I pulled into the small parking lot. There were two available spots: one had the blue handicap designation, the other was being blocked by the opened driver’s door of a white van. It was hanging open because a large man was sitting on the running board of the van. His left arm was reaching into the van and he appeared to be very angry, yelling loudly.
I figured that once he saw me waiting for the spot, he would move and shut the door so I could park. I waited patiently. About one minute later, he looked up, glared at me, but did not move.
Figuring that his door was as wide open as it could go, I judged there was still enough room for his door and my car. Giving him a wide berth, I pulled into the slot and got out, noticing that I was still inside my own lines.
As I turned to shut my door, I glanced toward the white van to make sure he still had plenty of room beyond his door. I had no intention of crowding the man; in fact, I wanted to stay as far away from him as I could. I didn’t know why until I looked in the van. Sitting in the driver’s seat was a woman with wide, fearful eyes. Her left arm was crossed up across her chest and that hand was pulling desperately on his left hand, which was clamped around her throat.
She said something quietly that I could not discern, while looking at me fearfully.
“I don’t give a FUCK!” The man yelled loudly enough that several people turned to look at him.
The woman attempted to shrink.
I went inside the convenient store to get the gallon of milk I needed. Then I went straight to the counter. As soon as the cashier greeted me, I said, “It’s possible you guys need to intervene with what is going on in that white van. A man and woman are arguing and he has his hand around her throat.”
Both female checkers looked startled. The one helping me wanted to immediately jump to the aid of the woman. The other woman scowled at me as if I had committed a grievous sin. They called over the man on shift and I explained to him what I saw. He shrugged. No one did anything. No one lifted a phone to call for help. No one, not even the big strong-looking man on shift, went out to help her. Nothing happened.
By the time I had gotten back to my car, the man had removed his hand from her throat and was talking at a more humane level. She was crying, though.
Maybe no one did anything inside that store because it didn’t look “bad enough yet.” Maybe they were waiting for something “more serious” to happen before they made a call. Maybe they see this sort of thing all the time. I don’t know.
All I do know is… when that was me… when I was in a public place being strangled, getting my head slammed into the wintery asphalt until I saw stars, getting yelled at by a man with blackness in his eyes and demons in his voice, I. Wanted. Help! I wanted someone to intervene. I wanted someone to pull the monster off me. I wanted someone to stop the man I was married to at the time.
You’re probably wondering, “Angie, did you call?”
My mind turned off inside that store, as I watched the complacency and the complete unwillingness to help that woman. I noticed that my hands began trembling, I grew dizzy, I began to sweat, and I almost vomited. I noticed that I could no longer understand what my cashier was saying and she had to repeat herself several times before I could comprehend.
Then, after paying, I had difficulty gathering my belongings and myself together. I, literally, couldn’t see straight. There was this fog of darkness over me. My body hurt. All over. Every single part of me was hurting, aching, screaming out in pain.
When I got in my car, my hands were trembling so badly, I couldn’t get the key into the ignition switch and then, when it finally did, I couldn’t get it to turn. And when I finally did get my car to start, I couldn’t remember how to drive.
Then, as I began to somehow, miraculously, back out – I don’t know how it happened… it wasn’t me driving that car – I began to cry. I cried so hard that I was hiccupping by the time I made it to my house, which was only a two minute drive.
I don’t know how I made it home. I don’t remember that short drive.
I ran up my stairs, crying the whole way, wanting to get to safety. I needed the reassurance of the presence of my own home. I needed to know he wasn’t coming after me. I needed to know that I was home, safe, away from that man’s eyes and that he didn’t know I had tattled on him. I needed to know he wasn’t going to hurt me.
I didn’t know this was all in there, though. Not before I saw that man with his hand around that woman’s throat.
It brought it all back to me… another night that I nearly died because my then-husband was holding me hostage to his fear and anger and had his hands around my throat. The only reason I lived through that battle that night was because my neighbor had interceded on my behalf – it was the only time in my six-year marriage with Hell that anyone interceded, but I guess that one time was the important time, because he would have killed me if that neighbor hadn’t come up and the next day, I left him for good. That man had broken through the hazy rage of the monster on my chest and it had been enough of a reprieve for me to gather my wits about me and life-saving oxygen in my lungs.
Suddenly, I was falling apart in my own, quiet place… all these demons chasing after me, threatening me, terrifying me. Demons that I didn’t even know were still hiding in the corners, waiting for me.
Suddenly, I was that woman, pleading silently for help… praying to God to send someone… and the times that no one came… the times that he hurt my body and my mind and pierced my soul with cracking, debilitating lies. Suddenly, I was her and she was me and we were one another and… I could do nothing more to help her then than I could do for myself all the times that I had walked through that Hell.
I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t get people to help me help her. And then, when I couldn’t get people to help me help her, something broke inside of me.
The powerlessness of that experience brought my own powerlessness screaming back at me with such intensity, it almost shattered me.
And I sat, curled up in a ball, inside my own place, reminding myself that I was okay, that I was safe, that everything in my world was peaceful. It was hard to remember that and it was almost harder to believe it, once I began remembering it.
Because… for a very long time… I had lived in Hell by my own doing and I had been stuck there by my own doing and I had gone back there time and again by my own doing… And that … all of it that was my. own. doing… I had chosen it… those sorts of choices and “by my own doing”-ness made it so I couldn’t remember or believe myself.
About 24 hours before this parking lot event, a friend had asked, “What are you unwilling to receive that you’ve been pretending you’ve been asking for?”
I had been surprised by my answer: Love.
Now, I’m not so surprised because… for me… I once made Hell out to be Love. I could suddenly see how me barely making it out of that Hell alive back in 1998 has made it so I have been unwilling to open up again. I chose into that Hell, I made it into Love, and I kept doing that. He had hurt me on every level of my human experience time and again and I continued to forgive and love and go back and love and forgive and go back. I kept choosing Hell in the name of Love. How could I ever trust myself again after that?
And… all the failed attempts at Love since then… the partially-opened-heart relationships that I’ve created… the snippets of pieces of hearts that I’ve shared, but never really welcomed in… the ones that I have welcomed in that have chosen someone else… all the brokenhearted-ness that has compounded since the day I walked out of my marriage and have chosen to never walk fully into another relationship… all of that came screaming back at me.
Why would I ever really, truly want to receive Love after all that? Why???!
And that is what that man who was sitting in the doorway of a van, dominating a woman, terrifying her, and choking away her life… that is what was brought to the surface of my guts by witnessing his actions, her choices, my choices, his actions…
I once made Hell out to be Love.
And part of me got stuck there… or so it seems…
Now, I know and they say, “Knowing is half the battle…”
Right now… knowing feels like it is barely the beginning…