I live in a pretty quiet neighborhood. We have some gang activity, usually just tagging and some light scuffles. Overall, however, I feel very safe where I live and have no qualms walking around by myself.
Yesterday was not so quiet. My neighbors were having a horrible fight. Their family consists of a mother, father, and beautiful two-year-old girl. The parents are about my age.
The mother was yelling over and over, "Why are you doing this to us?! Why are you DOING this to us?!" I instinctively froze and started eavesdropping, and so many memories and emotions started flooding through my body.
See, when I was younger my father was rather abusive, emotional more than physical. I remember the fear and anger and the wanting someone, ANYONE, to come rescue us. It's not like we were being timid about it. A few dear friends did come to our aid and would help diffuse the situation.
But usually not.
Usually my father would get into a dark mood and proceed to batter us down through words and actions. When we did make a stand it often ended with one of us physically hurt.
I'm going to pause in my story to make sure to everyone reading this that my dad is NOT like this anymore. He has learned to control his temper and let his funny, sweet, amazing side out. I really enjoy being around him now and feel comfortable when my children are alone with him. He has grown so much.
So I stood in our apartment parking lot, listening for a thump or slap or scream. And it seemed the universe was conspiring against me. Whenever I started to understand what was happening a noise would happen. Emergency sirens, dogs barking, BuggaBoo running up to me and asking to play. The most annoying was my other neighbor who was running his table saw in the front yard.
I eventually went over to him and asked him to stop for a while because I was afraid this woman or child was going to be hurt. His reply to me was, "Oh, yeah, I heard them fighting." And I feel this is the crux of the problem, how society handles things like this.
See, I feel that embarrassment will keep people from helping more than anything. Yes, there is fear of physical hurt. But I would argue that most people just don't want to get involved because it's embarrassing. What would you say? "Hi, I heard you guys fighting rather vigorously and I was afraid that someone may get hurt or die. Yeah, I know you think it's none of my business, but...*shrug shoulders*" I don't see many people doing this. I know because it hardly ever happened with my family.
I think this whole culture of ignoring others' abuse it deeply ingrained. Think about it. If every abuser knew that a loud, scary confrontation would mean active neighbor interest, don't you think they would think twice about being loud? I guess that would mean that the abuse could be driven to be done in secret, but hang with me for a second. Abusers know they can be loud because nobody will stop to help. They are saved from persecution because of others' embarrassment.
Don't worry, I'm human, I felt these same emotions. I was agonizing about it to The Hubby, trying to figure out what to do. "What if they're just having a loud fight?" I would say. "What if someone gets hurt?" he would respond.
Finally we walked over together and knocked on the door to help.
No one answered.
Luckily I saw my neighbor walking home with her daughter later that evening. I walked right up to her and asked if everything was alright. She said it was going to be, and that sometimes her husband/boyfriend (not sure which) was just mean sometimes. She said her daughter would be okay.
I told her that my dad was abusive growing up and I always wanted someone to stop by, so I wanted her to come to me if she needed to. She said she appreciated that. I offered to take her daughter whenever, and she looked relieved about it. She acknowledged that everyone heard the fight, and I said that was true, but nothing to be embarrassed about. She said, "But it is embarrassing," and I said, "That is true, but I don't judge you."
She seemed honestly happy, if a bit chagrined, at my approach. I'm glad I did it. I never thought that my abusive past might help someone else through their situation. I always thought that my past was meant to make me grow. It has, I have grown a lot, but perhaps this is bigger than me.
Please, if you hear a fight and you have any idea that it might get physical, stop by. Be honest. Yes, it's scary. Yes, be prepared in case you might get hurt. Call the police if you can't do it yourself. But do something, because to do nothing could result in someone being hurt or worse. Believe me, I've been there.