That lady at the shelter, J, is really nice. She asked if I was ready to leave right away. I felt scared and I couldn't think so I said, "No, not yet. I'm just checking it out."
"Well," she said, "On the one hand I am sorry to hear that. We could send someone for you and your baby right away. On the other hand, our shelter is full and so are the other two in town. I don't know where we would put you right off hand. But we would get you out and safe. Are you sure you can't leave right away?" (1. SCARED TO STAY AND TOO SCARED TO LEAVE. IT IS ALSO AN ISSUE THAT MANY WOMEN SHELTERS ARE OFTEN FILL TO CAPACITY WITH WAITING LISTS.)
I just couldn't. The fear I felt was crippling. Suddenly I couldn't breathe.
"OK then, " she said understanding completely. "This is what you need to do. First of all you need to develop a plan. (2. HAVING A PLAN IS VERY IMPORTANT. WITHOUT A PLAN, ONE IS MORE LIKELY TO STAY OR EASILY GO BACK OR, WORSE YET, GET FOUND BY HIM.)
"What do I need to do?"
"First of all, is there anyone at all that can support you? That is, can help you in any way with anything you might need?"
"Yes, Auntie. She gave me your card. She said she would help with anything she could."
"Your Auntie's place is probably the first place he'll look. It may put her in danger. Talk with her and see if there is someplace he won't know about where you and your baby could go. If not, let me know. We have an "underground railroad" system where we can sneak you from place to place with no one knowing for a while until there is an opening in a shelter somewhere. These people are very trustworthy and trained in handling both the victim and the abuser should he happen to find you somehow. Also, when you are ready, we will come pick you up. We will send three or four people in case your husband should unexpectedly show up. There is safety in numbers especially because our people know how to deal with people like him. (3. SOME KIND OF SUPPORT SYSTEM IS IMPORTANT FOR IDEAS AND CONFIDENCE AND A SENSE OF SAFETY.)
"Second, put some MONEY away. Find a good hiding place and put a bag in it. Like a small carry bag, for instance. Accumulate as much money as you can."
"I have to give him everything. He checks receipts. I'll see if Auntie will give me some."
"OK. Good. Also in that bag," J went on, "put all MEDICAL RECORDS you have for you and your child. Also, any other important papers like your DRIVER'S LICENSE, PASSPORTS, BIRTH CERTIFICATES and anything else you may think of. You won't be going back. You know that, right?"
"Yeah. I know."
"Do you have a CELL PHONE?" J asked
"Yes. It's one of those pre-pay things."
"Make sure you have lots of minutes on it at all times. Put the police and my number on speed dial. Keep it on or very near your body at all times. Have you ever gotten an Order of Protection?"
"Yes, once. I thought it would keep me safe. I found out it is only a piece of paper. Before I could call the police, he broke a window and came in. I was in the hospital for four days after that beating. I never did it again."
"Well, at least it's on record. OK. That's it for now. I don't want to overwhelm you. Go now and make your plan and start packing. Also, put in your bag at least two days of clothes. When the time comes, all you will need to do then is grab your child and the bag. Call me anytime. Bye.
It took me two weeks to plan and gather the things.J. told me to pack. I hid the bag in a hole in the ground between some bushes. I was too scared he would find it in the house. Auntie gave me some money, too, She also bought me a SEPARATE CELL PHONE with full minutes. She said to leave the old one behind and just use the new one. He won't have the number then. Good idea.
The hardest part of this two weeks was acting "normal" so he wouldn't suspect anything. I was already feeling happier but I didn't dare show it.
Last night, D. came in early and announced that he had gotten another job. He was happy. I said, "Good," and asked about it. I acted interested although he has never held a job for longer than a month or so. Still, I thought this will give me the chance I need.
This morning D. left for work at 7am. I acted very calm although I was very nervous inside. At 9am (wanted to make sure he was going to stay away) I called J at the shelter.
"Can you come pick me up? This is the only time I have."
Within 15 minutes, three people showed up and within 5 minutes, S and I were on our way to where I didn't know. I felt an incredible sense of freedom and relief.
"Where are we going?" I asked. "Hang in there," P said. "You'll see."