Friday, May 29, 2009

a terrible thing

Last Sunday, before morning church I woke not to my alarm, but to the sound of a woman wailing and sobbing.

I waited a few seconds, to make sure I wasn't dreaming, then lifted up my blinds and looked out the window of my bedroom, which has a clear view onto the street below, and out to Parramatta Road.

I could see a young woman (perhaps she was just a girl) wearing an-oversized t-shirt and tracksuit pants, standing in an alcove outside the apartment block across the road.

She was sobbing and crying out for a jacket and thongs.

I didn't know what was going on, or why she was there. Sure there is a pub next door, but it had closed hours ago, and she didn't seem drunk, just extremely upset.

I thought about what to do. I had many jumpers I didn't mind giving her, and I could offer her a cup of tea and a chat. Figuring I was safe enough, I went out in my PJs with a jumper that I never wear.

She was red faced, and had long stringy, tear-filled hair and braces. I had no idea how old she was.

At first, she didn't want to talk. "I'm fine. I'm fine", she kept saying. She was not fine.

I offered the jumper, which she accepted. It hung off her slight body like a wet tea towel. It just looked wrong. But at least she would be warm.

Not knowing her circumstances, or if I was intruding, I asked her what had happened. Between sobs she said she had been locked out of the apartment block by her boyfriend, who had come home at 6am "And that's when it all started", she said.

I felt a strong urge to hug her. I wanted to comfort her and take her home and offer her shelter and be the mother she needed right now. But she was around my age and it would be absurd to play that role.

So I told her that if her boyfriend was abusing her, she didn't need to put up with it. She could call the police, and leave the relationship.

"But then he'd go back to jail," she said.

My heart curled into a ball. The complexity of the situation was starting to overwhelm me. I could not imagine how she had been dealing with it herself.

I offered her my phone, and once again a cup of tea. She said again, "I'm ok."

At that moment, a man who looked angry, but not out of control came around the corner near the pub. He walked what seemed too calmly towards me. As his eyes met mine I suddenly realised - it's him.

He threw the security pass at her, and said directly to me: "Why don't you just f'n call the police? That'll solve it. Just call the f'n police." His eyes were locked on me, but I didn't feel scared, just sad.

Then he hurled words at her. "You're so f'n ugly. You're evil. You're evil." He said, seething.

"I hate you too." she said.

Then, she said something I never expected, and couldn't understand. "Well it can only get better. Can't it? We can only do better than this."

Was I hearing right? Did she just offer to kiss and make up? She was being enveloped by irrational thoughts. I didn't know what to do. Part of me wanted to say "Are you crazy?"

Her boyfriend crouched down and looked at his phone. Being drunk, he couldn't punch the numbers properly. Eventually he got the combination right: 000.

I still don't know why he called the number. He walked away.

I again asked the girl if she wanted to use my phone, or come up for a cup of tea. She said no.

I felt there was nothing else I could do, and while he wasn't being violent perhaps she could go inside.

Once more I told her she didn't need to put up with his abuse. But she was still crying, just staring past me into the morning sun.

I went home, and started to make breakfast. It felt wrong to go back to my stable life of morning coffee and toast, but I didn't know what else to do.

Within 10 minutes, I heard shouting and screaming coming from the street. I ran back to my bedroom window. All I could see was the man threatening her across the street, forming fists and punching the air. It looked so petty, like a dog barking aimlessly at passersby. But I knew he was capable of more than that.

When he started to cross the road towards her, while yelling and threatening her, I thought I had to ring the police.

It felt awful. What if it sent him back to jail? Suddenly I understood the position she was in.

I rang. As I was describing the scene, a police car pulled up outside the apartment. Instantly the boyfriend dropped his fists and assumed 'victim position'. Shoulders shrugged, he spoke to the police.

Across the road, another officer was speaking to a girl wearing my jumper. I was relieved. From the apartments above, an old man watched on.

I went back to getting ready for church and had a shower. After getting dressed, I looked again through the window. The boyfriend was in the back of a police wagon, while the girl was still talking to the police.

That was the last I saw of them both.

To be honest, the whole incident really threw me. What disturbed me most was the control he had over her. She felt powerless to defend herself, and even wanted to protect him from jail.

The other thought that kept going through my mind was: this happens nightly, daily even, in people's homes everywhere. I just happened to see it played out on the street. And I am powerless to help those people.

It made me thankful that we live in a society where the police actually come to incidents like this, where women are encouraged to speak up against violence. But it made me so sad for that girl, and for the hundreds like her who are silenced, to scared and manipulated to get out of toxic relationships.

Well, yesterday Jo tells me she was locked out again, screaming and wailing. Two people went to offer help to her, and she told them to leave her alone. I can only guess he was taken to the station on Sunday, but charges weren't laid.

Today, I saw a police car outside the apartment block.

I don't know when she will realise she needs help, and has the power to say no. I don't know when he will realise he is an abuser.

It is a terrible thing.


Anonymous said...

Wow Soph... that would have been so hard to deal with :( I've only had one abuse-ish call on lifeline- it's pretty unfathomable. Don't know if it would be appropriate but they do have a dedicated domestic violence line that is apparently very good: 1800 656 463. V xx

sophg said...

was a bit rough..

thanks for the number. Might put it in my phone x

Ben McLaughlin said...

that is horrible.

good job for going out and trying to help. I know you feel pretty helpless, but you did what you could.