I knew something was terribly wrong. I’d been having the same bad dream off and on for two weeks. They weren’t just your typical bad dreams of being chased by monsters or spiders crawling up your arms. In these dreams I was caught up in one natural disaster after another. First I was sinking in a giant hole as the Earth shook in a 7.0 earthquake. Then a super vortex tornado lifted me out of my home. The last dream was an enormous tsunami rising high over the house and washing my family away. As I turned the corner leading down the street to my home I could see three police cars parked in front of my house. “Great,” I thought.
I slowly approached the house and saw my little brothers and sister sitting on the curb with a female police officer. Katie was crying. Davie and Jonnie each had an arm around her shoulders. They were always protective of six year old Katie. Davie was nine and Jonnie was ten. I’m the oldest of my parents’ four children. I was fifteen at the time and was pretty much in charge of looking out for my siblings. “Hey, guys, what’s going on?” I asked.
The police officer stood up and introduced herself, “Hi, I’m Officer English. You must be Sadie.” She extended her hand for a handshake.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m Sadie. What’s happening?” I asked offering a limp handshake.
“Well, Sadie, there was an incident here today. Your dad was shot and taken to the hospital.” As she was talking to me she kept an eye on my brothers and sister. Then she started leading me a few steps away from them. “According to your neighbors, it sounded like your dad was beating your mom. The next thing they heard was a gunshot. Do your parents fight often?” She asked.
I hesitated to tell her what really goes on at our house. It was so embarrassing. My parents argued a lot. My dad was always angry or frustrated about something. He complained about almost everything–the food was bland, the house was too hot or cold, the kids were too loud, our rooms weren’t clean enough, and sometimes he would ask Mom if we were really his children because we didn’t look much like him. He wasn’t always like that. I can remember having some really fun times when I was little. After Jonnie was born, Dad got hurt in a car wreck. Mom said he had a traumatic brain injury and it changed his personality. The worse I ever saw him act was when he found out Mom was expecting Katie. He yelled for days about our family not needing any more kids since he couldn’t work the same job after the wreck. He slapped mom that night in front of us. I was really scared. I took the boys outside to the backyard and we hid in the treehouse. We didn’t come down until the next morning. Dad apologized to us, but I never trusted him after that. From time to time over the next three or four years, I knew he was mean to Mom when he thought we weren’t listening or looking. Every now and then I would see bruises on her arms or scratches on her neck. I did my best to keep the other kids from noticing. When I thought there was going to be an argument, I would take the boys bike riding and push Katie in the stroller to the park a few blocks from our house. I would keep them out for a couple of hours just to make sure the fighting was over before I took them home. If Mom had shot dad, the fight must have been really bad. I looked at the officer and fought the tears that began to well in my eyes. I just nodded. “Maybe my parents can get some help now.” I thought.
“Sadie, I need you to talk to me. It’s very important for you to tell me about your parents’ fighting.” Officer English said.
I took a deep breath and told her everything I knew. “Can you help them?”
“I hope so, Sadie. I am hoping we can help all of you. Your dad didn’t appear to be seriously injured, but he was admitted into the hospital.”
“What’s going to happen to my mom?” I asked. I wondered if they were going to take her to jail. I still couldn’t believe that she shot Dad.
“She is in the house now packing some things for you all. She is taking you and your siblings to a shelter for abused women. You should be safe there. Your father will be released from the hospital in a day or two and she needs to take you all someplace safe.” Officer English explained.
“A shelter? Where is the shelter?” I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to change schools. I knew a girl who came to our school because her family had moved to a shelter. She had to move away from her friends. I really didn’t want to be the new girl at school.
“We found an opening at a shelter in Bridgewater. It’s not that far from here.”
“Will I get to go to school?” Going to Bridgewater meant that I would have to change schools. I was very disappointed, but I knew it was best for my brothers and sister to be somewhere safe.
“I don’t know exactly how that shelter works. Some shelters provide homeschooling for their clients’ safety.”
“Do I need to go help my mom?” I looked at the house and saw mom carrying suitcases to the car and an officer was loading a box into the trunk.
“Officer Davis is helping her. Why don’t you take your brothers and sister over and get them settled in the car?”
We loaded up into the car and waited from Mom. When she finally got in the car, I looked at her. She had a lot of bruises on her face. Her mouth was swollen and her eyes were red from crying. She had a patch of hair missing just above her right ear. Looking at her let me know that this fight was the worst ever. I reached out and touched her hand. “Mom, are you okay?”
“I will be, Sadie. I’m sorry. I hate to take you kids away from your home, but I can’t go on like this. I need to feel safe and I need to know that you all are safe. I know you have been taking care of them,” she tilted her head gesturing toward the backseat, “but that isn’t your responsibility. It’s mine. I’m going to be the mother you all need from now on.”
The shelter was a really nice place. From the street the place looked like an old plantation style house. It made me think of the movie Gone with the Wind. It was white with black shutters, tall columns, and a huge porch with a swing and rocking chairs. The house sat on a corner and had a white wood fence around it. The yard was pretty with flowers and if you looked at the windows, you could almost picture old Southern ladies sitting in front of the large window sipping tea and gossiping about their neighbors (I love to read historical fiction). When we turned the corner, we pulled into the garage of a two story brick building that looked like it had been added to the house.
We were met at the door by a short perky lady with wavy blond hair. “Hi, you must be the Carsons. I’m Nancy. Come in.” She held the door open for us. She was very nice and helped us get our things put in our rooms. We ate dinner with the other families in a large dining room. There were four moms and ten kids. I was the oldest. The kid closest to my age was a twelve year old named Sasha. We didn’t stay in the open area long after dinner. We were tired and went to bed early. I didn’t know what would happen to us next, but for the first time in a long time, I felt safe.
Over the next few weeks Mom’s bruises healed and she found a job. The shelter did provide online homeschooling to us kids. Teachers from the local public school volunteered to stop by to help us with our online lessons. One teacher, Mrs. Fugle was an art teacher. She taught us how to do all kinds of crafts. I really liked to paint. She told me I was a natural and she would bring me paint supplies when she came. One day she asked me if I would like to enter a painting in a contest they were having at the local community arts center. I agreed and began to plan my entry. The contest theme was “Peace”. Contestants were to create something that represented peace. It took me a few days, but I decided to paint a picture of the front of the shelter. The director of the shelter made sure the place look so pretty. For days I would sit across the street under a tree and look at the shelter. I sketched until I captured the place to my satisfaction. After I painted the picture, I named it, Refuge in a Storm. I gave it to Mrs. Fugle. She made a big deal about how pretty it was, but I knew it wasn’t that good. What I did know is that I loved to paint and I felt at peace every time I picked up a pencil or paint brush. I didn’t win the contest, but I did get Honorable Mention which came with a ribbon.
The time came when we were able to leave the shelter. My mom found a good job in another state and we moved. My dad recovered from the gunshot wound, but he didn’t come live with us. He went to therapy and found a job. He apologized to us kids and told us he wanted us to feel safe so he would stay away. We missed him, but our lives were so much happier after we got settled into our new place. I even found an art teacher who owned a studio. I learned more paint techniques and graphic design. She thought I was very good and hired me to work after school to help with her other art classes. I found my peaceful place in art and helping others discover their artistic talent.
Sadie’s Rain is a story from my latest book project, Reaching for Rain: teens finding hope in unusual places.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and I wanted to raise awareness that:
This is my plug to encourage my readers to be aware, show some care, volunteer somewhere, and please, please, please say a prayer for the safety of our children.