Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thank God for people who open their doors

This morning at 5:15 a.m., our doorbell rang at the precise moment that my husband’s alarm clock went off. I didn’t question the second layer of sound, but my husband padded barefoot across the cold tile to see who it was.

In below freezing weather stood a tall, bare-armed, crying woman who’d just escaped a physically abusive relationship.

My husband brought her inside and came back to wake me in the bedroom, saying, “Honey, we have a problem in the living room.”

I thought our cat had died.

Her name was Laura and she was in shock. She began crying very hard and her words were mangled and muffled. We learned that her boyfriend had tried to strangle her and had hit, shoved, and kicked her.

He’d fallen asleep, and she’d grabbed her clothes and purse and left their apartment. She wandered the neighborhood finally ringing our bell.

My husband called 911 and we put Laura on the phone with the emergency operator, who dispatched a police officer to our home. We then had her call her sister who lived about 30 minutes away. I was afraid that she would call her boyfriend, but she didn’t.

While we were waiting on the first officer to arrive, I put on water for hot tea, wrapped a blanket around her shoulders, gave her some tissues, and talked with her.

Laura said it was her fault for what he’d done. She was terrified to go back and terrified to stay away. I told her that she’d done the right thing in leaving and stopping at our home. I said that what he’d done is wrong – wrong for anyone to hurt another person, and that she’d made the right choice in getting out. My words bounced off her agony.

When the officer pulled up, he parked his car under the streetlight back a house, so I couldn’t see that he was legitimate, but he was in uniform, so I let him in while my husband got dressed.

At first, we were a little bit afraid that what was happening could be a charade and that we would be at risk. Each incident compounded and supported Laura’s story. She was shivering and distraught – fearing that he would come after her family because he’d taken away her phone with its contacts list.

The officer took her report and called for back-up. She said that she’d seen an old friend – a parole officer, actually – and that she’d stepped out of her car to say hello and give him a hug. Her boyfriend was furious that she’d disrespected him and not introduced him. It was not the first time in their ten-month relationship that he’d hurt her.

She cried out that she didn’t want him to get arrested, and that if the police went to her apartment that she’d get in trouble too. She worried that he’d go after her friends. She worried that she’d be evicted because he was staying there but wasn’t on her newly signed lease. She blamed everything on herself.

Her sister arrived after the second officer and brought great comfort to Laura. She expressed her relief to us that her sister was out of harm’s way and okay. "Thank God you opened your door," she said.

Soon we had a domestic abuse officer on site, another tall woman with high cheekbones and a gentle but commanding presence. She began talking with Laura about how she’d done the right thing to leave and contact the police.

Two EMS workers arrived and began to examine her physically, and we stepped out of the living room to give them privacy. I heard comments about her emerging bruising and marks. One of the attendants said that when someone attempts to strangle you that the swelling can continue several hours after the incident, so it was important that a physician examine her.

The officers (three of them by now) were going to go to the apartment to attempt to pick up the boyfriend. The sister planned to drive her to the hospital. The domestic abuse officer gave them paperwork, phone numbers, and web information for resources and then gave special instructions on how to get her quickly processed at the emergency room without a long wait.

The kindness, grace, and professionalism demonstrated by each of these individuals were testaments to their callings.

At 7:20 a.m., everyone left and my husband drove on to work. He wouldn’t leave me until everyone had gone.

When I got to work at 8:15, I shared Laura’s story with a couple of coworkers, but I didn’t feel like broadcasting such a sorrowful event in someone’s life as water cooler entertainment. I felt subdued and thankful that my husband had let her in.

Just 30 min. later, he would have been gone, and I’d have been alone. I would not even have looked through the peep hole much less open our door in my pajamas to a stranger at that hour.

Laura was several inches taller than me or my husband. I initially worried that her hysterics had been a ruse to get inside our home – maybe she was homeless or dangerous to herself and others. Maybe she would aggress against us.

Maybe she would have gone back to him if we hadn't taken the risk.

Thank God for people who open their doors – this was repeated several times by the sister and by the domestic abuse officer.

Laura said that she chose our house because she saw the Air Force sticker on my husband’s truck. She thought it meant that she could trust us.

Thankfully, she could.

I count my blessings tonight for all the doors opened to me in my life, and for my loving, kind husband.

Thank God for people who open their doors. I will carry this with me for some time.

National Domestic Violence hotline: