What do you do?

I’m currently on a work related trip that has me staying in a small town in northern Minnesota. On my way to the hotel, I stopped at the local Target to pick up some snacks and do some self-soothing via the clearance rack. It was just getting to dark when I trudged out through the thick gray slush covering the parking lot toward my car.

An aisle over there was a woman trying to get a boy, perhaps around 10 or 11, to get into her car. She was clearly his mother. He was clearly trying to get away from her, by any means necessary- including hitting her with a water bottle and kicking, and to get back into the car he had arrived in. There were three grown men in the car, none of which were trying to help her manage her son.

She was screaming at him to “get out of the car”, which soon became “get the FUCK OUT OF THIS CAR”. A man emerged out of the car and began to scream at her. He called her a whore and a slut and talked about how she’d suck any dick she could fine. I couldn’t hear how she responded but he scream “What? What? You gonna send my ass back to prison?”

I was putting my bag into the car when I first heard the yelling but then I was just transfixed. I couldn’t look away but I couldn’t figure out what to do. If I had seen the man raise his hand to her, I would have called the police, I am sure of that. But this? This I didn’t know how to handle.

Eventually the boy was dragged from the car and the man peeled out of the parking lot as the boy chased after him. Once he realized the car was gone, he turned back around on his mom and screamed “I hate you, I hate you!” as he tried to kick and punch her some more. She was silent as she grabbed his arm and pulled him back to her car.

I felt sick to my stomach as I walked over to her and asked “Do you need anything? Is there anything I can do to help?”. She gave me a tight smile and said “no, he’s just my ex-husband. This is what he is like.”

The boy started to try to hit her again and I said “hey, knock it off” but it didn’t make a difference. I asked again if she needed help and she said no again. I walked back to my car feeling useless and upset. I also felt grateful that my life is such that I’ll sleep soundly in a comfortable hotel and call my husband who has never made me feel unsafe and guilty (somehow) that I can’t imagine she feels safe. From her ex or her son.

I’ve found myself thinking about that woman today and her son. I can only imagine the things her son has seen. If her ex acts like this in public, what happens in private? I feel like I should have done something but even now, I don’t know what that was.

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2 thoughts on “What do you do?

  1. kakakakaty says:

    Oh this is awful. I think you did all you can do and more than what 99% of people would do in the same situation.

    When we lived in our first apartment (about 15 years ago) our neighbor had a young son (age 2-3ish). We shared a deck and at first we were friendly. She often asked to use our grill and sometimes we all sat out on the deck drinking beers and playing kickball with the boy in the small grassy area. About 6 months later she got a boyfriend and we hardly saw her anymore. She zoomed right into her apartment as soon as she got home, barely nodding a hello. One night we heard yelling through the wall, followed but thumps. Mark and I sat up until 2 AM trying to decide what to do. I left her a note saying she was welcome at our place any time of night if she and her son needed a safe place. I have no idea if she ever got it or if he took it. A few weeks later we heard the yelling and hitting again, and this time we heard the boy crying. I called the police, who came but the boyfriend wouldn’t let them in. After talking to a social worker the next day (who worked at the college I was working for at the time) I called CPS. It was awful. They said they couldn’t do anything yet. So we had to keep calling the cops, then CPS every time we heard beatings happening. I felt so guilty (like I was tattling) but I knew we had to do it. After about 3 calls the boy was removed from the home and our neighbor moved out .. I have no idea what happened but I still think about them all the time.

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