When I was fifteen, I stopped my girlfriend from committing suicide.
She was a few years older than me. I don’t remember much about the relationship, really. I remember hanging out in the Student Union. I remember making awesome chocolate chip cookies with her – they stayed soft because she added mayo. And I remember that she was a recovering alcoholic.
The call was in the evening. I don’t remember what she said, exactly. I do remember walking the block and a half to her house and finding the door unlocked. She was upstairs in the bathtub naked.
It wasn’t sexy. Some of the wine had been emptied into the tub with her, filling the room with a stale stink. She held the shattered sharp shards of a broken bottle in one hand, gesturing towards her other wrist.
Another friend had called, and I asked them to call the authorities. In the twenty minutes before the ambulance came, I managed to talk her out of the tub. She fought me, wanting to leave and go back to the guy who had given her the alcohol. I wouldn’t let her. She screamed and cursed me. She scratched and hit and bit until the EMTs arrived. I felt miserable.
Later, she thanked me for saving her. She kissed me, even though our relationship was effectively over.
Twenty years pass.
Last night, I called the police. The screaming from the downstairs apartment woke me. It was the second time in a week it’d done so, but this time I was awake enough to act. Two women live there, and one of the boyfriends had gone on another tirade.
About a month ago, I’d asked them to calm down during one of these fights. Then, she was apologetic; he was threatening to both me and his girlfriend. While he later apologized, that didn’t affect last night.
I couldn’t make out many words before I called, just him roaring and things smashing right afterward. Her softer cries after things crashed around.
I called the police, and again, I felt miserable. It wasn’t my life, after all. It wasn’t my fight. But it sounded bad. Really bad. But it was still hard to do. I felt like I was making a big deal about just a lover’s quarrel. In my head, for a second, I had the thought “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
But I called.
I didn’t stand outside and look, nor did I try to eavesdrop. The heating vents carried the sounds well enough. After I’d called, before the police arrived, I heard her cry out “No, no no!” I heard him roar back “I didn’t hurt you, do you want me to hurt you?” I heard her scream at him to leave her alone, to get out of her house, and his shouted denial.
And after the police arrived, after things calmed down, I heard her sobs of sadness. And maybe, just maybe, they were sobs of relief.
I think I’m going to have a chocolate chip cookie today. I hope it will be soft.
Please read Jim Hines’ post addressing “Why Doesn’t She Just Leave?”, which played a role in my getting past that mental roadblock. The Artemis center further addresses that point, and has more resources. The 24 hour hotline for domestic violence is 1-800-799-SAFE, and you can read more at www.ndvh.org/
[Edited to add Artemis Center information]