Updated: May 12, 2020
I have to get out of here. I have to go now. It's late, I know and Jessie is sound asleep, it would be nice if she could get through one night without being disturbed, but this is my chance. I have to get out of here now.
That car has slow-rolled past the house three times, it must be them. I'd better get the porch light so they know to stop. These people are supposed to be the best, but at this point, I would leave with Osama, if he promised my little girl would never have to witness another beating. Thank God Tom has never laid a hand on her. Maybe I would have left sooner if he had. Oh, who am I kidding, I would have allowed it just like I allowed him to hit me. I haven't been strong enough, I'm strong enough now.
Okay, there they are. I flip the light switch twice, was that right? Maybe it's once for yes. No, here they come. They're pulling in.
"Jessie," I whisper to her so she won't be afraid. "Jess, let's go, Honey. We're getting out of here." I picked her up and turned to the door when "Ah!" a man is standing in the doorway behind me.
Give her to me," his voice is so low it is a growl. "Give Samuel your bags," the second man moves into the room quietly. "Run."
So much for introductions, I guess that's why they are so good. No screwing around with them.
We move quickly in the dark, I guess they turned the porch light off, straight to the car. Actually, I can see now, it is a mini-van or SUV. There are two women inside; one of them is already speaking softly to Jessie, buckling her seatbelt in the farthest backseat. The other is talking to me. Wait, slow down, my mind is racing, I can't hear a thing. We are out of the drive and flying away, I am still trying to stabilize. Oh God! There he is. I hear myself let out a small cry and slide down in the seat.
"It's okay, Mary, he couldn't see through these black-tinted windows. He won't know you are gone for several minutes still." My eyes adjust and I see the woman next to me is a pretty, smiling blonde. "Hi, my name is Susan and this is Tammy," she points to the woman who is comforting Jessie. I focus on Susan's slow, soft voice trying to stop my heart from racing.
"Our driver and rescue coordinator, whom you have met, is John and his assistant is, of course, Samuel," she is making introductions like we are friends gathering for a party. I am glad, I could use a party.
I peek into the backseat one more time, Jessie smiles back at me. Tammy has given Jessie something to eat, looks like a cookie, and she has a juice box in her hand. I smile too and reach back to brush her cheek.
"We're gone, Mommy," she beams. I can do this. She deserves for me to be this strong. She deserves to always wear that beaming smile.
It seems as though we have been traveling for ten or fifteen minutes when we pull into the driveway of a large, old house. Are we here? There is not a single detail to the house that differentiates it from its neighbors. No signage, no extra parking, nothing to suggest a business. The windows lit with soft lamp lighting, the manicured lawn with well-tended gardens both suggest this has been someone's home for years. John and Samuel jump out, open doors, and begin grabbing bags. The ladies are already unbuckling and helping Jessie and me out. They all move so fast and efficiently, as though they are one being.
We enter the house and find ourselves standing in a long, very large hall. They don't make houses like this anymore. There is so much room that to one side there is a small seating area with a loveseat and down a little farther there are two desks, each with a guest chair, and still, the same amount of room to walk as in the average hallway. I can see into a nice-sized living area on one side of the hall. The ceilings must be twelve feet high. All this space instantly produces a sense of freedom, with room to grow.
Susan seats Jessie and me on the loveseat and takes the chair across from us. Tammy steps quietly over to the young lady at the first desk. The men, I realize, have disappeared with our bags. I presume they have located cots for us and have taken our bags there.
Susan speaks in her soft, calming voice, "Mary, as you know Victory House is a very structured rescue center. We take cases like yours because of the high-risk factor in your relationship," she pauses to smile at Jessie. "To provide the services we do and to ensure success, we must follow strict procedures. Unfortunately, that means the intake process is time-consuming. Please try to relax, I will bring you coffee in a moment. Tammy is going to take Jessie to your room."
"My room?" I'm confused. I have tried to run before, I am familiar with shelters. Truth is for a long time I told myself that the reason I shouldn't leave Tom, was because sleeping on a cot in a shelter was worse for Jessie. What was wrong with me? I look down at Jessie now and she is beaming again.
"Our own room, Mommy!"
No, no I don't want to cry, even happy tears could confuse her. I hug her, pulling her head against me so she misses my swipe at the tears.
"Yes, Jessie!' Your own room," Susan covers for me. She waves Tammy over, we share a big hug, and Jessie is escorted up the stairs at the end of the hallway.
"As I was saying, Mary, we are a rescue center, not a shelter. In cases like yours, we know death is imminent for the woman who can't get out. The standard shelter just doesn't have the ability to truly save women and children in such a situation. It takes a family and a home," now she is beaming. I feel a little flush myself.
In embarrassment, I respond, "I don't have much money. I can work though, and I will try to get on my feet as soon as possible."
"Our long term goal is to have you on your feet. Right now, we will take care of your legal needs and get you some rest," Susan stands to leave. "We don't take your money, but you will work. As soon as possible we will move you and Jessie to a safe home, outside the city. There you will be able to re-start your lives and we will have room for the next rescue." The smile returns. "You are going to be fine Mary and you are going to live."
We walk the few steps to the first desk and begin the long process. First the Assistance Application and then an interview with the attorney who will handle my case, finally, the legal paperwork, a Petition for Divorce, TRO, and welfare applications are all completed. When I am thoroughly spent, Susan reappears to show me to my room. As I enter I see Jess, sound asleep in a fresh bed and in new, clean pajamas, her arm around a new friend. Tammy must have provided the bear when she tucked her in. Tammy is still on call too. She is sitting in the reading chair, sipping coffee, and catching up on a romance novel.
As I scan the room I see the bedside clock and realize it is 1:15 a.m. I look to the faces of the two women, who have been with Jess and me for over four hours. They are still smiling. They each nod their head in understanding of my thoughts and hug me goodnight.
My own new pajamas are lying on the foot of my bed, but instead of a teddy bear, I have been given a book to read and a journal. I open the journal first, compelled to write. I begin:
I will dedicate my life to the service of battered women. I will be there in the middle of the night. I will layout fresh pajamas for women who need a fresh start. I will give each child a safe home. I vow to end domestic violence. I vow to end the silence.