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Your Voice Matters

Voices MatterWho knows where imaginary friends come from, but I knew the imaginary realm to where I went. Occasionally a frog would follow me home and all the adults whispered concern as I cradled this imaginary friend in the palm of my hand.

My father’s father took charge of the situation, scooped the frog from my hand, threw it on the ground and stomped it with his cowboy boot. He was a bully but, I had no idea what that meant. Most times he was nice and funny, giving me horses to ride and silver dollars after he made me cry.

I was too young to understand what sexual abuse was, or that my tears were not allowed. My tantrums were not allowed. My voice was not allowed. But I could speak freely in my imagination and escape the pains and confusion of childhood.

In school I connected with other friends who had great capacity to imagine. We ran like wild horse herds on the playground. We pretended we were horses. We found a rock named Gillian and he was the king of a mountain stream. We played Barbies outside.

The older girls in my small town lacked imagination, or at least found it foolish. I learned to not let those into my realm. But I had nothing to say to their bullying that increased each school year. When I cried because I was afraid to go on the school bus my mother told me to smile more, that I cried too much.

Summer between 4th and 5th grade was misery. The older girls were bored and cruel. One gave me a glass of lemonade that wasn’t. A new family moved to town and the older girls convinced the tough new-comer, Monica from Chicago, that I called her little brother a nasty name.

Monica tackled me like a linebacker. I had no idea why at the time, and I cried as she pounded me. She stopped. “Why don’t you fight back,” she asked. I never fought back. I had imagination, but I had no voice.

From that day on she was my protector. She taught me to fight, to stand up to the older girls and I taught her how to ride horses. We were inseparable until she moved two years later. By then I was going into 7th grade. Most of the older girls were away at high school and Monica left me with a gift – my own voice.

My teacher gave me a second gift. He recognized the imagination in my spelling stories and encouraged me to write my stories longer. Each week I averaged five pages. Then my teacher started to read them aloud. They were popular. Next, he asked me to read them aloud.

That’s when the power of voice and imagination hit me. I wanted to write novels, though I had no clue how. I outlined one in a notebook that I still have and I honor that first attempt. In high school I joined forensics (not the criminal kind, the speech and debate team). My voice grew strong.

Throughout my education and career, I’ve used my voice. I’ve presented on how food growing impacts climate change for an early symposium on the topic; and I’ve traveled to New York City to present on the topic of story-telling to marketers. In NYC, I promised myself that one day I’d return as a published author.

Although it was a frightening step, after I raised three children, I resigned from the nine-to-five career world and moved west to write stories. I had my voice and my imagination tucked in my saddlebags. What I longed for were those early friends who would run around on the playground with me, pretending to be horses.

Because voices matter. Not just my voice, but the collective voices, the voices who speak out for others; the voices who examine who they are; the voices who reflect what they observe in the world and speak a different way; the voices who can imagine.

To build up from bullies is to find our voice. At Carrot Ranch, we practice our vocal cords by writing 99-word flash fictions weekly. We give voice to ideas and we discuss what we read. Each voice is unique and offers a variety of insights, ideas and imagination.

In preparation for the #1000Speak compassion blog event on March 20, writers at Carrot Ranch contributed to the “Building from Bullies” theme by responding to a prompt about how the bully mentality can be countered with a different, unexpected or kind action.

Read these powerful voices here: Circling the Bullies. And remember to write out…speak out…laugh out loud…because your voice matters, too! Use it to do good. Use it to build up. Give the gift.


  1. Norah says:

    Charli, I cried with and for your through the beginning of the post. To be bullied at home and at school is such a dreadful ordeal, and for the bullying to go beyond meanness to abuse is just a tragedy – or it could have been. But you are strong, and as much I would rather you hadn’t suffered that way, it has strengthened your character and you have used your empowerment to empower others around you. Some get sucked into the mire, but others claw their way out and learn to stand tall, a role model for others. You are one of those stories of inspiration. Thank you for speaking out against bullying and for sharing your story.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for hanging tough through the first part. I felt it was important to show how one person at a time can make a difference and help someone find his or her voice. You really get that with the character of Marnie. If it inspires someone to choose a different path or to speak out, it’s worth sharing the past.

