About sixteen years ago, I slipped on the second last step of the stairs leading down to our family room. I must have instinctively used my forearms to break my fall because that's how I landed. And boy, my forearms and my wrists hurt. . . a LOT.
Tim drove me to the emergency at the small, local hospital. I knew I had at the very least, sprained both arms/wrists and I needed to get x-rays done to rule out any fractures.
At the admitting station, I was giving the triage nurse the regular details they ask for . . . name, birthdate, insurance number and what the problem was. I told her I had slipped on the stairs. She looked directly into my eyes and very evenly asked me if I had been alone.
"No-"', I said, "- Tim was there, thank goodness!" I was about to launch into a chatty little repetoire that I didn't know what I would have done if he hadn't been there because I couldn't even grip my purse let alone drive myself to the hospital, when the significance of what she was asking suddenly dawned on me.
She wasn't asking me if I had been alone when I fell, she was asking me if I'd been pushed.
"You mean?..." I glanced at Tim who was standing behind me, very quietly. I could see by the look on his face that he had taken her meaning before I did. "No, NO -", I told her emphatically, "He would never do anything like that."
The nurse looked at me. "I know.", she said, "I can tell...you answered too quickly and without faltering." I just stared at her not knowing what to say.
"I have to ask", she said.
Yes. She did have to ask. And that's the tragic part.
I have a friend who's one of those friends that you can go for years without seeing, and yet, when you finally connect again, it's like you only saw each other yesterday. I'll call her Anne.
She left high school when she was seventeen. For a guy. That's the first time we lost track of each other. I was involved in school and part-time jobs and dating and friends. She was involved in other things. Things I didn't know about until many, many years later.
Throughout the years we would connect at different times. I recall being invited with another friend to her apartment one evening when her husband was out. (the husband was the guy she left school for) She was going to play the stereo but first had to retrieve the needle from a hiding spot. He had hidden it on her to prevent her from using it. I asked her why he would do that. She laughed it off and said he figured she would break it. She seemed to take delight in the fact that she knew where the needle was hidden and that she was "getting one over on him." It seemed kind of odd to me but ... whatever.
Time passed. We lost touch. She had a baby. I was single and going to school, working, travelling.
Years later, after we reconnected again, she began to confide in me about things that had happened in her life. (She had since left him) Things like being knocked backwards with such force that she fell into her bathtub - while she was pregnant. Things like living at a women's shelter.
It's so easy to judge people. Understanding them takes more work, or maybe it just takes more time. She cried once, remembering how co-workers in another city condemned some of the choices she'd made in her life. But nothing is black and white and life can be complicated. Anne did the best she could with the circumstances she was dealing with at the time.
Anne lives a completely different life today. No one dictates what she can and cannot use in her own home. No one controls the clothes she wears or the money she spends. No one hits her.
She's successful in her job and she has a loving family. It hasn't been easy for her to get where she is now but she did it. She's a strong woman.
I have been thinking about doing a Between Friends series loosely based on my friend, Anne for quite some time. I asked her a few years back if she would mind if I formally interviewed her with that intention. I told her I would treat her to dinner at our favourite Thai restaurant. How could she say no?
In the back of my mind, I thought I would use my character, "Kim" as the person involved in the story. She is the character who writes and I thought she could come across a woman in the park one day while she was walking her dog. She thinks the woman she meets is in some kind of distress but nothing is obvious. Over time she realizes the woman is being battered. Being a writer could open her up to doing research or something. This is just a general idea I thought I would work into a story after Anne and I sat down and really talked.
Of course, life is busy and Anne and I got together a few times but never to get down to focusing on an actual interview.
Then, a little over a month ago, I started writing a series about Maeve running into an old school mate. The school mate manoevers Maeve into meeting for lunch. One thing leads to another. Next week, in my strip, Maeve realizes the school mate is in a bad situation.
All of a sudden, I am into the battered woman story.
It sounds corny, I know, but these characters tend to write themselves. I didn't mean to begin this story yet but it just seemed to connect and fall onto my pages. I intended to spotlight Kim but Maeve has stepped in.
This is a very long introduction to an upcoming series about a battered woman in my strip, "Between Friends". It will be an intermittent story line. I can't write the series in one fell swoop because it would be too long, too heavy-handed and it would be unrealistic to address issues that are too complicated to be neatly tied up in one tight little package.
Anne and I went for Thai food last week. We ended up at an all-night coffee shop until the wee hours of the morning. It was hard for her to relive some of those memories and I told her we could stop but she wanted to continue. It was hard for me to listen too. When I got home, I didn't sleep much. She's had some tough times.
A women's shelter has been kind enough to agree to an interview to assist me with some research. And Anne has agreed to answer any further questions I might have. This is a tough subject and I want to make sure I treat it with respect and realism. As of right now, I only have a vague sense of where it's headed.
So thank you, Anne. We'll see where it goes.