Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Strength to Leave

Hey everyone!

I hope you're all feeling blessed today :-) I am.

Last night, I left work at 8pm...it was a long day. I walked down the sidewalk past the Women's Shelter that lives next door to A&E. Sometimes there are women outside smoking cigarettes, talking on their cell phones, or arguing with each other in the street. Sometimes there are even police officers called to the shelter to break up some dispute the women are having among themselves. Not often, but I've seen it.

I used to think to myself, "why did they put the shelter here, on this street, where there are businesses and professional people walking around? Not a good look for any visitors to the area."

As I approached the corner, a woman stopped me. She was probably in her 40's, although life made her look much older. She was carrying a bag, had on a jacket (even though it was hot and humid outside), jeans and sneakers. She looked like she had on a few layers of clothing...like she was wearing everything she owned.

"Excuse me. Is there a women's shelter around here?" she asked me.

I turned and pointed up the street, "Yes, right there...under the scaffolding, on the left hand side of the street." She looks and pauses...she doesn't move.

"Do you ever see women fighting there? Is it safe?"

I was surprised by her question, because she asked as if she'd been in unsafe shelters before.

I told her it seemed okay to me, and that even though I'd seen police there before, it was a safe area and the women seemed nice. She searched my eyes for something more...and then hers welled up with tears.

"I left my husband. He beats me."

I think I stopped breathing for a second...maybe two, three. My heart broke in a million little pieces as a tear rolled down her cheek. Without even thinking, I hugged her...and she hugged me back.

And then I had to check myself. Here I am wondering why they put a women's shelter on this busy, "business-district" street in mid-town, when I should be grateful that there was at least one shelter in the city for women to go to. Any of the "professional women" I see walking around on a daily basis could easily end up in a shelter one day if we're not careful. Maybe even me.

Of course, we'd like to think that could never happen to us. I can't even imagine myself as the type of woman who would allow a man to abuse her. But I'm sure the hundreds of thousands of women who are abused each year never thought it could happen to them either. Domestic violence transcends all race and class boundaries. While I do believe that there are some serious emotional and self esteem issues plaguing women who find themselves in abusive relationships, anyone can find themselves in the wrong relationship where they didn't see the abuse coming - both men and women.

After I hugged her, she thanked me and reluctantly headed up the street towards the shelter. I stood watching her for a moment, thinking how brave she is to leave and how afraid she must be in doing so. So many times we ask ourselves why women who are being beaten don't "just leave." But sometimes, they simply don't have any place to go - and if they do, the place they're going to might not be any safer. I can't imagine leaving one hell, just to end up in another one. At least the hell they know at home is familiar to them...unlike the unknown of a shelter in mid-town.

I said some extra prayers for her last night. I hope she got a good night's rest and had some peace of mind. And I asked God to forgive me for having the thoughts I did about the shelter in the first place. Maybe if my grandmother would have had somewhere to go and the means to do so, she would have left my grandfather long before she passed away at the age of 42. Maybe she would have lived longer instead of suffering in an abusive marriage that probably led to her diminishing health. Maybe I would have gotten a chance to meet her.

And lastly, I thanked God for the mother I have and the upbringing she gave me...all on her own. I'm thankful she never allowed herself to be abused like her mother was - therefore I never saw any of that growing up. I'm thankful she taught me self worth and to love myself unconditionally. I'm thankful that she became a better, stronger mother and protector after experiencing what she did growing up. I can't imagine suffering such a tremendous loss - that of her mother - at the young age of 23...a young mother herself. I'm thankful my mother has lived...and continues to live...past the age of 42.

The woman I met last night took a stand and finally decided to leave her abuser. And we all think that women who are in that situation should "just leave." But women who are financially dependant on their husbands, who have children, who are afraid, who are intimidated, and who are isolated from friends and family may not find "leaving" so easy to do.

