04 October 2005


I woke up from a nightmare to the screams of my alarm clock. I was dreaming that a child was being hurt and I couldn't stop it. I was screaming and screaming and no matter how fast I ran or how hard I fought, I couldn't stop it.

I tried to put the nightmare out of mind and got dressed for work. I filled in at the thrift store again. As I was tagging clothes and helping customers, I heard the door chime and looked up to greet the customer. In walked four very familiar faces and one stranger. The four familiar faces belonged to a mother and three children who recently moved out of the shelter. The stranger was the man whose anger and bruises put them there in the first place. As soon as she recognized me, she bent down and whispered to her children and they nodded politely and made no sign that they knew me.

I was relieved and broken.

I was relieved that the children who I'd cared for and played with and loved didn't run to me and make a scene that would force her to explain to this man who I was and how they knew me.

I was broken that the children who I'd colored with and taught to walk and laughed with didn't run to me and give me the hugs and kisses I had received every day for 3 months.

I stood with a poker face and continued my task. I was so sick inside. As soon as the man was on the far side of the store, I noticed the two older children sneaking toward me. They stood behind a rack of clothes and waved to me and blew me kisses. I did the same and they ran back to their mother. I could feel my chest getting tight and it started to become hard to breathe. A few moments later the mother passed by me as she crossed the store and the baby, whose first steps I witnessed and who followed me everywhere I went, recognized me and immediately threw his little arms out and opened and closed his hands for me to hold him. His mother gave me a look of shame and embarrassment and continued walking.

My heart fell out.

It landed with a thud on the dusty floor.
I went to the office and explained to the manager that I needed a moment; he understood and told me I could go work in the back until they left.

I went in the bathroom and cried.
A hard sad hicuppy cry.
My forehead against the dirty tiles on the wall.

As I walked out of the bathroom and towards the back, the man stopped me. The woman's eyes were as round as saucers. I looked him right in the eye and didn't see the monster I expected to see. So this is what a man with two families looks like? A man whose actual wife also puts up with beatings and with his having this entire family on the side? A man who uses the thrift store vouchers we gave his family-on-the-side to help them get on their feet once they left the shelter? A man who uses our generosity to buy himself a radio?
I didn't feel the hate I expected to feel.
I didn't blow her cover.
He looked like everybody else. A normal man, a normal dad. And he was polite. He asked me the price of the radio in his hand and I said I didn't know. As I pointed out the manager who could help him, I smiled at her with my eyes.
I wanted her to know.
I didn't want her to feel ashamed. I didn't want her to feel weak or that she has somehow failed. I wanted to embrace her and tell her how brave she is and how much I respect her. She gave me a small smile.

I went in the back and sat among the piles of donations and tried not to cry again until the manager came to tell me they were gone.

I know the statistics. I know that a woman goes back to her abuser an average of 6 times before she leaves for good. I know that it can be so overwhelming and embarrassing and depressing to live in a shelter that it seems easier to just go home and take it. I know it's hard when your babies are crying for their daddy while you hold a bag of frozen corn to your bruised face.
The first time a woman in the shelter shyly asked me if we had any extra underwear I realized how humiliating it would be to leave everything and have to rely on the kindness of strangers. I've held these women as they've cried in despair. These women are braver than I could ever dream to be. They should be celebrated and praised. And not forgotten.

I was going to use this post to tell you about all of the incidents that broke my heart today, but one was enough to leave my cheeks salty, and probably enough to do the same to you. And besides, I'm all cried out. I'll leave the issues of child abandonment and human trafficking alone for today.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Please be aware. Be informed.

Do not forget these women.

If nothing else, please offer a prayer on behalf of these women.
There are 4 animal shelters to every 1 DV shelter in the U.S.
2 out of 3 women who call for help are turned away because there aren't enough beds.
Every day 4 women die in the U.S. as a result of domestic violence.
And more than 700 women are raped or sexually assaulted every day by an intimate partner.

This has to stop.

Please take the time to click on some of the links in my sidebar pertaining to this issue. 700women.org and The National Domestic Violence Hotline are excellent resources.


Jay said...

Good work, Leah. You are doing work most people don't even want to touch: Fighting for those who can't fight for themselves.

Keep it Up. You are Awesome.

eddie said...

someone I know was recomended to go to a shelter the other day. I thought of you. To you I am greatful!

Anonymous said...

You're amazing. I'm so glad I read your blog today.

My Mom and I almost ended up in one of those shelters: fortunately, Gramma had room so we didn't have to. It's so easy to forget about these issues now that I haven't had to deal with them for almost 12 years.

I wish I could help people like you do.

nama said...

i cried, you're my hero, and i love you.

Luke said...

Looks like you have a dream dealing with the burnout of working with DV as well. I feel ya.

I hope all is well!

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