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so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

If you're Jemcina Slender, you left your husband.

You walked out the back door of his rented house and hurried along the alley, shuffling in your house slippers, clutching a black plastic garbage bag of laundry. You rounded the corner and walked through the front yard of the nearest house. You couldn't know it, but inside the man of the house said to his family, "Who's that coming to the door?" When he opened the door before you could even knock, you gathered every ounce of your courage and asked very politely, "I don't want to inconvenience you, but could you give me a ride to the Safeway center? I need to get away from my husband." And when asked, "Is everything alright?" you want to scream "Of course everything's not alright! My life is falling apart and I'm standing here on your front porch in last night's clothes while my daughter rides her bike down the street looking for me and I just need to get away from him" but instead you say, calmly, "A domestic disturbance. Can you give me a ride?" Though you try to control it the desperation in your voice spurs the man to action.

Soon you're in the backseat of a car driven by the man's sister-in-law and he's questioning you: Are you hurt? Do you want to go back? Did you call the cops? Do you have somewhere to stay? The sister-in-law hands you her cell phone but you've only been in town a few days and you hadn't really thought about where you'd go, just that you need to go. The number doesn't come to your head and you dial incorrectly twice, each time apologizing.

You try to make it work, but sometimes it just doesn't.

You're approaching the interstate, riding there in the backseat of the car, finally dialing 911 and requesting transfer to TPD to discuss a domestic dispute. While you're talking with the officer the man's phone rings and soon he's talking to an officer at the scene, an officer who finally responded to your previous call. You are adamantly telling the TPD officer that you have no wish to return, that you'll file a report at the station tomorrow, when you hear the man speaking to the officer at the scene, "She won't go back. I think she's afraid of her husband."

They want you to go back. They think they can mediate the dispute. They're soothed by your husband's lies. They allow themselves to be manipulated by his craftiness, as you once did. But no more. He can tell the children that their mother is slapping dope; he can tell the cop that his wife assaulted him. It doesn't matter. What matters is the tires of this car eat up the road beneath you, transporting you one more mile and a mile more away from him.

You're slightly embarrassed when you can't remember where your friend lives, even more embarrassed when you get there and your friend isn't home. But the man and his sister-in-law offer to drive you somewhere else, to leave you somewhere safe. You can't remember where the bowling alley is but between them they figure it out. Of course it's closed but across the street the Safehouse coffee shop is open. That's as good a place as any. A safe place.

You clamber out of the car, clutching your garbage bag and your purse, relieved that the man and his sister-in-law have sense enough to refrain from wishing you a merry christmas, but instead offer a simple "God bless." The man proffers a tiny post it note with a phone number. He says, "Call me if you need anything. I'll talk to the police. I'll back you up." It's been such a long time since someone's been on your side you almost, almost succumb to tears. Instead you take the paper and say "Thank you" and don't even look back when the car that bore you from your oppressor exits the parking lot.

You don't even look back.


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