Yes, women in abusive relationships play a key role in improving their own situations. No one can leave for them. However, in most cases, they can't do it alone either. They need support and resources, which are still grossly inadequate in many cities and states. Most cities are required to have more animal shelters than shelters for abused women and children. Does that make sense to you? Don't get me wrong, I'm an animal lover...but come on. Seriously?

Given that reality, I think the question we should be asking instead of "why don't they just leave?' should be "How did they manage to leave their abusers in the face of so many obstacles?" Maybe if the woman I hugged last night stays at the shelter, and I see her again, I'll ask her.



Annamaria said...

first bitches!!!!

Brooke said...

and she's back :-)

Annamaria said...

Brooke First I have to say you are an AMAZING woman. Not only for the reaction you had but the way you treated her & the fact that this incident touched you. Most people wouldn't be giving it a second thought.

Secondly I think it takes an AMAZINGLY strong woman to do what that woman did. And I would hope & pray that if I was in that situation that I would have the strength to leave. It's easy to sit here now when I'm not there to say that I would shank & tase but you never know until you are there. I also pray that neither Jada nor Sophia EVER find themselves in that situation because then I'd have to kill someone.
My mother left an abusive husband and raised 3 kids before she met my dad so I know it can be done & I have had amazing examples of how men should treat women.
I take my hat off to anyone with that strength & pray that NO ONE reading this is going thru this situation

The Cable Guy said...

This was great Brooke, I was really touched by the story. I hope she's doing okay and that you made her feel just a little bit safer.

Brooke said...

Thank you Annamaria. I met your mother and she appears to be a strong, happy woman. I can see where you get it from :)

And you're right, I could sit here and tell you that I'd be upside a dude's head with a frying pan and some hot grits before I allow myself to be beaten. Think Sophia in the Color Purple - "I'll kill 'em dead!" But women who were brought up with emotional or self esteem issues...or who developed them thru a string of bad relationships, may not think that way or react the way they think they would. It's sad.

And this is a societal issue, not just a women's issue, or a self esteem issue. Instead of blaming the victim for not getting out, we have to be more diligent in recognizing domestic violence when we see it and help to do something about it.

Cable guy, I hope she feels safer now too.

Annamaria said...

It definitely is a societal issue not just a woman's issue. It affects kids (if there are any) and it affects the man also. Most cases it's a cycle & the man doesn't realize he is even doing anything wrong becuase of the sickness in his mind. Doesn't make it right but we need to start from day one letting CHILDREN know that they can't hurt another person. I say children because there are women that are just as abusive as some men are...

Brooke said...

To me, it's like telling students in areas that have no resources for a decent education that all they have to do is study harder. Blaming the victims of a societal problem doesn't help. Education, resources and support does.

And you're right, women can be just as abusive as men, yet instances of domestic abuse on men is highly under-reported because men feel that it makes them appear weak to be beaten at the hands of a woman. And don't even get me started on abuse on children. They are the most innocent in these situations, and don't have the ability to remove themselves from it. It's a cycle...and so sad.

the pirate said...

Wow Brooke, what a topic. As you know, I have been an instructor for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice for the Evidenced-Based Prosecution for Domestic Violence cases. The purpose of the course if to teach Police Officers to obtain the correct information so that the victim never has to testify. This is two-pronged. First, the victim is always afraid to testify due to the potential for further abuse. Second, domestic violence has a cycle. The victim always feels a "honeymoon stage" since the aggressor will always attempt, and more time than not, will "make up" with the victim. Then the victim feels sorry for the aggressor. I have worked with many investigators, SANE nurses, and Battered Women's shelters. The amazing thing about your post is that people knew where the shelter was. They are ALWAYS suppose to be clandestine for the safety of the occupants. Yes, the occupants may fight amongst each other, but that is because that is what they know. Damn shame. I have always been an advocate for the abused, even before there were mandatory arrest situations. Maybe it was because of my numerous personal experiences. You see, when we describe the participants of an act of Domestic Violence, as professionals, we determine the victim and the aggressor. There are no gender specific incidents. As far as my personal experiences; my Mother abused my Father, and he never retaliated. From this learned behavior, I became a victim, not once but twice. The second time, the people that responded were the same people that I instructed. Embarrassing!!
I did feel helpless. This is the reason for my empathy of the situation. Domestic Violence is wrong. Domestic Violence should be recognized and understood by everyone. People are ashamed and embarrassed when they have to ask for help. Domestic Violence kills. McNair, Gatti, Rihanna, Cherica Adams, and just yesterday in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia, where a mother was killed fleeing from the aggressor, in a vehicle, and still shot in front of her two children. Her son asked the police if his Mommy was dead because of the blood coming from her mouth. The aggressor then killed himself. Domestic Violence is an equal opportunity crime. There are no gender, color, professional, or religious boundaries. Thank you for your help and understanding for the woman yesterday. People need to understand the cycle of Domestic Violence.

