Monday, December 6, 2010

Is saying nothing the same as helping?

A customer came in this morning, and she's left me thinking. She was a nice lady, a little plump with a bright smile and curly hair. She was wearing a pink turtle neck sweater and a jacket. She had two blond little girls with her. She was polite in a way few customers are, and shy. She didn't make eye contact with anyone. She mostly looked at the floor.

And when she turned her face to look at me I noticed she had a large black eye blooming on her face.

I wanted to ask her, but I didn't. I thought that, like my best friend, she might just be accident prone. God only knows how many times I've seen J-Lynn run into a wall or a tree or knock something over that left her with an awful looking bruise that looked like the result of an abusive relationship but was, in fact, a result of simple clumsiness. And when people ask J-Lynn about her bruises she always gets embarrassed. Nobody likes talking about how they are incapable of walking across a smooth floor without doing some sort of harm to themselves. Nobody likes being asked, "Are you being abused by someone?" when they aren't. 

So I decided to keep it to myself. I myself have had a black eye that was the result of a poorly placed box on a stock room shelf that landed on me just the wrong way. A bruised eye doesn't necessarily mean abuse. And she was outside with her children. Wouldn't she want to hide it? Wouldn't her husband, if he was abusive, want her to stay inside until the bruises disappear or make her wear make up to cover it? She might have been wearing make up, but it didn't do a good job of hiding anything if she was. I had all of these reasons to not ask, to not say anything.

And then when she was leaving she swooped down to pick up the younger of the two little girls, and the loose neck of the sweater fell down, and I saw what was unmistakably a bruised throat with finger marks. That was not the result of a simple accident. And it was too late to ask, to offer her a number, to tell her she wasn't alone and there were places that could help her, because she was already out the door and I couldn't chase after her because the phone was ringing and it's my job to answer it. 

My decision to not ask her when I instinctively felt that I should ask will haunt me for the rest of my life. Will I see that same smiling woman's picture on the news one day? Will she be beaten to death, or kill herself to escape a situation that she feels trapped in? And sure, it might just be a horrible accident. But how do you accidentally punch someone in the eye and then choke them?

Of course I could be wrong and it could all have a perfectly logical explanation.

But I'll never really know, will I? 


  1. It's so hard to know what to say or how to act in a situation like that. I honestly don't know if I would be able to stand up and ask the tough questions. I REALLY hope that the woman will get help if she needs it.

    My sister had a situation like that happen while she was working at a dentit's office a few years ago. A lady came in, her shirt stained with blood, holding her two bottom teeth. She simply said they'd been knocked out and wondered if there were a way to fix them. The teeth had been broken off completely, including pieces of the jawbone itself.

    After MUCH debate, they finally looked up the woman's information (it's easier to do that when you're at a dentist's or doctor's office, where they have to give you their info) and called the police. They never found out what happened, though.

  2. I'm glad there are people out there who aren't afraid to do what they think is right. I hope the police helped that woman and that she wound up in a happier situation. Next time my instincts tell me to ask, I will.

  3. Good girl. I only hope I will have the guts to ask should I ever come face to face with a situation like that. I too often will sit on the sidelines and say nothing when I should really be speaking up and doing something to help. Maybe that's something that we can all work on as a society at large--helping each other out more often, or at least trying to.

  4. I think sometimes moments happen too fast for us to react. I would have had the same reaction about the black eye. It's just not in our natures to go HEY LADY ARE YOU BEING ABUSED?

    Such a sad story. I hope she gets help--if not for herself, for her kids.

  5. This whole thing reminds me of this song that I used to listen to all of the time in high school. I can't even remember who sings it.

    "What if she's an angel sent here from Heaven, and she's making certain that you're doing your best to take the time to help one another? Brother, are you gonna pass that test? And you can go on with your day to day, trying to forget what you saw in her face, knowing deep down that you could have been her saving grace. What if she's an angel?"

    I don't believe in Hell, and I'm pretty sure I don't believe in Heaven, either, but I feel like, if there was ever a test of humanity, I pretty much just failed it with flying colors.


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