I'm so glad that I did.
It's been almost a year since I left my job to stay at home. But once you've worked in the field of domestic violence, it never leaves you. At least it hasn't for me. As I rolled up to the check out with two pissed off and tired kids, I saw her. My heart skipped a beat. I was at once happy to see her (because she was alive) and sad. I was sad because standing right behind her was her husband. Her face was red with drink and she held in her hands the big bottle of cheap vodka. Her husband towered over her small frame. He has almost two feet on her and at least 100 pounds. I immediately remember the last time I saw her. Horribly beaten, her face bruised. Eye swollen shut. Stitches. Limping. And my stomach turned. He did that to her.
Her story was horrifically violent and I admit that she was one of the ones I rooted the hardest for. We all did. At sixty -something, her life has been an extremely tough road. Years and years of abuse, addiction and homelessness. Despite that, she is funny and very loving. She is the reason I call everyone "mama". When you spend months with people, you sometimes pick up their language. She looked after the younger clients in the shelter, she taught them how to clean, talked with them about staying away from their abusers and always had what seemed like determination, this time, to change her life. She wanted to. I know she did. But she couldn't. She tried, coming to our shelter three different times. But addiction and homelessness form chains around the neck of victim of domestic violence all too often. It makes sense doesn't it? I know when I've had a bad day, I dream about an ice cold beer at the end of it the way some people ask Calgon to take them away. It's an escape. I cannot judge her choices to escape, even though it shackles her to a violent life. I understand it. I wish it were different for her. But it isn't.
I live and worked in small town America. Because of that we always tell clients that we won't initiate conversation when we see them in public. We don't want to endanger them. But that if they are safe to talk, they can absolutely approach us. We only ask that they respect our own confidentiality and not give our personal information to others. Because of that I made no attempt to say hello and stood behind them in line like any other stranger would. When she saw me, I saw tears form in her eyes and I gave her a smile and a look to let her know I cared and that it was ok if she didn't want to say hi. She looked to him, he hadn't noticed. She collected herself and said, "Hey there, mama!", in her raspy voice that I remember so clearly. This caught his attention and he turned around. "Hey! So good to see you", I say. I smile, looking right into her eyes. But then he says, "Hi" in a half drunk slur. I was sick to my stomach that this monster was feet from my kids. I wanted to say something terrible to him. Something that might hurt him. To let him know that there are people in this county that know all about him and what a piece of shit he is. But I didn't. I smiled at him as though I didn't know those things and said "Hi" because see, I don't have to leave with him. She does and I cannot make that more dangerous for her than it already is. Had I snubbed him, he'd know that I know. And she more than likely would pay a very high price for that. So I smiled at him and said Hi and choked back the bile coming up my throat.
She gushed over my kids. The last time she saw me I was as big as a house and about to pop out Plum. He turned away and she looked into my eyes and said in a whisper, "I'm ok". I smiled at her and said "I'm glad", even though I knew it wasn't true. We talked in short chit chat until it was her turn to check out. "It was good to see you, your kids are beautiful", she said. "Take care of yourself, Mama", I said giving her a smile that said "I really care and I hope you can see that". And with that, she was gone.
As I loaded our groceries and buckled the kids into the car, I saw them at the bus stop. I let my tears for her come. Because she is a good person. She has a loving heart. She is worth more than my tears but they are all I can give her right now. And for a moment I hope that she knows that. I hope that maybe, just maybe, that by seeing me today, she was reminded that there is a place for her to go and people who will help. But if that's not on the table, I hope that at the very least, she was reminded that I cared about her. And that I believe that she is more than the addiction and shackles that bind her. That she is more than his.
Someday, I hope and pray that she comes to believe that to.
It's never too late to get help. To get out. If you (or someone you know) live with domestic violence there are people that want to help you find freedom. You can start by calling the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit their website on a safe computer (a library, work or friends house) at www.thehotline.org