This piece is written to give a voice to those who feel like they are living in a silent darkness. It is based on the experiences of someone that I know and love, who is a victim of domestic violence. It is her hope that speaking through me will give others the courage to leave and find life beyond the curtain of shame and doubt.
If you or anyone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please know that there is help out there. Safe Harbor Shelter (safeharborshelter.com) supports those who are experiencing or have experienced domestic and/or sexual violence. Safe Harbor was founded in April 2000 after a St. Mary’s nurse, frustrated with the lack of safe housing options available to survivors of domestic violence, advocated within Bon Secours Health Systems for increased services and support. Their Hotline 804-287-7877.
The cold of the black and white tile felt soothing against her cheek, funny how something so hard brought such comfort. Right now it was all she could do, just lay there listening to the exhaust fan hum. Every ounce of energy that she possessed had been spent on getting through the day with the kids. The forced smiles and laughter took its toll and, when she was alone, when no one was looking, she had to collapse and fall apart. On the floor she wouldn’t be able to see herself in the mirror, have to look into her own eyes and relive what happened. That would come in her dreams. For now, this was how she would get through, allowing herself to be overwhelmed when she was the only onlooker.
Tears formed a waterfall, pouring from her eyes to the floor beneath. She made no effort to wipe them. The same questions attacked her mind. How did this happen? How did I get here? How could he do this? Why? Why? Why?
The self doubt followed. What did I do to make him want to do this to me? What could I have done to stop this? The tears flowed faster and the memories came with them. She remembered the anger in his eyes and couldn’t even recognize the man that she had married, made promises with and had children with. In seconds he became a monster. The hands that had once caressed her face and held her close became weapons, placing marks on her body that would last in her heart for a lifetime. These same hands that held their newborn babies threatened to strip her of her very last breath. How did she get here?
The questions went around in circles making her dizzy. No one had answers. Every decision that she had made she now doubted. How could she have chosen someone who would do this? Subjected her children to someone capable of such things? The nausea came and went like it always did causing the mere thought of food to make her gag.
There were times when she knew that something or someone else took over. Times when she could feel herself leave her body and watch what was happening from afar. Some call it a coping mechanism she called it God. And the final time he laid his hands on her, when she almost left her body for good, is when that person she watched from afar said “ENOUGH!” and packed up the kids and left. It was her strongest and weakest moment rolled into one.
So now what? Lies and rumors run rampant. Her bruises and the police reports mean nothing. She is chastised for taking the kids and leaving him, for no apparent reason. Many say there was someone else, others say she is selfish. “Poor what’s his name, he must be a wreck.” “How could she do this to the family?” If they only knew. But she will stand strong, for the kids, putting them first as she always has. She will take the verbal blows and the legal run around to make sure that they are protected. She will stand with him in a courtroom and listen to him lie and watch as his family and friends stare blankly into space. She will do this because she can. Others were not so lucky.
This is her life. Her new life where walking from the grocery store to the car takes all the strength that she can muster, fearing that he lurks in the shadows. Where a missed call on her cell phone causes panic and fear, wondering what number will appear on the screen. Desperate prayers that her children are safe when they go on “visits”; watching the minutes tick by until she can wrap her arms around them again.
There is also a thought that haunts her, the one that no one wants to give words to but hammers at her brain all through the days. This event, as she has come to think of it, could have killed her. It takes her breath every time bringing her back to the “whys”. The only answer she has for this question lies in the three little sets of eyes that stare at her lovingly each day. They are her reason, her everything and her determination to overcome.
So, some will say that she is lucky. Many will call her brave for mustering the courage to leave but she doesn’t feel worthy of any of these “titles”. Guilt and fear and a bit of shame are her new badges until she can find the strength to rip them off and bear new ones, ones she will be proud to wear.
The ironic part is love has come to her in this terrible, awful mess. Unconditional love that no one expects or asks for, it just appears when it is needed. Gestures that seem small speak volumes and show that the world is not the terrible place that she (and we) can tend to think it is. So in this very dark place where she now exists, there are rays of light that shine through and, on some days, there is even a rainbow.
She knows that she is broken and that picking up the pieces will be a long, hard journey. There will be jagged edges and pieces that don’t fit just right but that is the beauty of rebuilding, it allows one to create something new and different and beautiful.
This chapter of her life will always be with her and sometimes it will feel like it will never end. There are going to be days when she can smile again. There will also be days when she falls, and gets back up again. There’s no book of directions on how to navigate through this, she’ll just do what she can do when she can do it. Love her kids, try to love herself a bit and let others love her too. Just the basics for now, she’ll figure the rest out as she goes.