Friday, April 27, 2012

The Battered Women's Shelter (Ch. 17)

A couple months after living in the lap of luxury ...with no electricity we went back to Fred's house.  We were only there for about a week before all hell broke lose again.  This time my mother called the police herself.  Fred was arrested, but my mother later dropped the charges.  The police had been called to Fred's house so many times for domestic disturbance that they finally decided to do more than just drop the charges this time though.  They arranged for me and my mother to meet with a counselor and this counselor somehow talked my mother into going to a battered woman's shelter.  The counselor even helped us to "escape". 

I felt like I was playing a part in a movie... I ran around the house throwing things in suitcases, being very dramatic about it all.  I knew Fred would never try to stop us from leaving... but this counselor seemed like a nice lady and I didn't want to disappoint her.  She reminded me of the social worker at school that tried to save me... only she was going to save me and my mother!  I wanted to make her feel as sorry as possible for us, so she wouldn't change her mind.  We need saving!  So I cried and cowered and played the roll of a helpless, scared, and naive child.  Only I didn't feel so helpless, and I definitely wasn't naive.  At age 9 I had seen more ugliness in the world than beauty, more evil than good... no... I don't think you could have described me as naive.

The shelter offered women and their children a safe place to get their lives back together, or a place to hide from abusive husbands till divorces were final and alimony could be collected.  We all slept in a room with about fifty bunk beds in it.  At night more women would be crying themselves to sleep than children.  My mother cried too.  There was a common room and cafeteria that offered three meals a day.  Things like caffeine and candy bars were put on strict lock down and only given out as special treats and rewards.  Counselors were provided to help the women with their mental health... although I was fairly certain my mother needed more than a counselor at that point.  There was a school too and I was put in a class with about 10 other children ranging in ages from 7-12.

I wanted to live at the shelter for the rest of my life.  I had friends at school and looked forward to meal times with the other children.  When school let out, I went to a craft room and activity center for the rest of the day where I played games and made things for my mom.  I had my own counselor too.  Her name was Ms. Kitty; she was really tall with long black hair and dark skin.  She wore long skirts that made swishy sounds when she walked and lots of beaded jewelry that clinked together as she moved.  I loved her noises.  She had me use art to express my feelings.  I presented her with lots of drawings using only black and brown crayon.  I thought this would make it look like I was depressed.  I wasn't depressed, but I was afraid if she knew how happy I was she wouldn't care about me anymore, and I loved her attention.  After every drawing I would get rewarded with a candy bar.  :)

 I rarely saw my mom.  When I did she seemed to always be crying, or arguing with someone.  My mother wasn't as happy as I was at the battered woman's shelter.  She went around accusing the other woman of taking her things or talking about her behind her back.  She was reprimanded for not following rules and it was rare for her to be rewarded with any candy bars at all.  The candy bars seemed to be the source of all her unhappiness to me, so I gave her mine. 

I did what I could to make her happier.  I drew her pictures, picked her flowers and read to her before bed.  Nothing made her happy.  If I gave her my candy bar she would look at me with hate and say, "I bet you already ate two today didn't you!" If I drew her a picture, it was always, "Why don't my pictures come out as nice as your hero Ms. Kitty's?"  Her voice was always drenched in contempt. 

Things reached a climax after my mother got in an argument with her counselor about not giving her the meds she needed.  My mother stormed out of the office fuming and said, "we are getting the fuck out of here!  I can't live here anymore!  I can't even get a damn candy bar when I want one!"

I cried and begged her to let us stay.  I got down on my knees and hugged her feet and cried... "Please... I don't want to leave... please... please."  My counselor came and asked my mother's permission to say good-bye to me and my mother ignored her while she packed our things.  Ms. Kitty knelt down and hugged me and told me to be brave.  "God never gives us more than we can handle... and God made you really really strong... I just know it."  I told her I didn't want to be strong.... and I begged her not to let us leave. 

They had to prey me off Ms. Kitty and I wouldn't let my mother put one finger on me.  "Leave me alone!  I hate you!  I hate you!"  In that moment I did hate her, but I still wouldn't have let her leave with out me.  Two hours later a car came for us and I followed my mother out the door.

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