My Roar Story: Lost and Found
by Dana Schwartz
Three friends and I were stumbling back to our hotel after a night of drinking when we bumped into a man. After we apologized, he pushed my friend against a wall and threatened her. Say sorry again, the rest of us pleaded, and reluctantly she did.
We were stupid and hopeful, unaware that he was setting us up. After he stalked away we breathed a sigh of relief, but minutes later he ambushed us from behind.
I will never forget the sound of his footsteps closing in.
Two of my friends sprinted ahead toward the hotel and he grabbed the woman behind me. I saw him drag her toward an ally. I ran back and tackled him. She scrambled away and he turned on me. In seconds his hands and fingers were everywhere, groping and grabbing. Then, they were inside me.
What happened next surprised us both.
Something snapped in my chest, not broken, but open.
I slammed my body down on the cold concrete sidewalk, knowing intuitively to stay put, and howled in pure, unadulterated fury. I couldn’t stop. The sound went on and on, rising up like a sudden storm from my core.
He let go and ran.
I ran, too, tears streaming, my throat raw, still screaming.
For a long time the memory of that night was too mixed up with shame and anger to dissect, though I knew my roar had saved me. It wasn’t until several years later, as a student in a self-defense class, I reclaimed the power of my voice and body. Then I became an instructor and taught hundreds of women and children how to do the same.
My roar became an offering.
I loved being a teacher and was moved every time I witnessed my students transform into warriors, and believe me, they all did.
Even the ones who came to class on the first day with their voices compressed and tight, even the ones who looked aghast when we lined everyone up and asked them to roar.
This was the opening exercise. Each woman shouting the word, NO, one at a time.
Easy, right? No training or skill required. Perhaps you’re already shaking your head. Maybe your heart is starting to speed up just considering this simple yet mighty feat.
I remember feeling stunned and horrified by this request on my first day. Yes, I had signed up to learn self-defense, but somehow, the idea of shouting out loud was more intimidating than fighting.
It’s pretty obvious why. Asking a woman to yell NO, to be loud, is the opposite of what society has been trying to drive out of our gender since early childhood.
We’re supposed to keep our voices down, to be quiet and polite. Asking women to do the opposite can be terrifying, but it’s also revolutionary. The word NO is powerful. We used it in class as a weapon. With every physical strike, every elbow or knee to the groin, our students shouted, NO! By the end of the first class, it became almost second nature.
I “retired” from teaching when I got pregnant with my first child. My mother had recently died and I didn’t want to take any chances with this new burgeoning life. My roar turned inward.
I spent my pregnancy, and my simultaneous mourning, doing the thing I had done all my life, both in and out of crisis: I wrote. I filled half a dozen journals, finished a draft of my first novel, and worked on my MFA thesis presentation before giving birth to my daughter.
Then, everything in my life screeched to a halt. Having a baby can do that, especially the first one.
My daughter, it turns out, had no trouble using her voice from the moment she was born. We used to joke that she “came out with a roar” and never stopped. She was a colicky infant who shrieked for hours on end. The doctors could find nothing wrong with her. They told us it was normal and would eventually pass. Cold comfort for brand new parents, let me tell you.
Some nights when she’d finally pass out, often on my body, I could still hear the ringing in my ears. Some days, I’d cry in anguish at her apparent anguish, but other times I studied her with awe.
It seemed to me, in those fleeting moments of clarity, that her deep throated, furious cries were heavy with meaning, as if she were crying not just for herself, but on behalf of all the pain and injustice in the world. Her roar was personal and universal. Strangely, this gave me comfort.
Becoming a mother gives you a new voice, but also silences your old one. I lost track of my roar, not the one I used to save my life on a dark Spanish street, but the creative kind that lived inside me and fed my soul. I was so busy nourishing my child I neglected to nourish myself. The writing voice I had counted on for sustenance went dry. I thought I had lost it.
When my son was a year old, my daughter four, I began making my way back. It wasn’t easy, and there were many times I considered giving up. But my roar refused to be silenced or ignored. Like my dear wild daughter, it shrieked loudly until I returned.
That’s the thing about having a roar, a voice. It’s like a flame. It may go out, but it can always be reignited.
Dana Schwartz lives in New Hope, Pennsylvania with her husband and two children. She is a published short story writer and essayist, as well as a cast member of the Lehigh Valley 2015 Listen To Your Mother show.
Her essay “Afterbirth” will be included in the forthcoming anthology, Mothering Through the Darkness (November 2015) and she was part of the HerStories anthology on female friendship. She is a regular contributor to The Gift of Writing website and explores the creative process on her blog, Writing at the Table. She is currently working on a novel.