  2. Annecdotist says:

    Good old Monica! She didn’t WANT to be a bully at heart and was able to step outside the script. And, of course, when we’ve been bullied in the home there is no realisation that you CAN fight back. What from the outside can look like passivity is just your normal routine.
    It’s wonderful what you’ve been able to do, Charli, from these beginnings. You’re a fine person to be leading the ranch of writers, of which I’m proud to be a part.
    BTW, I filched your image for my own post, which is only partly on this theme – I wasn’t sure if it was the official version or your personal one, so let me know if you want either an acknowledgement or for me to take it down.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Monica had a great sense of self and she made such a huge impact on my life. And so did my teacher, and my husband. The gift cycle or voice cycle is the one I want to keep going! The photo is one of the buttons for #1000Speak. I haven’t linked it yet because I wasn’t clear on where to link it…I think I’ll link it to all the contributing posts once they are up.

  3. TanGental says:

    How can I not get goosebumps reading what your write? I cry at romcoms, at cruelty to animals and remain stony faced in the face of human tragedy but that, huh, well I sobbed just a little because I can’t but stand near the shoulder of that little girl playing on her rock and wonder at who she grew into – of course I want to pull you away but you did tat yourself and that is remarkable, a testament to the obduracy of some people. The sun is filling the garden and spring is late but bloody determined as it is every year; you are a remarkable human spring, Charli Mills. May your futures be full of flowers.

    • Charli Mills says:

      You have such a big heart, Geoff, and I’ve been blessed throughout life to meet people like you with big hearts and rock solid families. My biggest life achievement is that I broke the cycle and raised my children “safe.” They return the gift by going out and being interesting, loving, productive people in this world, just as you continue your family’s gift with your children. One at a time we can overcome the weeds and bloom like we are meant to!

  4. I barely made it through this post. But I’m glad I did. You know I think you are remarkable. No harm in saying it again, though. You are an amazing woman, Charli. <3 Thank you for sharing this.

    Maybe you'll help others share their stories.

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for sticking with it, Sarah. Each of us is remarkable, but we each need someone to show us. Monica, my teacher, my husband, they’ve been good soil for me. I hope I can be good soil for others! And I do believe in the empowerment that comes from owning our stories no matter what they are. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for sharing this!! It’s very sad..made me cry! No child has to go through this!

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for reading! Every child deserves a voice and we have to stand in the gaps for those who have none. I hope you see that others stood for me and I learned from those supporters to speak up. Thanks for being a part of the compassion movement, too!

  6. Jeanne Lombardo says:

    As always your reflections really hit home. Made me remember a girl named Delena who chased me down the street in 5th grade threatening to break my bones. Sadly, that’s what I remember about that age, running away and hiding under beds and in closets, or in the airy haven of a backyard mulberry tree. So kudos for you, for taking the hits, for standing up and finding your voice, for never letting the baser elements of childhood tarnish your beautiful imagination.

    • Charli Mills says:

      I was always running and hiding, too…Monica was faster! 🙂 I’m glad you survived your episodes with grace, too. The mulberry tree sounds so soothing. Thank you, Jeanne!

  7. ruchira says:

    Loved reading about your journey, Charli.
    You proved it that no one is born a star, we all have to work hard towards it 🙂

    Delighted and blessed am I to be a part of your rough writers team n draw inspiration each week.

  8. And what a powerful voice you have developed Charli. Being bullied on more than one front makes it even more remarkable that you have emerged to be the wonderful person that you are. You were also lucky that Monica came into your life when she did. Although she was tough I don’t think she was a bully but rather one that was tough and fiercely protective to those she loved such as her brother and you.
    I am really proud to be part of your stable of rough writers where we all benefit from the encouragement to let our voices be heard. I’m really glad you emerged from your childhood that no child should have to experience with your voice sounding loudly.

    • Charli Mills says:

      That’s a good estimation of who Monica was. I can easily see when someone shows a different way and decide that’s what I want or how I want to be. Not superficially, but going for character growth. We all need role models and mirrors. And what strong characters we have riding with voices sounding out! Glad to have you in the stable, too! Thanks, Irene!

      • I’m whinnying with delight at being in the stable. I agree with you that good role models can lead to personal growth and you are never too old to meet a new role model.

      • Charli Mills says:

        Ha, ha! To think I’d find friends later in life who are as much fun as those who ran with me as horses on the playground in childhood! I’m whinnying, too! We always have something to learn from those we meet.

  9. Sherri says:

    You are a brave, beautiful woman Charli inside and out, and as with everyone else here, I can only thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your powerful and inspirational words with us. Your have found your voice and have helped others, me included, to find ours. I am so proud to call you friend <3

  10. Wow. This was amazing. It touched me deeply. Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. […] Your Voice Matters by Charli Mills […]

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