My life has been a series of experiences, bits and pieces that don’t always seem to fit together but collectively they make me who I am. I’ve never talked about the horrible situation of my best friend Sheila and her mother, because it was so tragic. But today, it’s time to share another ugly story, because it’s October and because it’s Domestic Violence Month.
When I was a kid, I had a best friend named Sheila. Our mother’s weren’t really friends, but they would talk because we were such good friends. We always seemed to be skipping ahead of them, laughing and giggling as we went, like little girls do.
By 2nd grade, we had grown up and somehow convinced our mothers to let us walk to school alone. But they would watch us from afar, to protect us from harm, because that’s what parents do.
It was near the end of that school year, when Sheila’s mother began to wear dark sunglasses, even on rainy days. Sheila’s mother was a nurse, but it was always my mother that I overheard tending to her, encouraging her and being kind to her. But one day my mother’s voice sounded determined and stern, like when she planned our escape from my father.
“This can’t keep happening,” she said. But I didn’t know then what needed to stop.
On the last day of the school, our teacher Mrs. Lamars made all the students in the class clean out our desks. I had so many school papers, they kept falling as I tried to scoop them into a pile. Sheila was having a similar problem and it made us all giggly and happy.
But something happened, a knock on the door, or maybe it was an announcement over the PA system. I don’t recall, but I remember we all stopped whatever we were doing and stood still. We waited for instructions as we had been taught to do, like during a fire drill.
But it was a false alarm for us, Sheila was called out of class and we went back to our task. Sheila wasn’t allowed to bring her papers with her. Mrs. Lamars gently placed her hands on Sheila’s shoulders and silently guided her by her out the classroom door, it was odd. Odd because teachers are organized, with a beginning, a middle and an end, but not that day was different because Sheila didn’t finish second grade.
My mother was waiting for me after school. I was my typical chatty self, still excited that I had completed second grade and had been promoted. I couldn’t wait to see Sheila, tomorrow would be the first day of school vacation and we could play all day.
I fumbled with my school papers as we walked. And my mother, who usually got annoyed if I slowed her down, or wasn’t keeping up with her strides, was more patient now. Every now and then, she slowed down and looked at me, lovingly. When we passed Sheila’s street, I saw police cars and slowed a little to see what was going on, but now my mother had quickened her step and I clutched my papers a little tighter and hurried along.
When we got home, my mother told me that Sheila’s father had beat up and killed Sheila’s mother, that he had a gun and had went to the school to kill Sheila too. The police hadn’t captured him yet. And all while my mother was talking, I thought about my missing father. And wondered what if he wanted to kill me too. My mother pulled me close and hugged me and then said,?she wouldn’t let that happen.
I didn’t see Sheila again, someone told us that her aunt had come and they had moved away. And just like that, my best friend was gone. I would have other friends, but I’d never get so close to anyone again, a friendship was over and lives were forever disrupted.
Looking back at it, I had almost forgotten that moment in my life. It’s unpleasant memories had been tucked away, but now that it’s October, I’m reminded about how scared my mother and I were. My mother’s fear had helped us avoid a bad situation, the real and imagined danger of domestic violence.
But sometimes a lack of fear can lead us straight into danger. We become complacent, a little too confident, like when you believe every parachutes will be work, that it is, it will open and save you. But the truth is, some parachutes don’t open. And sometimes taking a chance and being squeezed into a crowded elevator isn’t the right decisions, sometimes patience and being aware of weight restrictions and danger signals is helpful to keep us safe.
Sometimes, we know intuitively that someone is being mistreated and abused. And we should say or do something, even if getting involved is an inconvenience. Because a family with physical signs of abuse might offend our sensibilities, but we mustn’t look away.
So here it is. I’ve painted something so vile & ugly to make it beautiful, that we might look at it. I’ve added pthalo green and technicolor blue. Isn’t it beautiful? Can you see the brutality between the strokes? Isn’t it preventable?
Stop & Look… so we can do something, to keep it from happening.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The number of incidents has increased during COVID-19. Do what you can, please.
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