A Floricua domestic violence victim warns about coronavirus and abuse.
Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I’ve said
Baby, I’m determined
And I’d rather see you dead
You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand, little girl
Catch you with another man
That’s the end, little girl
“You never heard it?” I ask my mother, incredulous.
She smiles dolefully. “No, mija. Es que eran otros tiempos.”
It dawns on me later that what she means is that times were different for her. That she was only 19 and pregnant with me, my father a man who beat her if she forgot to dust, who didn’t allow her to answer the door if someone knocked, or pick up the phone when it rang. A man who punched and kicked her down a steep stairway in her seventh month of pregnancy.
Later, we lived in Villa Carolina, Puerto Rico, a small urbanización with every house exactly the same that, more often than not, housed a mother, a father, a couple of children.
Now I know our house was different. In it, the radio was always turned off, the television turned low on mornings when my father slept, my sister and I always quiet, the only memorable soundtrack my mother’s pleas for him to stop hitting her filtering through the door of our bedroom at night. Sometimes all night. Ours was then a life of tension that knew relief only when he mercifully left the house for work. (Even on short errands, he took us along, keeping his eye on us at all times.)
It’s why while everyone rightly celebrates each new stay-at-home order, I shudder, my childhood coming back to me like music wafting in from someone else’s open window, leaving me breathless, making me imagine every horror that can befall a woman like my mother, a child like me, or anyone else trapped with their violent tormentors for more than a couple of days at a time, “for the foreseeable future” bereft of their one escape valve: their aggressor having to go to work, or leaving the house to blow off his (very rarely, her) never-ending steam.
Sadly, I am right to worry. Within days of the first shelter-in-place orders making running for your life less of an option for millions of victims, the headlines all over the world are staggering:
Of course, abuse would have a universal language, abusers everywhere taking advantage of the Coronavirus to exert more control over victims when there is a rightful stigma to ignoring the calls to “Stay the Fuck at Home,” when mothers might hesitate to go to a shelter for fear of putting their children at risk for the virus, when a recession will leave many without a job and make it impossible to secretly stash away money to leave, and even fewer donations to organizations that help domestic violence victims will mean fewer resources for those seeking help, never mind the fear of becoming sick and leaving your children at the mercy of their abuser.
But here is where isolation doesn’t mean abandonment. It means community and being there for each other, even if just with timely information that can save lives.
Let’s check in on friends we suspect might be facing violence at home. Let’s not look the other way. Let’s call, let’s text, send information such as that shelters in every state are open and taking every precaution to avoid infection. That hotlines and other resources are more active than ever. That choosing a friend or relative with whom to create a safe plan can be the best safety measure under the circumstances, and that maybe that friend or relative can be you.