Sharon examined the purplish black bruising under her right eye. Gingerly, she tried to dab on her Cover Girl concealer, but winced and drew back from the pain. No tears fell. She had learned long ago that it never helped. Actually, this time was not so bad: a bruise or two, a small cut on the lip when it was driven by his fist into her inscisor. She had experienced worse. Last night, at least he stopped short of choking her, his new favorite pasttime. Maybe he was in the Christmas Spirit. She tried a mirthless laugh, but it hurt to pull in a deep breath.
The kids had stopped crying pretty quickly after she had ordered them to bed so early. She knew it was coming. She had seen the look in his eyes. A mask of rage and hatred contorted his once handsome face into the “thing”. She yelled at them to go to bed and they did so with blank faces. They too knew of the futility of tears or protests..
As she exited the bathroom, the house was silent save for the loud snores coming from the couch. She walked into the kid’s bedroom, where her two beautiful daughters were dressed and sitting quietly on the bed. She would have preferred screams and tears. The resignation reflected in their faces crushed her heart.
As she gathered them up for a sleepover at her mom’s, she silently vowed that this was the last time he would put them through this. Tonight was New Years Eve. She would pack up and leave tonight while he was at work. Tomorrow would be their NEW BEGINNING: a fresh start.
The thought of what he would do if she left terrified her. But the knowledge that he would not stop terrified her more. How many threats had he made? She believed every one. How many times had she lied to the cops, the school, the social workers that everything was fine. She fell down steps, walked into doors, tripped over the dog. They must think she was the clumsiest woman on Earth.
But she had not dared to tell the truth. He had warned her. He would kill the girls. He had warned the girls. He would kill their mommy. She had not dared to cross him. Even her own family didn’t know how bad it was as they put on the act of the century on the rare ocassions they were allowed to visit. No, there was no one to help. She hadn’t let anyone in. Until now.
She heard a radio spot about a place that would take her and the girls. It was protected and hidden from the public. She called them and almost cried when they told her that not only would they protect her but would help her to navigate the legal system and social systems so that she can start over with her girls in another location. It was almost too much to believe.
She realized she was humming as she drove. She saw the puzzled look on the faces of two little girls in the back seat. She talked with them about behaving at grandma’s house and they nodded robotic consent. As she took them up the walk to her mother’s door, she hugged them tightly and told them she would come get them the next day for an adventure. They waved to her as she got back into the car and drove away.
They never saw her again.
Social Workers, Law Enforcement Officers, Judges, Neighbors, Families: Don’t shake your head and judge her. Don’t ask each other why she had stayed in an abusive situation. Don’t offer the platitude that had she loved her children she would have left earlier. Before it got so bad. Before he strangled the life out of her on New Years Eve.
Don’t blame yourself either. You will wonder. what more could I have done? How could I have engaged her more to build a trust. What resources could I have offered her to help her get safe? What could I have noticed in the children to clue me in. How did I miss it?
The only one to blame is him. Not her. Not you.
But we can learn.
About domestic violence and the cycle of abuse
About resources in our community that provide safety and shelter to battered women
About early trauma in children and what that looks like.
About how to take the time to listen with our third ear.
Instead of making New Years resolutions you will not keep past March, Resolve to learn more about DV, trauma and abuse to sharpen the tools in your toolbox. Because next week you will have another client like Sharon.
And she needs you.