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The day I lost my voice and got it back

Giving witness to the toll of abuse, and to the strength it takes to withstand it

You didn’t know me then but I used to work four jobs and take four classes at UC Berkeley and I lived an hour away in an apartment next to the train station.

I taught Hebrew school.
I was a teacher’s aide at a local high school.
I cataloged Hebrew books in Moffit.
And I worked in the main stacks/circulation at Doe.

I volunteered at the Student Advocate’s Office, and took a graduate seminar with the great Professor Alan Dundes (now of blessed memory). I studied folklore and anthropology and Middle East history and peace and conflict studies.

I lived on caffeine pills and a bottle of Adderall I scored from one of the frats off of Bancroft Avenue.

I also lived on heart-pounding, sweat-prickling, stomach-wrenching fear.

You wouldn’t know me then, but I lived with a man who knocked me down on the floor and pinned my arms to my sides and snarled that he would “fucking kill me you stupid bitch,” because I brought home a B- on a paper.

A man who threatened to leave me if I spoke to my friends from back home.

A  man who held my cats under water and then made them “disappear.”

So, I would get home every night at 10:55 PM. Still with two hours of reading left, maybe an essay to write, to a man who would hiss in my ear “you better bring in this month’s rent and make straight A’s, or else.”

And every morning I had to be at the library at 8:00 M BART Train, which meant waking up at 6 A/m (or else).

Once, on the way back from Trader Joe’s, we were listening to Counting Crows’s Mr. Jones, and I was singing the words, and he asked innocuously, “How do you know all the words?”

“I googled them.”


That night he hit me. I didn’t scream. I never screamed. I was too afraid the police would come and take him away if I did.  But he yelled.  He yelled so loud the neighbors banged on the walls.

And he kept yelling, until they called the police.

Then sirens. Then loud footfalls against the thin carpeting in the hall. Then a heavy knock.

That night, he looked at me and said, “You better tell them you’re fine.”

That night, I opened the door.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” they asked.

Ma’am. I was only 20. But I looked old — face fish-belly white from crying, swollen lids red eyes. And underneath my long-sleeved shirt, I could feel bruises blooming like blue bonnets along the insides of my arms.

Where did I go? This silent “ma’am” who had taken over the girl who danced and sang in front of bonfires, who shouted into canyons, who talked to strangers, who laughed with friends. Where did I go?

Please don’t let them find out please don’t let them find out please don’t let them found out. They’ll take him away they’ll take him away they’ll take him away.

I couldn’t live without him then.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” they asked.

“I’m fine. Just a little argument,” I whispered.

“Are you sure?” they looked at me.

“Yes. Really. I’m fine. We’re fine. Thanks for checking.”

My voice stuck in my throat. Where did I go, the girl who made up bawdy song lyrics with her best friend, the girl who struck up conversations with people over books they were reading, the girl who called her parents and told them things.

Please don’t let them find out please don’t let them find out please don’t let them found out. They’ll take him away they’ll take him away they’ll take him away.

So that’s why I was tired. Every night before getting on the 9:55 PM train to go home, I would stand on the platform, my toes over the edge. I would watch the digital clock on the consul — I LIVED by that clock. Ten minutes until I had to go back home. Then five. Then four. Then three. And at two minutes, from so far away, I would hear the roar of the train barreling south from North Berkeley, a yawn that grew into a roar as it got closer, and with one minute to go, I would see the lights down the long tunnel, that faint glow, almost like the light they say you see before you die.

Ohhhh, how often I thought about jumping in front of that train, mouth open, silent scream.

Because I knew I was headed back home with only a few hours to sleep next to a man who terrified me, next to a man that I was equally terrified of losing.

And let me tell you, being pinned between these two fears is the absolute worst — because your life ekes out into his, and you can’t live without him, even though living with him means slowly, slowly you are dying.

So, GOD DAMN, I was tired. And every morning I would bring this little alarm clock with me in my bag — this was before I had a cell phone — and I would set it for 7:35, five minutes before my train was due to pull into the Downtown Berkeley BART station.

That hour ride from Fremont from Downtown Berkeley, through the flatlands and over the hills was the only time I could really sleep.

I would tuck my legs up against the seat in from to me, and I would put my jacket against the window, my bag clutched in my lap, and I would just finally sleep.

The whoosh whoosh of the train engine felt so safe, I was vaguely aware of people moving around me, but they became gentle dream sounds…. lilts and lulls and then a laugh… Life moving on around me, safe. And as I would drift off, I would pretend I was on one of those old-timey trains that would bring me to a station in the middle of Small Town Anywhere-But-Here, where people milled about and sold flowers and apple pie, and went fishing and no one beat their girlfriends.

GOD DAMN, I was tired.

‘And I would sleep sweet and deep until my alarm went off, and i would get off the train and go to work.

Each day, the same.

Each day, silently checking books, or cataloging, teaching Hebrew in a whisper, in my own classes quietly taking notes, writing essays, reading, but no longer googling song lyrics.

Then at night, standing on the platform again, my toes over the edge.

Would I jump this time?

God damn, I was tired.

And then one morning, I was curled up again as usual, head against the window, my legs tucked up, my bag in my lap, when I realized half-asleep that there was a hand between my legs.  And it wasn’t mine.

And I woke up.  And the man sitting next to me was touching me — his hand pressed between my thighs, and he stared at me, like “what are you going to do about it.”

So I’ll tell you what I did about it: That morning I screamed.

I stood up in the middle of that train — a quiet train full of people, men and women in suits with briefcases, students in coats and scarves, old men with walking sticks, a woman in a wheel chair, and I stood up, and I fucking SCREAMED.

“How dare you! HOW FUCKING DARE YOU!”

My voice was mine, but it wasn’t mine, it was bottomless and infinite, the roar of a thousand generations of strong women who had had enough.

My voice was mine, but it wasn’t mine, and yet it sounded like it could be mine, and it tore through my throat and filled the train, and everyone turned to stare at me, a warrior goddess born of fury, standing there, my jacket on the ground, my bag splayed open, I stood there, screaming.

My voice was mine — yes, my voice was MINE, because no one else on the train said a goddamn word, no one would stand up for me except me. So I did it with a roar.


And I stalked out of that train at the next stop before my stop, and I was late to work, and I lost my voice, and I didn’t give a shit because I felt great.

Because I wasn’t just screaming at him on the train. I was finally screaming at the other him, the him still sleeping an hour away.

And by the time I got my voice back three weeks later, I had left him.

And I never took that morning train again.

About the Author
Sarah Tuttle-Singer, Times of Israel's New Media editor, lives in Israel with her two kids in a village next to rolling fields. Sarah likes taking pictures, climbing roofs, and talking to strangers. She is the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. Sarah is a work in progress.