What a Difference a Voice Makes

I am the most talkative of my mother’s three children.  I think that is how I began to write.  Part enjoyment, but yeah, part necessity.   I was wearing people out.  

But it wasn’t until the age of 19/20 that I came into my voice.

I remember looking at Marilyn Van Derbur’s professional headshot in the local newspaper of my townie southern city.  I don’t know why, but I stared at her for several minutes.

Well, actually, I do know why.

I was staring because according to the headline the woman in the photo was coming to our city to speak publicly about her experiences with childhood sexual abuse. 

I wasn’t sure that was right though.  This gorgeous woman in the photo was Miss America from like the 1950’s or something.  She looked as if she could still be a working movie star.  The woman was classy.  She had that Helen Mirren thing going on.  
Just didn’t match up to me.  I was 19/20.  I still didn’t know that anyone, and I mean anyone, could be a victim of sexual violence. 

I was angry, sad, and confused.  And I was beginning to accept that as my inheritance in life.  All that I was ever going to be entitled.   

Of, course I went.  It wasn’t much else going on where I grew up.  How many times can you go to the mall?

I wasn’t a believer.  But it was free.  Besides nobody else was talking about sexual violence.  And somehow WE all knew that we better not tell anyone but God.

Showed up like it was a required course in school.  I sat in the back so that I could leave if it I wasn’t feeling it. I slumped in my chair and crossed my arms.  My baseball cap was covering a mass of hair that had missed a few detangling sessions.

The clothes I wore that night were from a pile of dirty clothes that just weren’t funky. Yet.

As long as I have breath, the memory of that day will never be without a home.  As Marilyn described her childhood experience our differences seemed nearly invisible.  We both were once two young girls who suffered through a lot of years of confusion and pain in silence. 

Marilyn shared her voice with me.  Marilyn had been through it.  Her father may have been cash rich but it sounded like he was character & soul poor.  Her family is well known, wealthy, and she wins Miss America.  Meanwhile, her father is raping her on a regular basis.   

Before Marilyn, I felt hushed.  Marilyn was the very first person who ever acknowledged my struggle to exist.  To live.  To endure. Just make it to the finish line.

At the end of her inspiring speech, she looked over  the audience and offered us an opportunity to be acknowledged in public.  At first that seemed terrifying. I was not going to stand.

But she explained her reason.  She wanted to do that because she wanted people in the room to applaud our strength and resilience.  She called us Survivors. 

No one had ever referred to me as a Survivor before.  That day.  For the very first time ever, I stood up and acknowledged that I was a Survivor of sexual violence.  And the people, applauded.  Unbelievable!

Not too long after that I started my work in domestic and sexual violence.  Eventually, I too began to speak.  That was years down the road though. The timing was appropriate for my individual healing time.

It wasn’t all uphill from the day that I heard Marilyn VanDerBur speak.  But it was the beginning of the ascent.  

I may have brought the grotesque secrets into the light when I was 13,  but that was the day that I came into my voice.

I encourage anyone with a personal and moving experience that they have survived to share their voice with others, as long as it fits within your own individual healing time.

Tonya GJ Prince
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Tonya GJ Prince

Tonya is a Social Justice Info Expert with over 23 years experience. She holds a BS in Organizational Management & Development. Her cat MiaBelle is her co-writer.
Tonya GJ Prince
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