Nicole’s story: A stranger’s call saved my life
When I was in college I lived near a couple who fought constantly. Yelling would lead to throwing things, which in turn would lead to the man attacking the woman, causing blood-curdling screams that echoed in the driveway between their building and mine. Eventually, the man would leave, slamming the door and burning tire rubber as he drove off. Then I would hear the woman cry. Her sobs were deep, trembling, uncontrollable and desperate. She cried until I assume she cried herself to sleep. She sounded like a wounded animal caught in a trap, and in a way I guess she was.
I always called the police when I heard the fighting. I didn’t think about it, I just picked up the phone and called.
One day as I picked up the phone, my boyfriend proclaimed, “They fight all the time, and she keeps coming back to him….if she didn’t like it she could just leave.”
I simply told him, “The day he finally goes too far and kills her, I don’t want blood on my hands.” I did wonder why their fighting bothered me so much and didn’t seem to have an effect on him at all. Of course, his attitude said a lot about him, too, but that’s another story.
The next time I was home visiting my mother, I told her about the neighbors and asked for her opinion. Her response was more enlightening than I had anticipated.
My mother told me the story of a young woman, only 22 years old, who had a little girl about four years old. Her estranged husband had come home after time away to try to work things out. The woman quickly realized her husband was different than before and now seemed capable of violence. After only two arguments since his return, she began plotting her escape. There were logistics to deal with, and in those days, there were not a lot of women’s shelters to turn to. Where would she go? How would she leave her job? How would she safely get herself and her little girl away from her husband?
Before she could work out all the details of her plan, they had a third argument. This time, the husband threw his wife to the ground, grabbed her by the throat, and strangled her until she lost consciousness. Next, he went to the kitchen for a knife and had it in hand coming toward her, but the woman miraculously gained consciousness and tried to escape by breaking a window with her hand. She never got out of the house that way, but before her husband could actually stab her the police arrived.
That story is my mother’s story, and the little girl in the story is me.
A couple my mother had never met, who lived in the apartment building next to ours, had called the police. The fight didn’t last long before the strangling ensued so they must have called right away, rather than waiting to see if it would heat up. Sadly, they moved away before my mother had gathered the strength to go over and thank them for saving her life, and possibly mine.
Since then, I have learned that over the course of his life my father has brutally attacked numerous people, from total strangers and elderly neighbors to his own father and a lover. Most of them ended up in the hospital, some nearly died. No doubt he would have done the same, or worse, to my mother had the police not shown up in the nick of time.
My mother had never mentioned that night to me because I was a sound sleeper and she assumed I had slept through the whole ordeal. The truth is, I had heard them fight, and had put a pillow over my head at one point so I wouldn’t have to listen. The fighting was especially distressing to me because it was not a common occurrence.
I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a mother at 18, a single mother at 20, and giving a marriage a second chance at 22. When I think of who I was at 22, I know I would have been overwhelmed. My mother was working lots of overtime just to make ends meet, and she had a difficult commute, as well. When she got home from a long, exhausting day at a thankless job, she was greeted by a hungry tyke who wanted to eat dinner and then play, along with the man of her dreams turned nightmare. There was no time or physical space for her to decompress, much less make an escape plan.
When you hear domestic violence happening, whether against a woman, child or man, don’t ignore it. Don’t let it make the headlines the next day as a homicide. Don’t judge the person who is being abused for being in the situation. Just open your heart and remember that there are people like me who are grateful not to be an orphan because people like you are willing to make the call.
Author’s name withheld upon request