Trigger warning: Domestic abuse
Last week I witnessed a dispute between a married couple at the east end pub. He left in a huff and she stayed on, crying softly at the bar.
I approached her and smiled. I asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said she was fine. I asked again five minutes later. She shared that she is sick of the way he treats her. She said that she knows she should leave but she is afraid of telling her family that her marriage has failed. She is embarrassed to admit to her loved ones that he is abusive.
I asked her if he is violent and she said that the emotional violence is worse, that he discontinued punching her when she stopped using make-up to cover it up.
I wanted to rescue her, to shake her, to tell her everything he doesn’t. I was at once horrified and numb. I knew enough about dynamics of domestic abuse to know that she wont leave until she is ready to. I said, “You know what to do. I can tell that you are courageous”.
She probably didn’t leave him the next day, it may take years. But in the hour I had with her I offered my empathy, compassion and respect. I didn’t lecture, pity or try to educate her. Bartending is one of those professions that can place you in positions of brief intimacy with perfect strangers. Sometimes situations like these arise when I feel a responsibility to try to make a real difference in someone’s life. However, experience has taught me that even if all you can offer is a beer and a smile, it can go a long way.
We hugged before she left. She told me that she was grateful and felt confident. I took a deep breath and went back to serving my patrons. I wonder about her, I wonder if I made any lasting impact. What I do know is we briefly shared a space of understanding and caring, and that I did all that I could.