Homelessness and Hidden Trauma

She sat in my office, light reflecting from her rippling jet black hair, her dark eyes shining  with tears dripping incessantly over the chiseled planes of her face.

She told me the history associated with each scar and injury: this one from a stabbing, this one from a gunshot, this one from a beating by her man. It was easier for her to tell me those stories than to recount what brought her to my office that day. Finally she told me of the concussion, the broken jaw, the bleeding from her ears, and the reconstructive surgery she needed “down there.”

She and her 11 year old son had accepted help from a man whom she didn’t know well. He kidnapped her and shoved her son out of the car. He went to the police station, but she was not found until three days later. Fortunately, the kidnappers neighbor saw her emerge naked and bleeding from his apartment, and called the police. Her assailant had finally fallen asleep and she was able to untie herself and flee, shaking in fear that he would wake up and use the gun he had threatened her with so often.

The months that followed were filled with sex assault detectives, victim witness advocates and child protective services workers. At many junctures, judgement was passed, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly:

“Why does she have seven children?”

“Why does she continue to drink?”

“Why does she want to sleep outside?”

Did these questioners really want the answers? Did they want to hear about the hunger and poverty on the reservation? Did they really want to hear about those that violated her so often when she was so young? Did they want to know how she was married by arrangement when she was 14? Despite her fears, she was happy for a few bittersweet years and earned her nursing license and worked hard. Then the drinking swept him from the Red Road Way and sent his clenched fists into her body again and again.

I began to see why she wrapped herself in layer after layer of flesh, protecting herself from the blows. Too unflinchingly intelligent to lie to herself but choosing oblivion, she chose to take a pint of vodka into the shelter one night and was put out. She told me not to be afraid for her or sorry for her, that when she laid outside between the warm bodies of her drunken brothers and sisters, the nightmares were less.

So, the next time the bottle clatters out of a backpack at your feet, or the fumes just about knock you over, or the urine on someone’s clothes disgusts you, please think about the most beautiful woman in the world, formerly the most beautiful child in the world.

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