A feeling of regret spilled over me the first time I laid eyes on this diminutive woman as she made her way across the dirt street into the kitchen where I was working. She wore a sweatshirt, three sizes too large, with its hood drawn tight. Her jeans were wet, and her palms looked pink and raw. I was struck by her uncertainty and by the wariness of her eyes under the hood. Her small frame was shaking excessively, probably from the cold winter’s air. I stood speechless, while she stood in front of me hidden in the depths of her sweatshirt. When she spoke she had fire in her voice, yet she sounded exhausted, terrified, and sour. No one would have guessed that someone that looked so unpleasant could cause such a change in one person.
The woman explained in vivid, gruesome detail about the events that led her to the women’s abuse shelter. As she told her story, I filled out the standard form for abuse. I was not the one that normally dealt with this type of problem; I usually worked in the kitchen. Filling out this form made me realize what the shelter did for abused woman, and helped me understand that the shelter gave them more than food and shelter. This form contained her name, any documentation, and a chart of the human body to mark where there were visible injuries. I began by marking bruises and cuts, and continued by marking scratches and bite marks. No part of her body was left unharmed. Her skin hung from her arms, and her emaciated body colored black and blue looked too limp to stand. As she removed her sweatshirt, I saw her story come to life; all the pain and discomfort that she once felt, I felt as well.
Since I had started volunteering at the abuse shelter, I had learned to have no emotion or have any connection to the abused women that begged for my help and service. However, there was something about this woman that intrigued me; maybe it was something in her bloodshot eyes, and up until I met this woman I had no desire to befriend any women at the shelter. From experience I learned that the women that asked for help had been abused before. Those same women would fall right back into the same ways that got them to my shelter, and they would find themselves on a Greyhound bus heading to another shelter.
This woman was different; she was able to laugh and to cry, and she was eager to give advice, not take it. She wanted to be different; she wanted to make a difference. That woman did not come to ask for money, food, or a lawyer, but she was there to offer guidance to the other women. Although she was only around thirty years old, her knowledge when she spoke flowed like she had lived two lifetimes. That woman explained to the women at the shelter about how much worse they would have it. She told them they could be living in the streets or worse still, with their abuser. She held her head as high as her petite, fragile body would allow, even in the worst circumstance. I learned so much from that woman not from her words, but...