A Cautionary Tale (Chapter 6)

30 03 2009

 

Trish took a moment and looked at the women gathered. The faces changed every 18 months but the look was always the same. She didn’t get tired of seeing their eyes go from being frightened of a slammed door or glass breaking to brimming with confidence when it was time to leave. Some women didn’t have the courage to go through the process and she usually took it personally when they left after only a few weeks. But Trish knew deep down it was not so. It had taken her seven tries before she actually left her abusive husband without looking back.

“Okay everyone. Let’s get started,” Trish said raising her hand to silence the women. “We want to welcome Monica to Hope House.”

The women all clapped and sent words of encouragement to Monica, who was sticking as close to Leah as she could.

“Usually it would be Monica’s turn to share her story but I don’t think she is ready for that just yet. So, I thought I would share a bit of my own, as it’s been a long time since I have done so. In fact none of you here now have ever heard it. 

“I chose the name for the shelter because it represents for me two of the most important ingredients to successful living. When you lose your ability to hope, you lose your sense of direction, your security and the safety of home,” she said pausing to take a deep breath. I thought when I met Randy I found my hope and my home in him. He was one of those guys that appeared to have everything going for him. The looks, the lines, the cash and he wanted me. What could be better than that?”

“He was terribly committed — I was swept away and lost myself in his goodwill and charm,” Trish remembered. “I didn’t notice the possessiveness and jealousy to be a problem. In fact, I found his level of caring to be quite comforting.” Trish waited a beat before continuing. “As the relationship progressed the more controlling he seemed to become. Little did I know – he was controlling all along — I just didn’t want to see it in him.”

Trish didn’t want to take up too much of the meeting time talking about her but she wanted the ladies to know that, to a degree, they all suffered in similar ways. So, she went on.

“Jealousy plus possessiveness plus alcoholism proved a near deadly combination on many occasion but through it all I thought — if we could only treat and cure the addiction all would be well in the land of Trish and Randy…”

Trish wanted to wrap up but continued. “I considered myself educated so I didn’t think it possible to become a victim over something I could control.” She tried to inject a little humor, “My personal motto has become– reverse psychology only works on the unsuspecting! I really didn’t believe he could manipulate nor out think me but I found myself altering my life in order to prevent arguments.”

Trish recalled, “Initially, I was not afraid of him, if anything, I would have expected a little mutual combat before I ever imagined I would be a victim.”

This produced a few giggles, which let Trish know she still held their attention.

Although years removed, revisiting that period of time could still produce emotion in Trish — she swallowed the lump in her throat and went on to describe the making of a domestic violent victim.  Trish described how domestic violence doesn’t always appear in the more recognizable forms.

“I isolated myself — spending less time entertaining and interacting with friends and family and spending more time with him. I didn’t realize isolation doesn’t always mean, geographically taking one away from their friends and family.”

“I just want to let you know, that this too will pass. Time is the master and although you can’t see the end of the tunnel. It is there. You will feel again, you will laugh again, you will love again!”

The silence was tangible. Trish smiled and made sure her eyes touched each woman.

“Welcome to Hope House everyone. You have to be willing to be honest with yourself first, and then with us. You will make it out of here, free and ready to move on.”

“Hope House is not a place to hide out until the danger passes,” Trish told the women. “If you only hide out here, then when it is your time to leave you will go back to the same life. The issue is not men, the issue is you. Are you ready to face yourself and do what is necessary to attract the good you deserve in your life?”

Sabrina raised her hand and Trish allowed her to speak. “I thought you were crazy the first time you said that. It’s easier to blame someone else for the condition of your life, than to take responsibility, make the corrections and move on.”

As Trish looked across the room she witnessed so many emotions flashing across the faces of those who had made the choice to journey back to live with dignity and the freedom to love and be loved. The look of confidence was too deeply lodged behind their feelings of uncertainty, and the fear that dictated their daily lives prior to them coming to Hope House. But, as they began to introduce themselves to one another she could sense that the walls that these women lived behind to escape their fears no longer seemed impossible to tear down. What seemed like a journey from which they would never escape their horrors was now finally underway. And, for the first time in a long time they didn’t have to travel with the fear of being alone.

“Before we leave to handle chores and other responsibilities,” Trish, said with a beaming smile on her face and a bigger one in her heart. “Sabrina has been accepted to college. She will be a full-time student, moving to another city, has a part-time job lined up and will regain custody of her children  and all of this within the next two months. Please give our sista’ some love.”

There was a smattering of applause, visible tears, raised fists, and high-fiving for Sabrina, and for the reality that someone else was moving forward. The women were all standing now.

“Speak, speak,” they shouted in unison.

“I want to think I could not have done this without you, but I know GOD was always there for me, and somehow I was destined to pull my life together,” Sabrina said in between her tears and her arms outstretched. “But knowing you, and getting the support from you at a time when I had nowhere to go and no one to talk to, helped me get there just a little bit faster. Thank you.” Sabrina closed touching her heart with both hands.

Chief Motivator, the role and responsibility that had been Bren’s before she left, became Sabrina’s, the next of ‘Hope House’ residents that was scheduled to leave. Sabrina would be going back to school, and had a tentative apartment for her and her children. Sabrina’s two children had been removed from her care when she was hospitalized with injuries sustained in the worst domestic violence she had ever been a victim of.

She always seemed to pick those types of men, but this last attack made her examine herself and why she was always a victim. After nearly two years, Sabrina learned more about herself than she had in all of her 26 years. She was ready to gain qualitative control over her life, and become a functional mother and protector to her children.

