My cell phone rang yesterday right before my talk. It was A., a young survivor of dating violence. She left Miami a few weeks ago, gone away to college on a scholarship.
Perfect timing. I asked her, what is the one thing you would tell the girls I’m going to talk to?
Tell them to trust themselves, she said. Tell them that they know what to do. They know when to leave an abusive relationship. They know better than anyone else.
The auditorium was large. Young women–80? 100? I can never tell–ranging in age from 16 to 24 filed in, wearing their requisite navy shirts and khaki pants. Staff advised them about tucking in shirts, watching their language.
They admired my shoes.
I told them my story, which despite our many very real differences, is not all that different from their stories. I told them that they can trust themselves, despite what they might have seen or done or had done to them.
I invited questions, and they asked things more “mature” audiences almost never do:
What was the worst thing he ever did to you? Have you forgiven him? Did you like to be controlled? Did you ever fight back? Were you happy when he died?
Today I can’t forget the shy girl who came up afterward and asked how she could ever have another relationship after a boyfriend had battered her.
I can’t forget the girl who asked how to leave her boyfriend when she knew he would never let her go.
I have worried that I didn’t reach them and worried that there was more need in that room than can ever, ever, be met.
Tonight I received this email from a woman who’s worked with me for many years:
Believe me in “every” group, someone is listening. (I was the one in a high school group listening to an invited guest speaker at that time.) It made a world of a difference in the way I began to assess my life and seek out opportunities. It may not have been the ones in the rear, in back, on the cell, but certainly there was at least one or a few who did hear, and that is the difference between silence and saving lives.
She’s right, of course. The “difference between silence and saving lives”: this is everything.