I read an essay by Brenda Pontiff in the (Charleston, South Carolina) January issue of skirt! Magazine yesterday called “Lucking Out.” (January is the “luck” issue.) It’s about a girl who was attacked in her apartment when she was 20 years old. Thankfully, she wasn’t harmed, physically, as he only wanted to rob her. But at one point, he had her pinned down on her bed with his finger down her throat and his knee in her crotch, threatening to kill her if she screamed. After being disappointed with the contents of her wallet, he ran out of her apartment. She tried to scream, but couldn’t find her voice.
I’ve always wondered what might happen if I was ever in similar circumstances. Could I shout loudly, or not? Thankfully, this ability hasn’t been tested in me, yet… other than one night during a dream. At least I think it was a dream. It was in 1995. I had been through a very dark time, spiritually, and was struggling with evil dreams. This particular night, I was in bed, asleep (I think) when suddenly I felt something or someone physically pulling me up out of my bed by the arm… up into the air above the bed. My husband was asleep next to me. I tried to scream, but no sound would come out of my voice. It was terrifying. Suddenly I woke up and felt myself dropping back down onto the bed, as though I had been suspended in the air. Fully awake, I got up and went to my icon corner and prayed. And cried. I was shaking. Perhaps in this situation it wouldn’t have helped to have been able to find my voice, because I was fighting against a spiritual enemy, rather than a physical one, but still….
I was watching "The Titanic" on TV the other day, and when it got to the part near the end when the heroine is waiting to be rescued and the men in the rescue boat are near her, calling out, she can’t scream for them to hear her. Just watching it, my throat constricted and I remembered that helpless feeling again. Of course I love that she swam over and got the whistle out of the dead man’s mouth and started blowing on it, and therefore was rescued. The writer could have had her scream out for help, but he didn’t. He had her lying there helpless, unable to find her voice.
Laura, the sixteen-year-old protagonist in The Girl From Charnelle, tries to scream when the married man who has taken her on a secret camping trip inflicts her with pain as he ravages her virginity. She is unable to make a sound, to find her voice. The book seems to be about that very thing… about Laura, and her mother, and her older sister, trying to find their voices in a small town in the Texas panhandle in the 50s and 60s. (Her mother just left the family one day, and the older sister ran away with an Air Force pilot and eloped at 18.)
Why is it that we are unable to speak when we are in danger? Does fear temporarily paralyze our vocal chords or something? Actually, one of my vocal chords is physically paralyzed (has been since 8th grade) … but that didn’t stop me from yelling out cues when I taught an aerobics class years ago, or yelling at my kids (unfortunately) … or singing at the top of my lungs at times.
I’m wondering if finding our voice during a crisis is akin to finding our voice as women, in general? A therapist once helped me come to grips with some addiction issues I was having. She helped me understand how my addictions could be related to something that happened to me in early childhood, when I was helpless. And again later, when I was in my twenties. It made so much sense to me, but when I shared these things with a male friend, he didn’t think it was such a big deal. It was like I was screaming for help and he couldn’t hear my voice.
Writing helps. Gloria, Laura’s older sister in The Girl From Charnelle, wrote letters home to her family from Europe, where her husband was deployed as an Air Force pilot. When she came back to Charnelle for her fist visit to her family, she told Laura that she made copies of the letters for herself, as a sort of journal. I love what she says about it:
“I love writing the letters. It’s not real, I guess, unless I write it down. And then the experience takes on a shape. It’s like I get to see my own mind.”
When I read this, I thought, yes. This is part of why I write. To give shape to my experiences. To see them as my mind sees them. To give them a voice. So I’m inspired to work on an essay today. Working title: “Finding My Voice.” ahhhh... the sound of ten fingers clicking....