Today I was sitting in a long line of cars waiting to get into our local mall. When coming up in the other lane, straight at me, clear as day I see a man driving but looking angrily at the passenger and screaming. I see the passenger, a woman, making herself as small as she can against the passenger side door with her head against the window, obviously frightened and crying. Then as they are going by me I see the man lean over and start punching her. I didn’t have to see the whole scene to know what was going on. I’ve been there. Probably a hundred times or more. Helpless in the car with an angry man driving and pounding on me, grabbing my hair and slamming my head against the window. My left upper arm has been punched so many times that the blood vessel under the skin stand out red when I’m in the shower.
Maybe she lingered too long in a store. Maybe she wasn’t walking fast enough or straight enough for him. Maybe she got excited to see someone she knew there and stopped to talk and he found something to be embarrassed about that encounter. Maybe he thinks she looked at another guy in an inappropriate way, talked to a stranger she shouldn’t have. Maybe another guy looked at her appreciatively and her man blames her for showing off or looking available in some way. Maybe its none of these things. Maybe he had a bad day. Maybe he had a run in with someone at the mall and she either tried to intervene or maybe even did nothing but she’s just getting the rest of his wrath because she’s a safer target than the stranger. Maybe he’s just tired and cranky because he didn’t want to go to the mall after all, even though it was his idea. Or maybe its just the way he is and he would have been angry and abusive on the ride home from anywhere, from doing anything just because he felt like it.
My heart began to pound. I actually looked at the car in front of me and tried to figure out if I had enough space to do a U turn and go after them. That was my first thought strangely enough. When I realized what I was considering I thought what can you do? Exactly nothing. Then I started to panic and cry. I felt that helpless feeling that I knew that woman was feeling. Just remembering all those car rides that turned into another venue for abuse with no escape. I think he saved it for the car because I had no where to go. My normal reaction was to evade him if I could, flee, get out of the house and drive away until things calmed down. Then there would be the endless texting, phone calls, hanging up, voice mails, me begging for him to calm down and let me come home. Sometimes when I was told could come home the doors would be jimmied so I couldn’t open them even if I had a key. A screw driver or crowbar wedged into the crack under the door or at the side is surprisingly enough to keep someone from opening a door. Maybe with a lot of force I could have but what would that have gotten me? A broken door and an angry man inside. When I was finally allowed to come home with hours more of my life wasted begging to be allowed into my own house my heart pounded and I stayed alert to make sure it wasn’t a trap like it sometimes was. Pins and needles, walking on eggshells is not enough to describe my level of alertness. I was like a highly trained Navy seal heading into a dangerous mission. Alert, focused and ready to defend or run.
So this afternoon I shed a few tears for this woman who probably feels like she is the only person to ever go through this. And I wish there was a way I could reach out to her and explain that she’s not alone, that there is no shame in asking for help, that she doesn’t have to feel responsible for this man, that she is not responsible for his behavior, that she deserves to be happy, loved and respected. But I can’t. They are both long gone and anonymous. And I wonder how many people saw me in that situation. What did they think? Did they understand what was going on?
And tonight I send positive energy to that woman hoping she can find the strength to leave.