I've been volunteering at a domestic violence shelter for 4+ years. I provide play therapy and groups for kids from 3-teenage. Here's my routine: I arrive, check the office board to see who has left and who has arrived. I arrange chairs in my group space, sign in, and eat the supper I've brought--usually a tv dinner and fruit.
Supper time, about 45 minutes before group time, is when I meet the women and moms. Some kids are upstairs doing homework, getting bathed and in pj's (to avoid the rush after groups), or eating supper. This time is always interesting. Some women and kids are watching tv or a video. Some kids are playing or eating and talk to me while they play.
New women, identifiable by their sadness, slow movement, and glazed expressions, may wander around or cook something for supper. Sometimes they have wrists in a cast or an arm in a sling. Occasionally, they have a black eye or decided limp. They remind everyone there--adults and kids-- what they have escaped.
People tend to treat them gently, to offer help or food, to pick up their crying baby if they seem too exhausted to do so. Their sadness spreads over the room sometimes. It's more quiet. Kids look away or seek Mom. I breathe deeply and feel grateful that no boyfriend or my husband has ever treated me as his personal punching bag.
It's not that my marriage is perfect. It's that we like each other and we are equals. It's that we work things out, set aside the issue we can't solve yet, or give in when necessary. Violence is not needed. Control by fear and abuse is not part of our lives.
I'm not bragging. I'm grateful. Every time I go to the shelter I hope that every woman and child there will someday find a way to live without fear or violence--whether alone or with a different kind of partner. And every time I think of those who have succeeded in getting away from that life, I pray for those who left the shelter too soon. I hope they are all right, that someday their escape will "take."
But I let them go. There are new women and children at the shelter now, each one looking for a better life and I want to be part of that.