Sunday, April 25, 2010
Last week, things were easier than usual for me at the battered women's shelter where I volunteer. We had plenty of help with the kids (a rarity and much enjoyed) and the weather was nice. This meant I could run my small groups for children inside while the other women took care of the remaining kids outside.
The weather was perfect and the kids ran, yelled, shot hoops, explored the playscape. It was a time of forgetting, letting loose and letting go. There were no fights, only one skinned knee, fun and freedom. We let them stay outside until it was almost dark.
Then we gave them a snack, cleaned up, gathered our stuff and returned to the main hall. I monitored an older child taking a leaf bag out to the dumpster. Before he returned, I saw a man appear near the front of the building. He was tall, heavy, casually dressed in plain tee shirt and jeans. Had short, dark hair. I couldn't see his face.
Another woman noticed him the same time I did. We both said, "Who's that?" loudly and together, startling him. He quickly turned around and left. We hurried to where he'd been standing, but he was gone. Checked the fences, saw no one. Another woman called 911 and the office counselor came outside.
This man shouldn't know the address of the shelter. He shouldn't know the time when groups of women and children would be leaving the shelter. But he did.
When we told the women about him, they stayed inside, called the children to them, looked scared and sad. There would be no quick exodus tonight.
Afterward, I learned a man had called his partner many, many times during her meeting. We had been having an innocent, good time with the children while the women in one group watched a man's aggressive, controlling intrusions turn this woman's night, and theirs, into Hell.
Their fear reminded me of 911. I was working in an elementary school that day. All the adults in the school learned almost immediately of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Eyes met eyes in the hall, smiles were stiff, anxiety ruled. But we did not tell the children or change the schedule in any way. They had the rest of the school day to look, act, and feel normal, oblivious of America's loss of innocence.
The next couple school days, though, many children were sent to me showing emotional fallout from 911. Many of them had left school early, picked up by anxious parents. Some had been allowed to watch TV videos of people jumping to their deaths and adults running for their lives. They experienced terror vicariously only to have it invade their own dreams and waking thoughts.
The women and children at the shelter were silent after the man left, but afraid to leave. Some had cars, some had to walk home. All had been instantly dropped back into a time when they never felt safe.
The children and adults of 911 survived that day with a fear they will probably carry, submerged but accessible, for the rest of their lives.
This intense kind of fear is not deeply submerged when children and adults live daily on the edge of terror and humiliation for months, years, or a lifetime. And the fear is quickly triggered every time someone threatening or expected to be threatening appears in their lives.
Survivors of this type of abuse often succeed in leaving domestic or dating violence.
The trouble is, it doesn't leave them.
Posted by patwriter at 7:26 PM 0 comments
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Patricia H. Aust
I'm a published children's author, agented, and working on getting my latest book, a YA novel set in battered women's shelter, published.My blog: SHELTER KIDS: http://bit.ly/ruralwriter
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