It probably would have been nothing to anyone else. Just words, sounds…something somebody else was involved in and had no personal bearing whatsoever.
But not for me.
For me, it was a return to a past I’ve tried hard to put behind me; a return to feelings, thoughts and experiences that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy; a return to thoughts about myself that I have fought tooth and nail to destroy.
And all I did was walk outside my door.
On a recent, hot summer night I walked to my car to go to the grocery store and I’d heard it.
The cries and whimpers.
The undeniable sound of someone being hit and someone else pursuing them
I was paralyzed.
Do I do something for this person I don’t know?
I heard my mind tell me to get involved but my heart to stay away. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s just a quick argument and it will end.
And yet, an hour later, when I’d returned from the store, it was still going on
I felt my mind shutting down, trying to create the safe space in which I had lived for so long in preparation for the battle to come to me.
It was probably the wrong decision, but I turned away. I went inside and tried to pretend I hadn’t heard what I did or at least convince myself it was nothing. I told nobody and worked with every ounce of strength in me to pretend that the evening was normal and for all intents and purposes it was.
Except that my whole body shook and I couldn’t sleep that night. I started blankly at the television hoping a silly comedy would take me someplace else. When that didn’t happen, I picked up my book – the one place I could always escape when I was young, but even that failed to help turn off the echoes I my head. No, I couldn’t hear the fight anymore, but that didn’t mean anything. In my mind, I was right back where I had been so many times before.
The next morning brought bright sunshine and no sign of any damage. Anyone else would never have known there had been shouts, screams, and beatings going on and I was able to start moving toward believing it was a one time thing.
But then I came home from work only to be confronted by the same sounds only louder, more aggressive this time. I couldn’t turn away; I couldn’t pretend it was nothing because in that moment, I was the neighbor across the street from my mothers house growing up; I was that person walking along the canal that turned a blind eye to the screams and cries I heard because it wasn’t my business.
I couldn’t do it.
The police were called.
But for me, the drama wasn’t over.
You see, I have moved back to the neighborhood where a majority of the abuse in my life occurred and while I have been able to move past those things through the years, being confronted by those unforgettable sounds in the same place opened a window to look at those same actions from a new perspective.
I had hoped that, were I to be given a chance to do this in my adulthood, I would have been more successful in seeing things more objectively but, at least on these evenings, this was not the case.
As I stood in the kitchen, shaking, watching the police talk to the couple to decide what needed to be done, I felt connected to the abused person. On the one hand, I could feel the sense of relief knowing she had the opportunity to get away and find someplace safe, But on the other hand, I felt the sense of fear this woman may be feeling about the potential repercussions she would face when they returned to the home, which she most certainly would.
I also felt unsubstantiated fear for myself. Would the abuser know that it was me that put these things in motion? Would he come after me next? I suddenly saw myself walking the way I did in my childhood – head down, eyes seeing only the concrete in hopes that I could make myself as inconspicuous as possible.
Over the course of several days, in many ways I returned to who I was as an abused child. The sense of shame for who I was, the things I have done and have been done to me, and the way those things have undeniably altered who I am was almost unbearable. I felt myself retreating even further, rebuilding walls I had worked so hard to tear down.
The thing is, I know that I am safe. My neighborhood has no power over me and being there has, as I’ve said before, brought some level of healing to old wounds. But being able to see these actions from the outside also opened my eyes to how what these things may have looked like to the neighbors that surrounded me as a child.
Were they equally horrified or did they pretend not to hear?
Did they cry for me or assume it was nothing?
I sincerely hope that they were not as affected as I was – that they were not thrown into a tail spin that affected work, personal relationships and sleep just because they heard violent argument after violent argument.
But I also cannot help but wonder for the millionth time in my life why they didn’t do anything to help. There were no knocks on the door from kind neighbors or police; there were no teachers reaching out to social services nor were there friends’ parents reaching out to offer support or refuge.
And it made me hurt all over again.
To feel alone and worthless.
Now before you go getting all up in arms about the fact that God was there and He is the reason I survived, believe me, I am aware. I know for a fact that He is the reason I have been able to become the woman I am; that I was able to live and not become a lifelong victim and for this I am more grateful than I can express.
But even with this knowledge, I can say for certainty that have no desire to look in from the outside at any more of the experiences that created me. Some things are best left unexamined from that perspective.