Teri Orr: Speaking truth to power can sometimes be fatal | ParkRecord.com

Teri Orr: Speaking truth to power can sometimes be fatal

Teri Orr

Two years ago I was trying to book Krista Tippet, host of NPR’s “On Being,” to speak here. The agent said Krista wasn’t available. She countered with two other speakers. Washington Post reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner Eli Saslow, who had written a series, “Four Good Days” (and since the universe is connected in mysterious ways it was made into a Sundance premiere in 2020). And Stephanie Land, a young author who had written a book about being a maid working her way out of poverty and domestic violence. Since the Eccles first opened in the late ’90s there have always been authors who spoke. Sometimes rock stars play keyboards that click.

Park Record columnist Teri Orr.

Eli was the last performance the institute had before Park City shut down for COVID. He performed on a Saturday night. We had a critical gathering Sunday with community leaders about addiction issues in Summit County and Eli asked us questions. By the following Sunday, the resorts had closed along with everything else. Stephanie’s scheduled gig was COVID-canceled that season. And the next. And then this summer she had actually arrived in town, ready to speak at the Eccles Center — the day Summit Park and Pinebrook were under threat of fire. The high school was suddenly the evacuation relocation site. The show was canceled. She is slated to return April 2, 2022.

I have yet to read her book. I knew it would require the kind of focused attention I haven’t had for any reading since COVID started. But last week someone posted that the Netflix series, “Maid,” based on her book had dropped. My friend had watched it all, already. I thought if it was that compelling maybe I would start an episode. And then, I watched all 10 in a span of less than 18 hours. “Maid” is also about domestic violence. The kind that comes with fear and threats and punching walls and taking away your access to joint funds and your child. There are substance abuse issues. She leaves. And then goes back. And leaves again. For those who work in the circle of domestic violence this is no surprise. On average, it takes a woman leaving an abusive relationship seven times before she leaves for good.

Seven times.

Seven times grabbing what you can stuff in a bag for yourself and your children. Taking a car. Finding a shelter. Or not even knowing about shelters and trying find shelter for yourself and your child(ren). Hotels are expensive and credit cards leave a trail. And if you have little to no money you sleep in your car or a campground or at a friend’s. And you try to sort things out. And then your child’s father manipulates things and you get confused and scared and lonely and life on the lam is hard and your family and friends never saw any abuse and “was it really so bad?”

And you question yourself and the stories you lived and the stories you were told and the stories you told others. Because you had been covering up for years. You are embarrassed and afraid and your children are just confused.

In binge watching Stephanie’s story I recognized the patterns, the behaviors, the chapters. The first time I was abused, I was six months pregnant with my first child. I had been married six months and one day. My husband was That Guy. The captain of the football team, the senior class president. He came from a solid two-parent family on the better side of town. A girl like me was lucky to marry a boy like him. We had two children, who are the light of my life, almost as much as the three grandchildren they produced. It was so very long ago it has mostly been packed away. “Maid” focuses on the dual themes of poverty and abuse. It is acted brilliantly by Andie MacDowell as the crazy mother of Margaret Qualley (who is remarkable) and plays the main character. They are mother/daughter in real life. MacDowell makes even my late wacky mother seem tame. There are parts that are funny — honestly — laugh out loud — funny. And sad. Sad, as in, “I wish the story had taken a different turn here” kinda way. After about the fifth episode, watched back-to-back, there were times I was shuddering involuntarily. I was holding my sides, slightly rocking. Muscle memory is a strange thing. I was 100 pounds and a full foot shorter than my husband. To this day when someone raises their hand too quickly in my field of vision — I flinch. I like to think I buried those feelings long ago.

But I have not.

Nadalee Noble was murdered in front of the market here on Presidents Day weekend in 1991. A mother with five kids who lived in deplorable conditions in Samak. Yes, newcomers that IS Kamas spelled backwards. She left behind 20 years of journals. I read them and reported on them. I had been among the first at the crime scene. She had been shot at point-blank range in the head. We had somehow dressed just the same that day — cowboy boots and jeans and plaid shirts. When I got back into my car I grabbed the steering wheel tight.

That could have been me.

Some women make it and some women don’t and there isn’t any pattern with income or geography or political party or how you dressed that day. Everyone works hard to get away. And some of us get lucky.

Patty Blanchard lived down the street from me and she had done everything right. Including filing for divorce. About seven years after Nadalee’s murder, Patty was killed by her estranged husband. He broke into the home where the children were sleeping and in a fight hit her over the head with a lamp.

Our shelter director at the Peace House quit the next night. It was just too scary, she said. And it was. And there was no back-up staffing. So as a board member I spent nights there until we could hire a new director. Donald Noble and John Blanchard are both still in prison in Utah.

National headlines have focused for months on Floridian Gabby Petito who passed through our state this summer. Gabby’s body was found in Teton National Park in Wyoming. She had been strangled — there was nothing inconclusive about those findings. She didn’t fall and hit her head on a rock … she was strangled. An act of rage — deliberate and personal. Was she murdered for talking back? For being confused/eager to return home? Wanting to start her own business? Was she mentally ill? None of that matters. She was violently murdered. She deserved to be safe.

My birthstone is purple. I love purple flowers and cowboy boots and even my house is painted a dusty lavender color. This month, when you see purple ribbons on trees and banners and car stickers, it is in remembrance of victims of domestic violence. All of them we know about and all of those we don’t who are living in fear. And for those who may be right next to us in a booth at a diner. Day after uncertain day, including Sundays, in a Park…

Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts. She has been a member of the TED community since 2007 and founded TEDxParkCity in 2009.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Park City and Summit County make the Park Record's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.



Teri Orr: A death in the family…

When legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim died this week, it was as if Teri Orr had lost her favorite emotional uncle, she writes.

See more