“Did you ever think he’d hurt you?”

Such a powerful question. At least at the time.

She was only a few years my elder.. if that. Her brother, in a fit of anger earlier that evening, had proceeded to smash half a dozen shot glasses on her skull. Her mother.. and that’s the rub.. her own mother, defended him. Said that she deserved to be cut, to be bloodied, for trying to keep crack out of the home of her children.

That was the cause.. a small vial of crack. She found it in the bathroom in the house she shared with her mother and three children in West Seattle. Her brother, a domineering, charming, charismatic man, ran roughshod over them all. But he was never violent. He’d never hurt her mother or her kids..

She’d confronted him about the vial. Demanded that he leave the house. Insisted that her children were not going to be exposed to that kind of life. He was furious. What had she done with it? The vial had cost him a great deal of money.. money he did not have since he had been laid off. The storm of their anger engulfed the small house and shook its foundations.

Finally, backed against the door, her children watching from the next room, she spat at him. Told him she’d flushed it. All of it. Hoped it would make him leave. Instead, he reached for a collection of small glass objects and began hurling them at her head.

One of the children called 911.

Her mother stood in the doorway, smirking. Yelling that she deserved worse. Egging her son on in his fury. The siren sounded down the block and the scene froze. The grandmother noticed the child on the phone.. rushed over and hung it up in a fury. She pleaded with her son to run, to go with her in her dilapidated old car and try to escape. He ran, leaving his mother to run interference.

The police arrived. Her head was bandaged. Her mother stormed off, refusing to speak to the police, driving away to fume in silence, perhaps to search for her son. Her children remained watching from the next room.

After her statement had been taken, they called us in. It was unusual.. we didn’t usually get called for cases where the suspect was at large.. too dangerous.. what if he returned, what if he was armed, we were too exposed. Nonetheless, they called and we responded. By the time we arrived, the sister had joined them from down the street.

I took the lead, the more experienced of the two of us. There was blood seeping through the bandages on her head. The children were huddled with their aunt in the kitchen, straining to listen to what we were saying. They wanted to go with to the hospital. Our car only had room for three passengers. The children would have to stay with their aunt.

During the discussions, the mother returned. Quick, adrenaline kicking in hard and fast, I called out on the radio, uncertain whether the son was with her. Cruiser came screaming back down the street, a scene out of a movie. But the mother was alone. Glad to have the scene over, ready to bid her daughter good bye.

We left. Drove to Providence. I talked with her while my partner drove. Drawing her out, talking about nothing, gaining her confidence, ensuring her we weren’t going to blame her. Thank the gods it was quiet. We waited only a moment before being shown into a treatment room. I’ve never seen a more peaceful emergency room.. Saturday night and not a soul..

We talked some more. She’d played basketball when she was younger. So had I. Connection. The doctor came in accompanied by a nurse. They didn’t say a word, simply began to unwrap her bandages, examine the wounds on her scalp. Her hair was in cornrows, she reminded me of me, if..

They left. Left her bleeding, oozing more appropriately. Left us talking. It seemed like we were there such a long time. It was late. Or rather, early. 4 a.m? 5? Not yet daybreak, but heading that direction. The social worker came in.

He was a tall man. Balding. He had soft eyes behind his delicate wire rim glasses and a very gentle manner. He never knew but he decided my life path for me during that half hour spent caring about a stranger. He stood leaning against the sink, asked her questions, listening carefully to her responses. He talked to her. Not to us. He cared about her, about what she thought, about helping her. He asked her questions no stranger has the right to ask and she answered them without hesitation.

And then he left.

She was tired. She wanted to sleep but she was afraid to lay down.. afraid the bleeding would get worse if she did. The nurse, matter-of-fact, returned with a liter bottle of saline, a small, plastic turquoise pan shaped like a kidney, and a surgical stitch kit. The doctor came in pulling on latex gloves.

“This is going to sting.”

“We won’t have to shave your head. You should be happy about that.”

Her hands were covered in her own blood. I cursed myself for noticing. I put my hand on her jean covered ankle instead. Holding her eyes. Assuring her I was there. She was not alone.

Thirteen stitches. And then it was done.

I don’t remember when .. it must have been after the social worker was there. I asked if she was afraid to go home. She said no. I asked if she was afraid he’d hurt her again, or hurt her children or her mother. She said he’d never hurt her mother. I asked if she’d ever thought he’d hurt her. She looked at me. Her eyes fell to the floor. I’d hit home without even trying.

We drove her home that night. Back to the house it all started at. It was dark now and we waited for her to gain entry, to be sure the door was not barricaded, before driving away. The house was only three blocks from where I used to live. I’d known it was a rough neighborhood when we’d lived there, but now I felt connected to it in a way I’d never felt as a resident.

I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she moved out of her mother’s house, or contacted the judge about her brother’s violent tendencies. I don’t know if she saved her children from drugs. I like to hope that she did. I like to pretend that she, like me, remembers that night in the Providence emergency room.

That night changed my life. She did. I am what I am because of her. And she’ll never know.


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