Monday, May 05, 2008

I wash my hands of her

Last week, I had an experience that brought me out of blogger hibernation. I have been meaning to blog about it for a while, but I just couldn't find the words. It all started when I met up with a few friends for lunch. I hadn't seen them for a while, so it was a nice opportunity to catch up over a glass of vino.

Friends X and Y were both there when I arrived, so we grabbed a table and began catching up on old times while waiting for Friend Z. It was to be a celebration of sorts, Friend Z had sent us an email letting us know that she had finally gathered the courage to leave her abusive partner. I was cautiously optimistic, I've been down this road with Friend Z before only to have it go up in smoke, but she had already sent her two daughters back to the UK ahead of her to be with her parents. She was set to join them next week and was just tying up her affairs in New York. As we waited for Z to arrive, I began to compare the gift I had brought with what X and Y came up with. We laughed about how hilarious it had been walking through Hallmark trying to find an appropriate card. What was the sentiment behind a farewell like this? "We're sad to see you go, but glad you are getting away from that bastard?" I don't think Hallmark make cards for occasions like that.

Our laughter died slowly as Friend Z appeared at our table. She was sporting a purplish-green bruise on her cheek and a nasty cut on her upper lip. I could clearly make out the patches of concealer and foundation on her face, fighting desperately to cover up the marks of her partner's rage. There was an uncomfortable silence as everyone tried to smile whilst avoiding eye contact scrupulously. I gave up trying and summoned the waitress over to bring Z a glass of wine. I figured we could all pretend not to notice, after all, this would all be ancient history by next week. As the waitress whipped out her pad to take down Z's order, the other girls joined in and suggested we all get a bottle of champagne to celebrate properly. Z looked down at the table and quietly said "No. I'll just have an orange juice".

Y, who has known Z for the longest was taken aback, "You're not drinking juice, we are supposed to be celebrating. Who celebrates with juice?!" We went ahead and ordered the champagne, and continued making small talk, all the while scrupulously avoiding those ominous looking bruises. When the champagne arrived, the waitress poured everyone a glass and we all toasted Z and began to drink. Z continued chattering brightly, but didn't touch her drink. Eventually, I bit the bullet and sputtered "Z, what is up with you? You are not drinking, and you're acting kind of weird." Z looked me square in the eye and said "I didn't know how to tell you guys this, but I have decided to stay. I'm going to England next week to pick the girls up and then we are coming back to New York."

Everyone sat in stunned silence around the table. None of us knew what to say to that. Finally, X spoke up, "Where are you going to stay?" Z looked at her like she had lost her mind. "At home of course." Still not comprehending, X pressed further. "Is Abusive Partner moving out?" Z looked at us all, and casting her eyes down proceeded to tell us that they had decided to give things another go. She had discovered she was pregnant AGAIN.

I put a few bills on the table to pay for my drinks, and gathering my bag and coat walked out of the restaurant without so much as a glance backwards. I could hear them calling out to me as I wound my way through the crowd, desperate to get as far away from them as possible. As soon as I hit the street, I started running and didn't stop until I was 10 blocks away. When I was far away enough, I leaned against the wall of the building and started crying. My head was spinning. I couldn't see the crowds on the street or hear the traffic. As the roaring in my ears subsided, all I could see was Z's face as she looked me in the eye and told me that she was carrying that monster's seed, for the third time. Abusive Partner has been steadily beating Z for as long as I have known her. A spilt lip here, and a fractured rib there. I've blogged about it in the past, and wrestled with my conscience as I tried to find ways to be supportive, yet distance myself from the situation. And just when I thought the whole issue would be resolved, she was right back at square one.

Since that day, I haven't spoken to Z. I think of her often, and my thoughts are always interspersed with Tracy Chapman's lyrics:

Last night I heard the screaming
Loud voices behind the wall
Another sleepless night for me
It won't do no good to call
The police
Always come late
If they come at all

In my head, Z is the nameless faceless woman of Chapman's song, but I pray that her fate will end differently. I continue to say those prayers fervently but do so from afar, for to partake in any pretence of joy at the news that she will be welcoming another child into this nightmare would be utterly false. I can do nothing but try to get those lyrics out of my head and wish her well. I sincerely hope that one day the cycle will be broken.