I have never been known for my manly voice. Every once in a while, while talking on the phone or on a drive-thru speaker, I am still occasionally referred to as “Ma’am.” As in, “No, Ma’am—We do not have a hot dog larger than the Footlong Cheese Coney.” In high school and college I was a tenor in the choir, and once or twice I’ve been made fun of for my high singing voice. I’ve even been made fun of by the Karaoke DJ for my rock solid rendition of The Beat of the Rhythm of the Night by DeBarge (the pride of Grand Rapids, MI). As I was walking off the stage (TO THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE, by the way) he offhanded a “Never heard A GUY sing that before.” Though most of the people didn’t hear him say it, because they were busy putting their clothes back on…. I can sing THE HELL out of that song.
My voice has definitely gotten me into trouble many times as well. If I’m calm (like I usually am while ordering at Sonic), my voice can skew feminine, but if I am inspired or upset (like I am if they don’t put extra pickles on my Coney), my voice skews angry, intense, and loud. I can be very loud. VERY loud. I have spent the majority of my life silencing other people’s voices using the volume of my own. This skill doesn’t mix very well with a finely-honed skill of being able to predict when a person was coming to a pause in their sentence…. If two people are talking at once, the one who is louder wins, right? And two of my favorite things in the world are being heard and winning.
I’ve definitely learned… I am learning… I am trying to learn that my voice is not a battering ram that I use to bully my way into being the one who is talking. How we use our voices is very important. If being married has taught me anything, it has taught me this: It is not what I said…. It is HOW I SAID IT!!!”
I suppose you take the good with the bad: Sure, my voice gets mistaken for a woman every now and then when I’m talking on the phone, but if you need someone to make an announcement in a room of 300 or so, I’m your man. Still, if I get excited about something, my excitement is easily mistaken for me being pissed off. I am a passionate guy, so I have to be reminded (usually by my wife) that I am getting a little too loud and intense. As is often the case, our greatest gifts are often our greatest weaknesses–I can rock a karaoke bar even if the mic isn’t working, but I’ve also developed a tendency to use my volume to be a conversational bully (God, I hope rocking a karaoke bar isn’t my greatest strength). Anyway, a few days ago I used the gift of my voice’s volume and intensity to its full capacity.
While I was waiting to go into one of the schools I serve, I saw a guy (looked to be in his mid-20’s) and a girl (probably a couple years out of high school) in a pretty intense argument. I watched from the company van as he yelled at her and even made a couple of threatening movements toward her that made her flinch and cower in the yard across the street. About 30 seconds into it, he picked up some lawn furniture and threw it against the house a couple of times, like some sort of douchey gorilla showing the female how strong and angry he was…. All while she just walked around the yard trying to stay away from him. One time, one of the chairs was tossed in her direction, but it landed nowhere near her. He disappeared around the corner of the house for a moment, and when he came back, he was still yelling. When he pulled the cord on a lawnmower in the yard and leaned it back at her, I was out of the van and standing on the street….
I don’t remember much from the time that my dad and my mom were still married–I think I was about six when they got a divorce. Most of my memories of that time are just little snippets now. There are some moments that I treat like memories, but really they were just old photos I remember…. Like my father standing in an opened garage door in front of a giant snow drift. Some are just clips of memories…. Like watching my dad pitch slow-pitch softball, putting a backspin on the ball while a cigarette hung from his mouth. Others are the sort of memories that I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to…. Like watching my mom attempt to stay on the opposite side of the kitchen table from him, trying to keep from getting hit again, and watching my father throw silverware at his wife, who was just out of reach. That little boy didn’t understand everything he saw there, but he knew two things for sure: 1) What was happening shouldn’t be happening, and 2) He was powerless to stop it.
I don’t think that I had ever witnessed domestic abuse since I had been powerful enough to do something to stop it, but when that guy walked across that lawn and put his hands on that girl’s shoulders and shoved her, I let out a “HEY!” that had been building for about 30 years. It was the kind of noise that silences all other noises for a short time afterward, and you’re not sure whether everything got quiet or if your ears are just ringing. From 50 yards away, he flinched like a kid who thought he was alone and very suddenly realized he wasn’t. In the silence that followed, I walked very quickly toward him, pointing at him with one hand and my phone in the other, and I very loudly promised that if he so much as touched this girl again, I would call the police and see to it personally that his ass would end up in jail (I may or may not have dropped an MF in there somewhere as well. I completely forgot that I was outside a school). He had the posture of a scolded dog as he slinked away, and he barked out a very faint “Fuck you” as he went back inside the house.
I asked the girl if she needed help and if she was alright. She said, “I’m fine,” and she followed him into the house (this surprised me a little). By this time, neighbors from two different houses (no doubt alerted to the problem by a sonic boom of a “HEY!” followed by a bearded man loudly dropping a threatening F-Bomb) were outside of their houses asking what had happened. One said, “Were they fighting again?” and I decided I should probably call the police. As I dialed 911 on my phone, the girl who had gotten pushed down walked toward me from the house. She begged me not to call the police, she swore that he doesn’t hit her, and she promised that she was moving out and that her brother was picking her up tomorrow. I scanned her face for bruises and lies, and I didn’t find any bruises. I said, “You don’t have to stay here. Can I just call you some help?” She pleaded with me to not call the police. My eyes surveyed the bushes for John Quinones and the “What Would You Do?” cameras. And suddenly, I thought of my voice in this blog…. And I thought of my voice getting louder in so many conversations as I tried to prove my point…. And I thought of that voiceless child in the kitchen…. And as I put my phone back inside my pocket, even for all the strength and passion in my voice, I felt just as powerless as that little boy watching his mom dodge flying forks.
I still don’t know if I did the wrong thing by not calling the police. I don’t know if it is possible to help someone who doesn’t want your help, but it is definitely possible to love someone who doesn’t want your help. We weren’t given voices to convince people we are right–We were given voices to love each other (I’m right about this). So if you’re reading this and you are with a guy who is hitting you, here are two things that are true: 1) What is happening to you shouldn’t be happening, and 2) You have the power to stop it–even though you probably believe that you don’t. And when you are ready for help, there are all kinds of people who can’t wait to use their voice to help you. Here’s one, but there are many others: 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) It’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and they can find you help in your area.