This winter has been tough for everyone. I haven't been to the shelter in four weeks because groups were canceled for various reasons--all related to the weather: traffic slowed to a crawl from narrow streets, icy driving or blizzard conditions, reduced parking space, and now work on the shelter itself.
The shelter is an old house with additions. I don't know if it's dealing with getting snow off the roof or leaks. We've all had the same crises this month. I didn't call to ask what specifically the problem was. They have enough to deal with right now. Curiosity, even though motivated with genuine concern for the house and its residents, is not needed.
The shelter must continue to provide services no matter what. Being available, if only by phone to women living the hell of emotional and physical battering, leaves no room for idle chat with volunteers.
When they enter the shelter, they are hit with a curfew, new financial and emotional restraints, demands and reactions from children who used to ask for less, and having to deal with multiple losses besides their main relationship. Most of the children lose their father figure, relatives, school, neighborhood, and church.
On top of all this, the weather has caused a new kind of isolation. The women can't work, shop, or communicate as much as formerly. The adiditional isolation and uncertainty caused by this winter's rotten weather, an overworked staff fatigued by the additional stresses of shoveling, terrible commutes, and power outages as well as the women's own scary steps toward independence, make recovery from battering even harder.
I miss my tiny part in the lives of shelter residents and those who come for groups from "outside." It's only a few hours a week for me: one night when I share supper with the women and kids who live there. An hour when we vent our small and large complaints and laugh or worry at changes in the children. I always ask the women's permission to work with their kids and am grateful for their intial, somewhat reluctant trust.
They know that sometimes others who offer services have taken kids away from battered women. Others who don't understand the complexity of neglect that can happen when a women is held under someone's heel.
So from home, I think about the kids and the women. I wonder if I'll return and find many gone and many new residents who aren't sure what to make of me. I'll keep the bags of clothes in my car until I return. The owner of my gym has given out the word that she will pass on anything members donate to Interval House. And they donate a lot.
I miss those hours with women I watch grow stronger, smile more, begin to hold their children close and gradually re-establish who's "boss."
The tables have turned. I feel isolated from them.