Editor’s note: Starting with this issue of CFJ Hope News, we are giving our survivors a voice, so we can all better understand what our client’s face daily. Today, meet the band mom, soccer mom, active community volunteer with a law degree and a master’s degree who is just like you. She is your next-door neighbor who harbored a terrible secret for almost two decades, a secret she shares with us today. “It’s important for everyone to understand that domestic violence does not happen only in the inner city. It happens in suburbia, but people just don’t like to talk about it.” Let the conversation begin and continue to build….
THE BOTTOM OF THE STAIRS
I sit at the bottom of the stairs overwhelmed by emotional fatigue, my only companion a box of cookies. My body at high alert, my breathing as still and quiet as I can make it. I try to keep the tears inside willing them to not spill from my eyes, willing my emotions to be numb, I cannot weaken my alertness. I slowly chew each cookie very carefully and quietly studying how is the best way to chew…on my right side of my mouth…on my left side of my mouth….how to get the cookie to ease down my throat moist enough from my saliva so there will be no choking which would jeopardize my situation. I listen very intently for any sounds coming from the upstairs bedroom. Hearing none, I crawl ever so slightly up to a higher step and turn my head towards the room leaning ever so gently on the railing. And then I hear the sound I have been waiting for, a deep throaty snore from the bedroom. I count to twenty to be sure that the snoring is real, that I am momentarily safe. “Twenty-one” I whisper in my head and I relax, the tension of my body releases I am safe for the moment. And I quietly tiptoe so quietly on my toes to the TV room and slump into a chair and allow my tears to flow. I am so happy for this moment when I am safe and can think. It is treasured me time. But I know I cannot enjoy it for more than a few minutes, I know I cannot read a book or watch TV or clean, or sit with a cup of tea. No I can do none of those things. For if I make noise and he wakes up, my moments of peace will be shattered by abuse. The only thing I can do for myself is to go upstairs towards the snoring, into the room where my abuser is sleeping, and carefully gently lie down on the very edge of my side of the bed, as far away from my abuser as I can be without falling on the floor, close my eyes, pretend to be asleep and wait for sleep to come. And if he does not wake up I have won more peace for myself until early the next morning when just after dawn he will put his face right in front of mine and say to my clearly sleeping body “Are you awake?” over and over again. And I will try with all of my strength to not move a muscle to pretend I am still asleep hoping this time he will just leave me be. But he never does. Sometimes he will pound the bed with his fist to hasten my wake up, and now tasting fear I stop pretending and ‘wake up’. And he will be happy because I am awake. Not happy because he loves me but happy that he can abuse me for another day.