“What black eye? I didn’t see a black eye.” My husband sat in the driver’s seat with the map of Colorado spread over the steering wheel. He didn’t even look up. His concern right now was finding a way around Rocky Mountain National Park so we would be out of the mountains before it got dark.

After driving on a two-lane road through miles of a high valley with mountains on both sides, we stopped for lunch in a four-corners town, every building a variation of a log cabin. We walked into the only restaurant, took seats by the window, and the waitress walked over and handed us menus.

She was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt with the name of restaurant on the front. I can’t remember the name now but I remember almost everything else about her. She was blond out of a bottle, hair in a pony tail with weak 80’s bangs, very thin, tan, maybe 40, with a thick mask of make-up that started at her hairline and faded into the neck of her shirt.

It had taken her a long time to put that make-up on; it was layered as if she’d waited for one coat to dry before applying the next. In seconds, I could see why – the ghostly shadow of a very large, deep purple bruise starting at her eyebrow and running down her cheek like one enormous bloody tear. It was major, this black eye.

Because she had taken such pains to cover it, asking about the black eye seemed out of the question. Right away, in my head, I decided that the guy behind the bar with whom I figured she owned the restaurant had taken a swing at her. They were a couple, I thought, and she was stuck her in this tiny mountain town with him, getting abused and having to cover it up, just go on with life as if nothing happened. Put on the make-up and soldier on.

My husband and I ate our lunch and talked strategy about driving around the park. She checked on us a few times and each time, I wondered anew whether she had ever tried to leave. Did she have people here in this town? Where was her family? Where was a shelter for people in domestic violence situations? What were the police like? Were they buddies with the man behind the bar? I thought these things but I didn’t say anything to my husband. Talking about it where people could hear might make matters worse for her.

It wasn’t until we got back in the car that I told him that I thought the waitress had been abused. “We need to do something,” I told him. “Help her. Give her the number of a DV shelter. Something.”

“No, we don’t. We need to figure out how to get out of the mountains. That’s what we need to do. Besides, who says she needs our help?”

She hadn’t. She hadn’t slipped me a note or whispered to me in the hallway to the ladies restroom. There were no furtive looks or signals. She’d served our sandwiches, given us the bill, and that was that.

It was miles before I stopped thinking that we should turn around and go back to help her. But I was stuck on the fact that I had no idea what I would do if we did go back. What would I say to her? Why would she trust me? What did I even know about local resources? More to the point, who was I to rescue her?

In the five years since that trip, I’ve pictured her in my mind as being stuck there in that mountain restaurant, a captive of an abusive partner, waiting tables, covering up new bruises with more make-up, turning away from the piercing looks of women who think they know what’s going on. I’ve wondered if she’s still alive.

It wasn’t until I realized, writing this very essay, that I’d constructed a narrative for her that had no basis in any fact except her efforts to conceal a very bad black eye. I was so quick to make her a victim.

Maybe she had run into a door or been in a car accident. Maybe she had an out of control teenager who came after her when she grounded him. Maybe she’d slid on a puddle of grease on the kitchen floor and hit her head on a warming tray. Who was I to decide the significance of her black eye?

So was she a victim who needed to be rescued? I don’t know. She didn’t ask; I didn’t offer. I just wondered. I still do.

5 Comments on “Rescue

  1. Violence against women is all over. Maybe each of us should carry little cards with phone numbers for women’s shelters. Here’s Tom Paxton’s song telling why it’s not so easy to escape a violent relationship.

    SHE SITS ON THE TABLE by Tom Paxton

    She sits on the table in a dress made of paper
    Diplomas all over the wall
    One university, one school of medicine
    She’s overwhelmed by it all
    The nurse is all sympathy, voice of experience:
    Let’s have a look at that eye
    It’s going to look bad for a week, maybe more
    Go on, darling, it’s all right to cry

    (CHORUS): How can I leave him, she is crying
    What could I do, where would I go?
    He didn’t mean it, he will change someday
    Oh, God, how he used to love me so

    The doctor is busy, his manner professional
    She finds she must look at the floor
    He looks at her eye, at her ribs and her arm
    And it seems every last inch is sore
    The doctor is handsome, he smells of cologne
    And his figure’s athletically slim
    He speaks disapprovingly: What did you do
    To deserve such a beating from him?
    The policeman is waiting outside in the corridor
    He speaks to her as to a child
    He’s friends with her husband, he’s angry with her
    And he asks if there’ll be charges filed
    She says she’s not sure, she needs time to recover
    She feels beaten down in disgrace
    The policeman asks isn’t she secretly glad
    For a man who’ll keep her in her place
    (CHORUS) Copyright Tom Paxton

  2. Jan, This blog post called to mind our last trip to Colorado. We stopped for gas in Primm and as I was walking into the rest area, a woman spilled her husband’s coffee. He took a huge swing and struck her. I was among those who converged to ask if all was okay. Was there anything we could do. Security was called and in the end, she smiled. She kept smiling and saying nothing was wrong until the security guys said they could do anything unless she wanted them to. She didn’t. She was mentally impaired which made it worse for me, not for her. Her husband yelled at everyone, saying he took good care of her and no one knew what it took, etc. I felt so helpless as he led her away to their car. I can understand how you felt.

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