The stories we don’t tell

As writers, we see stories unfold all around us. Sometimes we can use them in a novel, but some are so sad, or so horrific, we know we will never turn them into fiction.

I know a woman: bright, young, eager. I’ll call her Nancy. In her early twenties, Nancy fell into a bad crowd and committed a felony. As crimes go, it was relatively minor, but she came out of prison with several strikes against her. The biggest one was that she now had a record and had trouble finding a job. However, she did find employment and was determined to make something of her life.

She became a part of a program I’m a volunteer with that has as its goal empowering people to escape generational poverty. Nancy came to every meeting. She was the most eager, the brightest student in the class. Because she was so obviously trying, we found her an apartment near her work. She was our poster child of success.

But Nancy had a friend from her past. I’ll call him Bill. Bill accompanied her to the classes. This might have been a good thing, but I suspected that Bill wasn’t there to learn; he was there to keep tabs on Nancy.

When Nancy decided to attend the local community college, I was happy to give her rides. (Transportation and child care are the main hurdles for folks trying to get ahead.) Bill insisted on riding along. Bill made me nervous. There was just something about him I didn’t trust.

Nancy got A’s in all three classes she enrolled in. But Bill didn’t like her going to school, I guess because he couldn’t accompany her into the classroom. She dropped out and I lost track of her for awhile.

Then Nancy called me.


Bill Sikes, the villain in Oliver Twist.

Bill had not only robbed and beaten her, he’d caused her to lose her job because she lied about why she didn’t turn up for work. She didn’t want anyone there to know what had happened. Unfortunately, if she had told the truth they would have helped her, but shame is a personal and private emotion.

He was arrested, but when it came time to go to court, she didn’t show up and he was freed. It happened again. And again. Finally she testified and he was sent to prison. Nancy began to get back on her feet. She found a job and was considered for a management position. Things looked good.

Then Bill got out of prison. And Nancy fell back into the same old pattern of letting herself be used and abused. Finally Bill was arrested and sent to prison for a longer time. Nancy tried to get back on her feet–again.

But she met a new guy. I’ll call him Bill 2 because he was the same type of man. He beat her and then made promises that it would never happen again, that he loved her, etc. etc. etc. And she believed him. Until he robbed her and beat her so severely that he was charged with assault inflicting serious injury.

Is he in jail? Nope.

She called me. I always know she is desperate when she reaches out, but she knows I will do anything to help. I offered to take her to the Domestic Violence office. She agreed.

When I went to get her at a friend’s house where she’d taken shelter, she wasn’t there.

Three days later, she called again. This time she met me and we talked to the counselors. They offered to take her to a shelter, provide counseling, and eventually a place to stay and a job. The main idea was to change her environment and get her away from her so-called “friends.”

They offered to take her right now.

She hesitated and argued, her legs shaking. Not a good sign. I knew she was lying when she agreed to go the following morning, but I still held on to a shred of faith.

I was to pick her up at 8 a.m. She wasn’t there.

She’d gone back to Bill 2.

I went to the DV office and explained. They told me this could happen as many as 12  or more times. It’s hard to change your life. It’s hard to start over–and over–and over. It’s hard to imagine you deserve something better.

She’ll call me again when the abuse becomes too bad. And she’ll be offered the same deal.

Hopefully, she’ll accept before it’s too late.

Because we remember what happened to the original Nancy and Bill.







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