Brooke said...

Wow, I had no idea it was so close to you. Thank you for sharing that.

It's way more prevalent than alot of us realize, and it's all around us. I'm so thankful to have never witnessed it personally, but just knowing it happens everyday is enough to make us want to help.

Or it should.

The story you told of the woman in Philadelphia being killed in front of her two children breaks my heart, because who knows what those children will grow up believing, or DOING, as a result. I hope they get help and couseling so that the cycle can end with them. Unimaginable.

-V- said...

Ironic ... I just heard this morning that for the first time in U.S. history, there are more single/divorced women than married women.

The one thing I tell all of my friends, cousins, or whomever is, "It never gets better." If you're in a new relationship and you've got issues now, or subtle signs of trouble – they will come to a head sooner or later.

What you see in the beginning is the best of him – almost always.

Remember this ladies: the essence of a man never changes. He may be able to polish himself up for a while to woo you or make up for something he did but ...

BTW Brooke, if any knucklehead ever puts his hands on you I'm jackin' a plane & bringin' my boys with me!

Brooke said...

V, I totally believe you'd do that! You'd be the first call I make :) Thank you :)

I used to wonder how people found themselves in situations like that, because it would seem that violent behavior isn't something you can hide for very long. Maybe it's something that escalates. Maybe it starts off as a little jealousy, then possessiveness, then verbal abuse, then physical abuse. Who knows.

But I agree, the first sign of ANY of that should be a warning sign. If your gut tells you that someone is dangerous, then run. Hopefully, they'll be no children involved, but even if there are, you have to leave for their safety as well as your own. I know easier said than done in a lot of cases.

It doesn't surprise me that there are more single/divorced women now more than any other time... because it's hard to find a good person who will treat you the way you deserve to be treated, always. Men may not believe that, but trust me...it's true. It's just easier to be single than deal with all the bullsh*t. I know for me it is anyway. No one is worth your safety and peace of mind - and that goes for both men AND women.

DMoe said...


What a phenomenal, impactful blog topic. I must say, as I read this, the attention to the matter of domestic violence seemed so much more humanized as a result of the color you painted that picture in.

As we all share our personal experiences after reading this, I feel compelled to address my thoughts from the 3 perspectives I see it in:

1. A son - As a young child, I was involved in parental disputes that have never left my consciousness to this day. Even though things did not reach terribly violent extremes, there were awful situations I recall vividly that lie hidden within my spirit. I am governed by the memory.

2. A man - Throughout my teenage, young adult and grown man years, There have been some moments in my interactions with women that may have had the potential to spiral into violence. Naturally, my 19-yr old DMoe reactions vary from those of the 36-year old DMoe, but the part of your existence that regulates common sense, decency, and the repercussions of one's actions has to always play a role. If you lose the ability to maintain that, the resulting breakdown has no guaranteed outcome, and that - I cannot tolerate within myself.
While neither versions of the aforementioned DMoes is/were perfect, I am governed by the premise.

