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by Stella Orange
Warning: This story contains violence, and may be hard for some to read. Consider skipping if you’re feeling tender or your emotional bucket is already full today.
At 3:00 am on Friday night, the Philosopher and I woke up to someone screaming. I ran to the bedroom window, and looked outside to see a man beating a woman.
I ran out the front door and yelled at the guy to stop. I yelled that I saw him and what he was doing. I yelled I was going to call the police. The man got in his car and drove off, leaving our neighbor in the cold rain in her underwear, crumpled.
We moved the kids and I took her to the ER. She talked to the domestic violence counselor. She filed a police report. She made a safety plan. I stayed with her for eight hours as she did all this. We left the hospital around noon.
But this is not her story. It’s mine.
We had a poker party scheduled for Saturday night. Should we cancel?
We decided to keep our plans, but simplify (and nap).
I was going to cook, but we opted for frozen pizzas and a quick-to-assemble hummus plate, piled high with tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, hunks of feta, chopped parsley, a big dollop of pesto, and several glugs of olive oil.
I, in an effort to right myself, was attempting to tidy the house. The Philosopher insisted that a righteous nap would be a better use of time.
I managed to negotiate a pre-nap bath. Epsom salt. Baking soda. Candlelight.
I soaked, immersing myself in the warm water and allowing the feelings that the adrenaline had pushed aside to surface. Sadness. Anger. Grief. Appreciation. Relief.
And then, I put on my scrubby mitts and scrubbed my skin. I scrubbed away a man who, overcome by his own frustration and hopelessness, externalizes it on the body of another human being. I scrubbed away violence. I scrubbed away a social services system that is well-meaning, but disjointed, bureaucratic, and pretty much insane. I scrubbed away poverty. I scrubbed away the current reality we are in.
What a privilege to be able to close a door, be alone, take a bath, and feel safe enough to feel your feelings! And still, this experience is moving through my system.
Because I am waking up to the idea that this is what I — and maybe what you — have been training for my whole life.
We have been learning how to take what happens to us and make it into something different. We have been learning how to be with ourselves (and others) when the unthinkable happens. We have been learning how to be human when the situation we’re in is shark-eyed and inhuman. We have been learning how to imagine a new possibility in the darkness.
Maybe…just maybe…this is why we are here. To remake ourselves. To allow the terrible things we witness to move us to do something.
When the sun started rising, and my neighbor and I were waiting in her room at the ER, she said, “No one else came out to help me. You were the only one.”
I told her that I’d like to think if the situation were reversed, she would be someone who would help me. She thought about it for a moment, and then replied, “Yes, I would.”
A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, New York, Stella Orange spent a decade having adventures across Japan, the Pacific Northwest, and Montana, and another decade building a popular marketing business. She is the creator of Writing Your Way Home, a workshop where people write their stories. Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange.com.