The small woman
Builds cages for everyone
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.
I stood behind Betty in the bustling lunch line. It was our first opportunity to become acquainted. She told me that she is retired from social work, spent most of her career in protective services. “That’s a really tough job,” I acknowledged. “It’s not the job I wanted,” she confessed, “but it is where God wanted me. He held me there.” Had the setting been less chaotic, had her turn to order not been quickly approaching, had I understood that she was trying to tell me something, I would have asked her to explain. Instead I switched the conversation onto a shallow track and merely shared that I had been a social worker in an adjacent county.
Betty is a key dropper, one of the volunteers who drives into the city to reach out to prostitutes. I thought that, plus the fact that she is a retired social worker, was the whole story. But then she took her turn in the share chair Sunday evening:
I grew up a child of the sixties – very shy, lonely, naive, never dated anyone in high school, never went to the prom or any dance like that. One night, between my junior and senior year, a friend of a friend came over and crashed our girls get together. He was the first guy to think I was worth attention. And so we went out. He wasn’t like anyone I had ever known before. He was a bad boy. I looked up to some of the things he did that I didn’t have the nerve to do – to get angry, to show emotions of any kind. So in a strange way I kind of respected him, but not in a good way.
We went out for awhile and then I went off to school and he went off to Vietnam. I had made a commitment to him. I was going to wait for him and I sincerely meant that, because I was grateful for his attention to me.
I got done with school and he got done with the army about the same time. But along the way, the few times I had seen him I realized that we were going in different directions. But I made that commitment and to me that was big. Misguided but big. So he asked me to marry him after he got home and I said yes. I knew there were red flags, I wasn’t totally sure this was a good decision, in fact a lot of me said it’s not a good decision. But I went ahead and married him, then realized how much Vietnam had changed him. He came back angry with God, addicted, a womanizer. All Bad traits. So our marriage went from bad to worse.
Then our daughter was born. He was not a good father, he was emotionally abusive to her, to me, it just kept getting progressively worse.
Finally I realized I had to get away from him. I knew… I didn’t want to get a divorce… I was committed to “’til death do us part”, but I didn’t think God would want me to stay in an abusive relationship. So I finally got up the nerve to say I wanted a divorce. Then the threats started getting very desperate. He threatened to kill me. He said, “I’ve killed people before, they’ll never find your body.” We had a submachine gun under the bed. I lived like a prisoner in the house for several years.
Finally I contemplated suicide, but then that would leave my daughter with him so I ruled that out. I thought I would end up in a mental institution, it was getting so bad, he was so controlling. He put tape recorders in the house and he would stalk me when I went off to work. It was unreal, but it still looked good on the surface. He had a position of authority and he had to make it look good.
So finally, you know, when God is all you have left, then He is all you need. So I started praying, “Lord, please create a distraction where I can get away from him. Please create a distraction. He won’t let me go voluntarily. Please.” Five nights in a row I prayed. On the sixth day we were out of town and he said, “You know, there are people jealous of me. You’re going to hear some things and it’s all lies. They’re just jealous of me.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He wouldn’t explain.
We got back home and in the newspaper there was a story about people in his office who had been involved in a gang rape. He was one of them. This was why he was becoming so much more desperate in his behavior, so much more abusive. He was looking to stay out of prison, looking to control me, looking to not lose what he had, not lose his image.
That was all I needed. I said, “Thank you, Lord.” It took two years, but I got away from him with my daughter. I swore to God that I wouldn’t forget it and that I would help other people get away from situations like that. My career was social work and I was involved with women in the same situation. They would say to me, “You just don’t understand,” and I would whisper, “Oh yes, I do.” I worked for the state so I couldn’t talk about God but I would wear a cross and let them bring Him up to me. Then I could tell them, “A commitment to no man comes near to your commitment to God. He will see you through.”
Life is too short for misguided commitments.
Life is too short to take the shallow track.