3. A father - There are some things that fathers teach daughters unconsciously. A father's interaction with the child he raises to be a good young lady, woman and person speaks a certain language for her future interactions with men.

My daughter pays close attention to what I say, but there's more. She pays attention to my ability to problem-solve, resolve conflict, and find peaceful solutions. She knows I possess the ability to rain fire down upon her azz if she sasses a teacher, but this fear has a limit in both thought and deed. While that is the fatherly-discipline side of our relationship, here's the greater point:
If I can instill the graceful, respectful images in her psyche, her ability to locate/recognize a mate with good examples of these abilities with be that much greater. While her sense of a good man may not be without flaws as she develops later in life, she has an example of how she should be treated when she fails, and what success is on normal days. That foundation has to count for something, and that is something I can control - NOW. I am also governed by this premise.

The statistics in our community have a larger impact than we realize. The absence of fathers in many young lives produce many, many varying, sometimes disgraceful results. A father can actually be in a kid's life, and be a bad example. Worse than him NOT being there at all...Domestic violence is a by-product of many bad examples, a lack of guidance, and the overall missed assignments of loved ones while abusers are growing up and learning to handle problems in such a way.

To state a philosophy plainly, you should never fight someone who's azz you KNOW you can whip.

That's just lame.


Brooke said...

Dmoe, the one thing you wrote that I think makes a HUGE difference in whether a woman finds herself in an abusive relationship is the role a father plays in her life. If the man in her life is abusive, she most likely will seek a man who will abuse her, because that's her idea of love. If she has a strong man in her life who treats her and her mother with respect and decency, then she will hopefully demand that from any future man (or woman) that she decides to enter into a relationship with.

They said young girl and boys who play sports, don't drink, don't smoke, play musical instruments, go to church, etc. are less likely to find themselves in abusive relationships because they have a certain sense of self and other activiites that validate them. But it first starts at home. Your mother, your father - those are who validate you first. Or who SHOULD validate you first. No matter what you got going on outside in the world, what you see and experience at home can make or break you. Thank you for your take on it from not just as a son or a man, but as a father as well.

Yolanda said...

It is sooo not cute for me to go into the ugly cry at work. I had to seriously check myself and look up after reading this. You know, the "let me stare at the ceiling so the tears won't roll down my face" look up?!?

This was a great read, Brooke. It makes me grateful to come from a strong line of women as well. My Grandmother packed up her 2 little girls and left my Grandfather early on in their marriage because he struck her also. I didn't learn that story until I was almost 30 yrs old. They eventually worked it out and were married for close to 40 yrs. But, it goes to show you, we find strength in so many places: from within and even from a caring stranger on the street.

Thanks for writing this.

Tony said...

Brooke, Wow! You touched me very deeply with this one. Thank you. My mother and I were talking about Aunt Shirley the other day and now you mention her here. There mus be a reason for that. I have to say that there was a great point made in that a father's influence can help to decide whether or not a woman finds herself in an abusive relationship. I would like to add that a father's influence also can help to decide whether or not his son finds himself as an abuser. I know that my children, ESPECIALLY my sons, watch my every move, so that later in life they can react to a situation the "way their father would." The last thing I want is to encourage them, through my own actions, to abuse or accept abuse.

Brooke said...

Yolanda, I wrote this as soon as I got home. I couldn't get her out of my mind. I still can't. When I went out for lunch today, there were some women coming and going, looking over their shoulders - some looked happy, relieved, others...scared. I don't think I ever paid that much attention to their expressions before today because I'm too busy in my own world to even think about it.

I found myself looking for her today.

Tony, I think about her often, even though I've never met her. I see how my mom is with Kyce and Ibrahim and how much loves she gives them and she always says how much her mother would have loved us, or how she would have been with great grandchildren. I miss her, and I never even knew her.

Serena W. said...

