Tonight our county’s women’s shelter and support resource hosted a survivors’ bonfire at a local park. I took my youngest three children, and we had an amazing evening. There was food, music, poetry, a speaker from Zimbabwe, and lots of laughter. It was strange how trauma and tragedy brought us there, but we were all so happy to be at the bonfire together.
Lately I’ve been feeling very isolated and lonely. I adore my children and grandchildren, and it isn’t that they aren’t enough. I just feel tremendous responsibility as the matriarch of the family. My dad’s one older brother and his younger sister have been trying to make a connection since my dad passed away last spring, but, even though we’re family, we don’t really know each other. Most of my friends don’t seem to understand or accept the dangerous realities of domestic violence even if they are supportive. We haven’t been able to find a church where the theology is right and where we get treated right. It just seems like I don’t belong anywhere.
For two hours tonight though I belonged. I was at home.
The advocate who leads our support group, who knows me so well and has stood by me for over a year and a half, was there loving on me and my children. She and my youngest both love horses, and every time she sees something with a horse on it she gets it for my daughter. Last winter she is the one who bought my youngest son a coat. She has guided me, encouraged me, admonished me, listened to me, and prayed for me. She says I’ve done this on my own. I say I couldn’t have done it without her.
The head of the support team was there tonight and roasted marshmallows with my 6 year old. She was the one who sat with my oldest son and me the first time we appeared in court over thirteen months ago. She sat beside me that day as my husband petitioned the court to expunge his domestic violence conviction. He was quite surprised that I had him served with a restraining order and divorce papers when he appeared, but he was really surprised and angered by the log of abuse I had been keeping for over a year. I submitted it as evidence to the court, requesting the judge deny his petition. My husband lost his temper in the courtroom. This woman stood between him and me and then quickly escorted my son and me to her personal car. She drove us around for awhile in an effort to throw him off in case he was planning to come after me. Her presence that day comforted me and allowed me to make it through that unforgettably frightening experience.
The young woman was there who watches the children during our support group meetings. She does projects that encourage each of them to embrace their femininity or masculinity accordingly and not be ashamed of who they are. She does crafts with them. She involves herself in their interests. She has become their friend.
The young speaker/musician from Zimbabwe was so warm, friendly, and comfortable that it was as if she’d been with us all along. She played peek a boo with my 3 year old in an attempt to get my shy little girl to interact with someone. She posed for pictures and asked for copies. And, after this young woman spoke and performed, she and my 12 year old did crafts together in the dark by the light of a cell phone.
There were a few other survivors there, too. One who has been going through the process right along with me at the same pace, one who had been attending for quite awhile when I first came, and another who came a few months after I did. We share a camaraderie that is unique to those who’ve been in the trenches together and lived through it. We easily forgive each other’s social faux pas and can communicate with just our eyes.
My children bounced to the car, happy and full of s’mores, with their crafts in hand after hugging everyone goodbye several times and telling these women that they love them. Yes, tonight we had a place to belong, and it felt good.