I only took a few photos on today’s walk for two reasons. 1: Uploading all the photos from my phone caused me to go over on my data plan and the batteries in my actual camera were dead. (Note to self…buy rechargeable batteries.) 2: I was distracted by the events that transpired last night and my reaction to them.

The night started off as usual. I read for a little while in bed before the book slipped from my hands and hit me in the face. I turned off the light and went back to sleep. My husband tried to wake me when he finished his online tutoring so we could watch a movie on Netflix together. As usual, he was not successful. Once I’m out it takes a lot to get me out of bed. I continued to sleep soundly until a sound began to creep into my dreams. It was banging and shuffling and grew louder as I came into consciousness. Still half asleep, I tried to mentally locate the source of the sound. Then footsteps, running fast. Just as I realized they were coming from the hallway outside our door a woman’s desperate voice cried out, “Somebody help me! Help me, please!”

My heart began to race as I laid there trying to decide what to do. My first thought was to jump up and see what was happening. Then it occurred to me that if I opened the door the woman might run in followed by her persuer. The sounds from the struggle were coming from right outside our door. I didn’t want to take the chance of putting my family at risk. At that point, I was frozen by indecision. I heard the door to the stairwell across the hallway slam shut and then silence. There I was, still in my comfortable bed trying to make sense of what had just happened. Was this a prank? Remembering the fear in her voice I didn’t think so. Had someone else let her in or at least called the police? Surely. Should I get up and see what’s happening now? I knew I’d have to venture out of the safety of our apartment and my still sleeping husband who, as an infant, lost his mother to a burglar wouldn’t have wanted me to do that. As the questions swirled around my tired brain, I drifted back to sleep.

Again, a sound interrupted my dreams, more abuptly this time. Someone was knocking on the door. Again, unsure of what to do I was still. Another knock, a little louder. I though it might be the police so I sat up and began to head for the door. A third knock, still louder. Whoever it was, they weren’t going away. My husband woke up this time and in a whisper explained everything that had happened. He checked the peephole and said the police were talking to our neighbors across the hall. “We need you to answer the door!” The officer’s voice boomed as he knocked one last time.

I opened the door just enough so they could see me. The three of them began asking questions. “Are you here alone?” “Who else is in there with you?” “Is everyone alright?” “Did you hear anything?” I told them what I had heard, then they asked if I heard gunshots which I hadn’t. “Are you aware of any domestic disturbances here?” I said that things have been pretty quiet around here recently. They went on their way, canvassing the other tenants and we went back to bed. After tossing and turning for a while I was finally able to go back to sleep.

Despite all the commotion, the kids slept soundly through the night and got ready school just like every other day. The sounds of footsteps and the woman’s plea for help interrupted my thoughts as we performed our morning rituals. For a moment I wondered if any of it had happened at all or if it was all just a vivid dream. Once the kids were off to school I headed out for my walk. At first, the sun was shining brightly and it looked like it would be a beautiful day. I took a photo of a stream I pass by everyday.

My thoughts turned again to the woman. I wondered what she was thinking at that moment. Did she feel safe? Was she enjoying the sunshine? Did the morning bring thoughts of hope or more fear and desperation? Was she even thinking anything at all? As I headed West the sky began to reflect my mood. I couldn’t really enjoy the sunshine and was almost relieved to see the clouds taking over.

As I headed into the trees I asked myself why I hadn’t done anything to help her. I thought of the physical and mental abuse I experienced as a child brought upon me by a woman who was abused herself. Was the woman last night living with a person who caused her fear day in and day out? Could she be suffering as a victim of domestic violence right under the same roof? How can we live so close to others and never get to know them at all? Maybe it was a one time thing caused by too much to drink, but why didn’t I help her? All my reasons for doing nothing that seemed so logical at the time didn’t amount to much in the light of day. How could it be ok to do nothing when another human being was pleading for someone to help them? I hoped that somehow she got the help she needed and that today was a new beginning for her. The pain of abuse doesn’t end when the abuse itself does. It lingers on and constantly finds new ways into the life of the person who suffered and all those around them. It affects every relationship they have and can make them feel trapped and alone even when they’re surrounded by people who care about them. Even after years of healing, a single incident can bring back a flood of pain and fear leaving them wondering if they’ll ever really be free. That is what I experienced this morning as I asked myself why I didn’t help her.

By the time I reached the park and turned to head back it was raining. The drops on my face hid the tears that slid down my cheeks. I felt ashamed for not doing anything. Then I began to feel thankful for the life I have now. Thankful that with God’s help I’ve stopped the cycle of abuse in my family. Thankful that even though I can still feel pain from events that took place years and years ago I wake up everyday feeling safe. Thankful that I have the ability to help victims in a way that others who haven’t gone through it can’t. By the time I returned to my starting place I had a new sense of determination and the realization that I can do something to help.

We travel the same path over and over. When we’re able see it from a different perspective and decide to make changes in the way we travel the path it can become a beautiful thing…for us and the people we encounter along the way.

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