The time I didn’t stop to help
One time, back when we lived on Wayne street in the duplex apartment that I kinda wish we’d held onto for another year, even though the living room was smaller than both the bedrooms, and the laundry facilities left a great deal to be desired, I went out the front door to go to my car. I had a space in a sliding-gate lot that was safe and easy to get to – half a building away, in fact. I loved coming home, parking the car after opening the sliding gate with this cool plastic radio tag, and walking less than a block to the front door of my apartment.
I walked outside, digging for my car keys, and head some guy yelling. There was a guy, young, kinda cocky, weaing back and forth on a bike that was exceptionally small for him, which I immediately assume was stolen from some much smaller, and thus much younger, person, who likely misses his bike very much. The thought of the child missing his stolen bike leads me to instantly dislike this jackass weaving down my street, yelling and hollering at this girl.
There’s a girl on the sidewalk in front of me, walking stiffly, hugging her books to her chest, stalking towards the high school at the end of the block. She’s walking like I’ve walked at moments when I wished the floor would open up and swallow me from sight. She kept her eyes to the ground, but every holler from weaving jackass made her flinch. He was telling her how hot she was, how much he liked her, yelling, “How come you won’t answer me, stuck up bitch?”
I walk fast, so I caught up to her.
“Is he bothering you?” I whispered.
She nodded her head slowly.
I looked up at the high school, just as the gate opened automatically from the card in my hand that set off the sensor.
I wish I’d put my arm around her, pretended like we were old friends, and made some big conversation with her as I led her into the parking lot with me. I’d have driven her the 200 feet to the school, and let her out, somehow protected her.
But I didn’t. I was too frozen to move, to think quick enough. I let her keep walking and went into the parking lot.
I have regretted that decision ever since. I never heard that anything bad had happened to her, and I never saw him or her again. But I regret that I knew something was wrong, that someone needed help, and I didn’t do anything.
The time I did stop to help
I was an RA in college my senior year. I cannot imagine how I ended up being an RA, as I am rather shy and unwilling to let people into my space, and here was an entire hall of women traipsing in and out of my dorm room every freaking day. I didn’t go out much, and I was always around in case someone needed to talk, or had a question, or had a problem, or just wanted to hang out somewhere with another person. I had a computer with internet access, and we had free cable that year, and my room was big and while I didn’t have a sofa, I had a big carpet remnant that was soft, and good for sitting on.
One of the girls across the hall was a petite, exceptionally Southern young lady – and by exceptionally Southern I mean both her manner of speaking and her world view, which was shaped by coming from a very small town I don’t remember the name of. She had a boyfriend who she talked about all the time.
One day, she told me that he was mad at her, that they’d had a fight. Seemed she’d stopped off at the bookstore and then met up with classmates after her last class, and didn’t go back to her room immediately. He called every five minutes until he got her on the phone, then yelled at her that she was cheating on him and he wouldn’t stand for it.
Might I mention at this time, it was mid afternoon at a women’s college. Not to many guys around for the purposes of cheating.
She was very upset and trying to think of what she could do to make him stop being mad at her. I tried to point out that he should be the one wondering what he should do, as I knew she wasn’t cheating on him. She was in her room more than I was in mine, and that’s saying something.
The conversation continued and I realized this was one possessive boyfriend. She was to go to her room after her classes every day so he could call and talk to her. They went out every weekend, because she would drive home on the weekends. He wouldn’t like it if she stayed on campus. He would check up on her, and I remembered a time when she was in my room, with her door open so she could hear the phone and run back to her room to get the call.
As you can imagine, this set off a lot of warning bells, even in the slow, addled brain du Sarah, especially since I’d had a training session with a woman who was a former victim of long term spousal abuse. This woman had talked about all the warning signs, the cycle, and how destrictive it can be, particularly because the woman doesn’t always want to see the reality that is her monster of a boyfriend.
I tried to talk to her about how unacceptable his behavior was, and tried to suggest that she examine that part of her relationship, but she wouldn’t really listen. I think she heard part of what I said, but I was up against an older man who could charm the leaves off trees and certainly had this girlfriend eating out of the palm of her hand. I even met him once, before I knew the full story. Good looking, charming, and a big, big dude. If he ever got to the point of hitting her, he’d do damage.
So I hatched a plan. I pulled my two best friends on the hall, and explained the plot. As an RA, I was to host two enriching get-togethers on my hall, or for the school in general, each semester. I was really good at this part – even won an award for knowing the needs of my neighbors at the end of the year from the other RAs. I told my friends that I was going to ask the speaker from my training session to come back and do an event on my hall. Except, I wasn’t going to tell anyone about it, because I didn’t want a big crowd. I wanted the girl across the hall to be the one there. Their job was to get her to come.
I booked the speaker, and explained to her the situation. She came with pamphlets, emergency phone cards, hotline numbers, and her story, which still makes me cry when I think about it. My friends went to the girl’s room and said, “Sarah planned an event and no one is coming! We have to go and show our support and help her out! Please come with us!”
I had told a few other RAs that this girl didn’t know that I’d really appreciate their coming to fill the room up a bit so it didn’t look suspicious. But basically, I was planning this event around one girl, and I told my boss to please not judge me on the attendance numbers for this event.
The speaker came, three other RAs, my two friends, and this girl were the audience. One of the RAs told about her friend who had just gotten out of an abusive relationship, while the speaker talked about the warning signs of abusers, their habits, and the cycle of good times cycling to bad times and back again. I couldn’t tell if she got the message, but when the school year came to an end and I graduated, she was still with him.
That fall, she sent me an email: she’d broken up with him and was glad he was gone. And she’d become an RA because I had inspired her.
I still smile when I think of her. And I don’t even remember her name. I think it was April.