I sit at my desk, an empty document staring at me, my mind churning with all that I have heard today. I am disturbed. I am emotional. I am helpless.
I met a girl for the first time today. Somebody another friend introduced me to. She arrived in a silver SUV, her children smartly dressed in formal pants and dress shirts. She wore a long sweater dress, emerald-green and cinched at her throat by a pin. She carried a tote bag, the large ones moms have a way of filling with all together unnecessary things. The house was empty save for me. Saathi had taken the girls grocery shopping. I set out balloons, books and notepads for the kids to play with.
I’ll call her Shakthi.
Shakthi and I sat awkwardly at the sofa, making small talk, breaking into our mother tongue by instinct. I then moved to the breakfast table with its hard backs and rudimentary cushions. She followed suit. I offered beverages and she politely declined. We eventually got around to speaking of the things she was here for.
Shakthi is one of us, a Master’s degree holder, a married mom of two children, owner of a home in the suburbs. She is also a domestic violence survivor. Some time in the past few months, she was rushed to the hospital by a neighbor who found her beaten badly and unconscious outside her home. That set in motion a sequence of events which led her to eventually escape a torturous marriage of many years.
We spoke, her and I, of how she married her husband. We spoke of the everyday things that are abuse but you have no clue of until you are outside the marriage. She spoke of being beaten, of being forced against the wall, her jaws locked. She spoke of abuse of every kind — physical, sexual and mental. She spoke of being belittled every day, of being made to feel she did not matter, her views did not matter. She spoke of seeing herself derided in front of her children, young and innocent.
She spoke of loneliness. She spoke of sleepless nights by her son’s bedside as he battled a terrible illness. She spoke of going through pregnancies alone while her husband traveled ostensibly on business. She spoke of the horrors that unraveled one day as she realized he had been dating, meeting multiple women throughout their marriage.
Her eyes were vacant as she described how their once ‘friends’ deserted her in droves. She spoke of suicide threats, of having a firearm pressed to her forehead, of having to prove her innocence when her spouse overdosed on prescription drugs in order to frame her. She flitted from topic to topic, treating them casually lest they overwhelm her.
She spoke of the kindness of strangers. Of people who opened up their homes to her. She spoke of the couple who lent their car and their phone. She spoke of the woman who cared for her children as she attended interviews and court hearings. Her voice wavered as she spoke of this family that took her grocery shopping so she and her boys would not starve. She spoke of mounting bills, of unpaid mortgages and the financial ruin she was in.
She looked fragile sitting across from me as if one kind word would shatter her. Her petite frame trembled as I enveloped her in a hug and promised the best I could. I waved her off, her boys and her and closed the door behind me. I sunk to the floor, my body racked with sobs.
We hear of domestic violence. We read about it. We watch it in movies. We treat it with the same apathy as we treat bombings in different countries. We shake our heads in sadness and move on. Today I could not move on. I felt atrophied, the images she had painted running in a loop in my head.
How can I help? How can one help someone whose life is in shambles?
A job, a place to live, means to provide food to her children. These are the basics. Then there is this whole process of healing, of coming to terms with the abuse, of accepting what happened to you and then finding closure.
I am scouring my network, asking shamelessly for help in getting this girl a job she needs. She is qualified, willing to take on any job. I am asking those who know me to contribute to a fund that will let her and her children get back on their feet. Money that will be used towards groceries, medication for her sick child and essentials until she figures her way through this quagmire. Money that will be used to defray the expenses a protracted legal process will certainly consume.
I appeal to you. Each of you who reads this to take a moment and imagine you, or someone you know in this position. I urge you to dig into your pockets and contribute whatever little you can. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your help.
If you are unable to help monetarily, please let me know if you can link me to resources or other ways in which I can help her. If you are someone who is local and in the capacity to make hiring decisions, please reach out. If you know a child psychiatrist who can help with the children, please reach out as well.
Above all, I request you to take a moment to recognize that this woman and mother needs all of the collective goodwill we can muster.