My bones ache and my joints have swollen, but we have only a few hours of prep work left before the benefit for SAFEHOME and Rose Brooks Center which is being held at my professional suite tonight. As I sit waiting for yet another generous soul to drop off her auction item contribution at my house, I contemplate the blessings that have come my way this week. Though my neck groans when I move; and the ringing in my ears has risen to a crashing crescendo over and over, never dulling to less than a roar; still, the week on balance has been good.
With eyes closed, I sit, thinking of other weeks that did not end with this pleasant feeling, this warmth, with the small smile that never leaves my face. I listen to the birds twittering on the branches hanging near the porch, the song of morning drifting through my home. I let myself drift, thinking of days which linger dimly in memory, faded photographs at the bottom of a box. Days of which I rarely speak; days that I understand shaped the woman whom I became, my quivering nerves, the way I hold my body tight within itself when tempers rise. I speak of the form that those days molded but not the days themselves.
Yesterday's home visit to two children whom I am appointed to represent brought the edges of my past closer to the forefront. The nine-year-old sat nearly rigid in her chair, seemingly all right with my gentle questioning but answering in terse tones, disavowing memory of events just a month or two ago. She let her smile shine when talking of school, of cheerleading, of her Nona; but one eye drifted towards the front door when asked about arguments. I sensed the iron hand of her mother's coaching.
Not so the five-year-old, whom no one expected me to interview. She slid her thin form into the dining room chair and shook her dark blonde curls. I asked her if she knew why I was there. She shook her head. I told her my job was to protect children. Her face lit; she broadened her smile, and told me, Oh, that's really nice of you! I felt a little bit ashamed.
This little one had not been told anything about my visit. On account of this, I think, she did not know to withhold information. She freely described a day when her mother kicked a hole in the front door. But one good thing about that! she chortled, brightly. See how pretty our new door is? Do you have such a pretty door? I admitted that I did not. I said that my door knob did not look so bright as hers. She thought a moment and said, You could take a baby wipe and clean it. I promised that I would.
I asked her if she had seen any other fights. Her eyes widened and she acknowledged that her parents fight all the time. She said, One time in the car, Dad yelled at Mom and Mom hit him like this -- gesturing, her hands flailing rapidly -- Except not in the air, she hit him on his back! She turned back towards me. I asked her how she had felt when that happened. I felt sad, she replied, and the sorrow overtook her face. I felt sad, too, for a moment; sad for her, sad for all the children, sad for myself.
I asked her who she trusted to keep her safe and she told me three names, including neither of her parents. She told me she had trusted her dog, but he died; and now they have a new dog. We talked for a while more, and never in the minutes we spent together did this little thing show any hesitance to share with me. I got the flavor of her mother's relationship with the man who did not in fact father these two girls but did father the child whom the woman carries. They operated in chaos, not yet full-blown abuse, not yet the state where children lie quivering in the dark, in their top bunkbed, imagining their world as a fat yellow crayon drawing concentric circles until the child inside has been trapped by the dirty grey wax.
All that's left is to see if I can orchestrate a diversion on the road that I see this family taking.
This evening, those who attend the benefit at Suite 100 will help raise funds to support two area programs that work with survivors of domestic violence. That term, "DV" as those in the business call it, did not exist during my childhood. But when I first worked as the assistant to the Legal Services lobbyist in Jefferson City, helping pass the Adult Abuse Remedies Act which gave Missouri its civil orders of protection, we knew the phenomenon even if it did not yet have its fancy title. We carried copies of Scream Quietly or the Neighbors Will Hear by Erin Pizzey, a collection of letters from victims of abuse, fresh off the press, raw, telling. Armed with statistics from the fledgling corps of abuse professionals, we knocked on capitol door after capitol door. We tried to explain why the bill was needed, why those enmired in family violence deserved their vote, how it could be acceptable "to exclude a man from his home". At the end of each day, the lawyers from LAWMO in Kansas City and LSEMO in St. Louis, along with my boss, volunteers from mid-Missouri, and I, dropped exhausted in the offices of the state representatives and senators who backed our effort.
That bill took three years to pass. By the last vote, I had already enrolled in law school. I did not get to attend the final session in which the General Assembly narrowly approved the legislation. But for the next 35 years, I would see the statute evolve: Its early survival of a constitutional challenge; the women killed after being denied a protective order; the ones killed with the granted order clutched in their hands. I've heard all the criticisms of these orders of protection: It's just a piece of paper, it cannot protect anyone from a bullet, chief among them.
And that's absolutely right. The only thing that can protect those still caught in the cycle of domestic violence is society's support for their efforts to escape, for the dreams they have of being something other than a victim -- of being a success story on their own terms; of surviving, of thriving, of making a new and peaceful life for themselves and their children.
If someone reading this has the evening free, please join us at the BEER & BBQ benefit this evening, 4010 Washington, Suite 100, Kansas City, Missouri, 7pm to 10pm. Bring your spare change and checkbooks to donate to help fund SAFEHOME (Kansas) and Rose Brooks Center (Missouri). If you cannot come, due to other obligations or distance, please donate to one of these shelters or a shelter in your town. If you cannot donate, consider volunteering. And if you, or someone whom you know, live each day with the terror of violence in your home, please: Reach out. Call a shelter in your town or the national hotline: 1-800-799-7233. There is no shame in needing help; and there might be salvation.