I’d like to tell you a story. It isn’t my story, and it may not even be entirely accurate, as most of it is based on things I was told, and clouded in painful memories that cut just as deeply today as they did then. but I will do the best I can with what I have. To honor their story with as much of my love as I am able.
Ten years ago, my boys and I were residing in a domestic violence shelter. The whys and wherefores of that fact exist elsewhere on this site, and are not relevant to this story. There were a lot of us there, with stories and heartbreaks as varied as rainbow-filled kaleidoscopes.
One woman in particular, I’ll call her K, stands out in my memory for many reasons. For one, her spirit was so full of love and light and hope. She always had a smile and a kind word for everyone. She always made an effort to make sure everyone was included. And her baby! (I’ll call him Y) He was ALWAYS smiling. Soft, round moon face, sparkling eyes, the kind of giggle that you cannot help but giggle back to.
Even when she was sad, she smiled. I always admired her ability to do that. I sometimes felt, and still do sometimes, that if I could just smile when I am sad, I could will myself better. But I think that only works in the movies. It never works for me. Turns out, it didn’t really work for her, either.
As we all spent time together, in and out of group talk sessions, and just casually sharing, her horror story unfolded relentlessly, like the mouth of a Venus flytrap poised to swallow anything within reach. The only time I ever saw numbness in her eyes was when she talked about her husband. She was lucky to be alive. There is no one incident that she told us that stands out to me, because it was all a blur of being choked, punched while she was holding the baby, kicked in the stomach while she was pregnant, thrown down the stairs because she burned dinner. She also had 10 and 12 year old boys from a previous marriage that she had to send to live with their father because she was afraid that she would be killed in front of them. She tried to leave several times before, but he would find her and bring her back and punish her.
I don’t remember much of the details of how she finally found her way to us, I just know it involved a literal domestic violence underground railroad of people that she followed in her car across hundreds of miles and a dozen states, to save her child.
But there were problems. Because, in the eyes of the law, what she had done was considered kidnapping. And the law was requiring her to return to her state IN PERSON to go to court to fight for custody. Such utter bullshit. No matter how much evidence her lawyers gave the judge, no matter that she fled for her very life, the judge was adamant that if she did not return, she would be arrested and her child forcibly taken away and given to his father. I am not sure how the judge even knew where she was, or what her legal rights were, but apparently the order was strong enough that even the beautiful kind ladies that ran the shelter could not help her in the end. She had to return to go to court. I suppose she COULD have traveled further into the underground, but I think, in the end, she chose to go back. I think she had already decided what she was going to do next. I wish I had known. All we knew was that a shelter in her state was found to house her safely until the court date, and she kissed and hugged us all, and was gone, Y still giggling in her arms.
We didn’t hear anything about her for several weeks, and life in the shelter kind of just went on, as it does, because there was always someone coming or going, returning to their abuser, or leaving for a new life, or another shelter.
When we finally did hear something, it changed something inside of me fundamentally forever.
We were all called together for a meeting. They did not want us hearing about it on the news first. K’s lawyers had basically told her that she could possibly lose. She had been painted as hysterical, mentally-ill, and the judge was firmly on her husband’s side. They were going to do all they could, but I think, in her mind, she just knew, and it broke her, and HE had finally managed to break her. The morning that she was supposed to go to court, she came down the stairs of the shelter, covered in blood, sobbing hysterically. She had slit her wrists, but I guess she didn’t do it deep enough, because she had woken up. They asked her where Y was. She said he was safe now. She had smothered him with a pillow before attempting to kill herself.
There was a buzzing sound in my head, and I think I must have cried for hours that day for them. I still am moved to tears to this day whenever I think of them.
I will never ever profess to understand. I don’t even WANT to understand that level of despair, that kind of hopelessness. The last I ever heard of her, she was in jail. She lost herself to save her child the only way she knew how. The system failed her and her baby. As the system continues to fail so many women and children who are being hurt and abused.
It costs us all too much.