SOMETHING!
“Okay, Um, Garden. Uh. City. I uhhhh”
I stop talking and continue to stand. Face burning. Head spinning. Thoughts running through my head, but nothing is making sense…
Shit, I don’t even know where Garden City is. Does that matter? I’m still standing. Still not talking. Not looking at anyone except that timer. Still not talking. That damn stoplight timer will not turn green. Which, why would it turn green? I’m not talking. Time is not moving. Kendra, just say something! Anything.
I look up, my voice quivers as I blurt out, “Okay, IIII’m, uh, done.” Quickly, I sit back down and put my hand up to my face. Embarrassed.
15 seconds. That’s all it was. 3 seconds of talking and 12 seconds of standing.
My face is burning. I can feel the sympathetic stares. And the sweat, as it drips down my back. Sheesh, really?
Silently, I sit. I pretend to listen to the final table topic, but I’m just listening to the voices in my head. Don’t cry. Don’t leave. Don’t cry. Don’t leave. Keep smiling.
And, then it happens. The meeting is over and the supportive stories are thrown my direction:
“I started out just like you, I could barely say my name in front of a group. It’ll get easier!”
“We’ve all been right there, that’s why we’re here!”
“I shouldn’t have singled you out. I’m sorry. I’ll feel so bad if you don’t come back next week. Sometimes all you need is that one push.”
“It took so much courage to even stand up. Most people wouldn’t have even stood up. I see courage in you that will pull you through this class. In two years they will bring this up again, and then they’ll say, look at you now!”
I could have cried.
I could have walked out.
I didn’t do either, but I definitely thought about it.
Most of all, I could have stayed sitting in that same hard, plastic chair, as I had the four weeks prior, and just said, “no thanks, maybe next time.”
But, I didn’t.
Samuel Beckett said it best, “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”