By design, Hope House looked no different than any other house on the block of spacious town homes. Trish took a moment to reinforce a few safety matters. Safety and security were non-negotiable rules — all members received a welcome package upon admittance but she wanted to make very clear the importance placed on those two areas.

Rhetorically, Trish went on, “What’s the use of leaving a violent situation for the safety we try to offer, if you are going to lead them back here.” Finally, Trish added, “Discretion is an absolute must and further, it would be wise to travel in pairs.” Trish hoped her sincerity was evident — she had learned a lot while running Hope House and knew all too well the dangers of a spouse who felt rejected, desperate, disrespected and abandoned.

Trish tried to put the incident behind her but it seemed impossible to completely forget. Maybe she wasn’t supposed to forget — perhaps her passion was realized because she remembered. For many years Trish wondered what she did wrong and in that wrong — if she’d somehow failed to protect the women of Hope House… her creation.  About a year after Trish secured funding she cut the ribbon on Hope House and immediately began state referred clients. Trish had never been really business minded but she was determined to offer this service. She didn’t know what she didn’t know, so she experienced a bit of trial and error before she found her stride.

While in Hope House, residents were encouraged to seek higher education, job training, parent instruction classes, self-defense classes, and to take a look at other available classes to broaden their horizons. A personal coach/social worker was assigned to each resident and each had twice weekly one-hour personal sessions as well as group time with the on staff therapists. A holistic approach was taken in helping the women recover and repair their lives. It was one of the requirements Trish insisted upon when getting the initial funding for the facility.

Trish tried to focus on the details of Sabrina’s farewell party– she was proud of the successes but she became lost in her thoughts…. Shuttering, she would never forget the night Randy found her and broke into Hope House. Trish was cautious by nature but had become a bit complacent in varying her routine. Randy was patient… and crazy and those two don’t match. Trish didn’t know how long he had her under his surveillance but be was familiar enough to maneuver himself within Hope House.

Trish would never forget stepping out of the shower to Randy sitting on the toilet seat looking into the machete he held — staring at his own crazed reflection. Trish panicked when she scanned the room and saw the security panic button ripped from the wall and the cordless telephone outside her reach. My God she thought….

It seemed an eternity had passed but in actuality it had only taken a few seconds for Trish to assess her situation and to remember. She was already dead.

She died the day she surrendered her life to Christ and let Him come to live inside of her. If she was already dead, then Randy could not kill her. He could not take what was no more. That strengthened her resolve and on shaking limbs she told him to get out her house and out of her life. He ranted and raved as usual but his words no longer had the power to move her. She knew who she was and she knew what she needed. Randy had nothing to offer her and the look in his eyes said he knew he had lost.

……..

Leah slipped away from the group, and thought about the time she would give such a speech to these phenomenal women and their support. While cleaning the staff bathrooms, which was her chore for the week, Leah thought of the possibility of her going back to school. What would she do? Was she too old now? Could she still learn and keep up? Those were questions her son would ask, but her daughters and grandchildren would be supportive and cheer her on.

The staff bathroom was next to the administrative offices and Leah thought she could hear a muffled sobbing coming from Trish’s. There was something that made the sound almost familiar and uncomfortable, but she went on with her chores, thinking it was possibly a client. After her chores were completed, she passed Trish’s office and saw the “Please Do Not Disturb” sign, taped on the door.

Leah always loved to work with fabric. She spent hours with her grandmother who was a seamstress. She was a very good one too. As a child, she would help her grandmother with the ladies who came for fittings. Then when her ‘Sweet’ Gammy’ died suddenly she lost all interest in ever wanting to pick up those sewing needles. Inwardly, she laughed at herself ever being as good as her grandmother, but she knew that it was a gift she had because her grandmother many times let her sew many of the patterns for her, and those dresses sold for quite a bit of money too.

She knew she possessed a gift. But, the sudden loss of her ‘Sweet Gammy’ was just too much for her to want to pick up those needles. But swelling up deep down inside after each bathroom floor she scrubbed was the desire to pick up those needles again, and hear her ‘Sweet Gammy’ say, “You sho got the gift child; you sho got the gift.”

While Leah was in the downstairs residents lounge, looking through the vast assortment of college pamphlets for adult education, she glanced around at the several women reading, writing and a couple preparing to leave the building for an outside trip. She also noticed there were residents that huddled together near the offices and were conversing in shushed voices. She could not make out what was being said, but their faces showed great intensity.

Leah began asking questions to herself. “What was that all about? Why were they standing in front of Trish’s door? Didn’t I hear someone sobbing from her office? Was that Trish? Is that why they were talking so quietly? Unfortunately, there were no answers…yet. 

Just then, the office door swung open and out walked…an apparently shaken Trish. The residents followed Trish to her car urging her to tell them what was wrong. Leah was such the worrier and she knew the pangs in her stomach wouldn’t subside until she knew what was wrong. Something was wrong… or, at least — not right. 

Trish had learned to trust her instincts the hard way and somehow the spirit even guided her thoughts. There was a reason why Randy had crossed her mind during the session and it was much more than for a pep talk to the residents. The women were calling for her to stop and give them answers but she didn’t know where to start. She opened the door then turned to Leah who had somehow made it to the front of the line. 

“Keep everyone calm for me until I get back. All is well. I just need some time to sort some things out.”

Leah nodded and began to shuffle the women back in doors. They were not supposed to be outside anyway but Trish had been too distracted to even challenge the rule being broken en masse. Leah called the women into the kitchen and asked them to join with her in a prayer for Trish. No one declined; they knew Trish was the lifeline between them and a new life. She had to be okay. If Trish couldn’t make it, how could they believe they would?

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