Amazing read Brooke. I felt the emotion come off the page as I read it. I'll never forget my sista girl who left when my goddaughter (who is now almost 17) was struck by the father. He did it while my goddaughter was in the room. Although she was a baby you never know what children remember.

This blog took me back to when she called me after everything and told me she packed up her and my goddaughter and went to a womens shelter. It broke my heart that she went to one. But now her testimony is so powerful.

They reconciled and have been cordial but he's still somewhat messed up. It took her so much courage to go to a shelter with whatever she owned in bags to start over.

She left...just like the lady from last night. But there are a lot that don't make it out. Brooke you're a gem. I used to volunteer at a womens shelter and when I get myself together I'm going to do it again. Just touch a woman and help her through brought joy to myself and those who were served.

momo925 said...

Great blog Brooke! I was so moved and touched by this and I have to say that I truly appreciate your compassion for other people. I too have thought the same thing while working on this block ... "why the hell did they put a shelter here??". Today, because of you, I have to re-evaluate that thought. I have been fortunate enough to never experience or witness domestic abuse in my life, but if I ever happen to find myself in that kind of situation, I would hope I come across someone whose eyes held compassion and hope instead of judgement and disgust.

Brooke said...

Serena, I remember your blog about your friend and domestic violence. I thought about it as I wrote my blog last night. I bet her testimony is amazing and I'm sure she serves as an awesome role model for her daughter.

Mo, I was almost embarrassed to write my thoughts about the shelter before I met that woman. But I had to be true to myself and the error of my ways. Definitely a wake up call that I needed.

Annamaria said...

You shouldn't have been embarrassed. You aren't the first you aren't the last & I'm sure that others have worse thoughts about that shelter. At least you looked past the bad & found the compassionate side of yourself.....You probably saved that womans life last night with just a hug. You are a true inspiration. And I thank you...

Rameer said...

Wow. That's all I can say.

Extremely moving and poignant. Thank you for this.

Ms. Toni said...

Hey Brooke! Great piece! As one who has have the fortune of making it to and through a women's shelter, I say thank you for being honest about your initial reaction and your reflection. I wish I, as a business lady, had know of a woman's shelter in a business district. I am curious as to how many business women stop in that shelter confidentially for assistance or advice. Also, puting a shelter in that type of area allow the women to constantly see that "it gets better".

Thanks again for this piece.

Anonymous said...

Hey Brooke,
I volunteer with a shelter program sponsored by my church. We host 10 women per night Sunday-Thursday.
In response to your blog and if anyone finds it in their heart; we are always looking for volunteers. We're right on 92nd Street and Amsterdam.
Those on your blog can email me for more info if they want to give of their time to women much like the one you blogged about.
Thanks Brooke for creating awareness.
God bless~

Brooke said...

Thank you April!

You all do great work there, true angels!

Anonymous said...

hi everyone from Morocco....we are fine but the computer is acting funny as always....i can only blog and check emails so I hope you get this

Anonymous said...

Dear Brooke,
Came across your post today as I was searching for strength to leave an abusive relationship. For the most part it has been emotionally abusive, which is just as difficult to endure, but brings with it self-doubt. Most people who are physically abused are also emotionally abused, and it is the second that steals your resolve to leave and your confidence that doing so is the right thing, regardless of the costs.

I am a professional woman in the mental health field and should "know better", but you are right that abuse often creeps into a relationship, as you put up with one behavior, a worse one comes out, and so on. I also have a small child and hopes of preserving a family can be very seductive.

I am writing you so that you know that your words are wise and compassionate toward women in these difficult relationships. Speaking as one of them, it was a comfort to find your blog and read about the experience you had and your thoughts about it. God is using you. Keep writing!

Brooke said...

Thank you so much for commenting. I'm so sorry that you are suffering through emotional abuse - I can't even begin to imagine how you feel or what you're going through.

That said, I know you will find the strength you need for you and your child to get away from the abusive behavior. I'll say prayers for you and your family and thank you for taking the time to read the blog. Your courage is an inspiration.

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