BY KRISTA RAMSEY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
From the back seat, my daughter is earnest but insistent. All the way along the interstate, she saturates me with questions.
"How long can they stay, Mom? Thirty days at one time, or just 30 days total?"
"Thirty days at a time. They let the women come back to the shelter if they need to," I tell her. "It usually takes battered women quite a while to get out of the relationship. When they start to go, the man usually gets more violent. The women have to make plans so that they and their children will be safe."
We are on our way to visit the new YWCA battered women's shelter. We have talked about it regularly at our house for months. Today it is becoming real for my daughter.
I am a mother who explains everything. I am famous for long monologues and precise information, usually given with a moral at the end. Today is different. Today my answers come slowly. And the moral is less clear.
It is not just that the issue of domestic violence is far more complicated than it appears -- filled with nuances of control and power, and intricate patterns of behavior. And it is not just that my daughter is 8. As a parent today, I have already had to explain presidential affairs, gay rights, journalistic ethics.
But today's questions will lead her into matters of her own identity, to the difficult side of being female. She has grown up with the message that women are strong, capable, wonderful. Now she must hear that they are also punched, threatened and kicked.
I have trouble putting the pieces together myself.
A greater need
"How many can live there?" she asks. Sixty, I tell her, almost three times as many as the old YWCA shelter held. Is that counting their children, she wants to know. Yes. Her silence tells me she already understands that, even in Cincinnati, the need is greater than one shelter can hold.
"Will they be there today?" she asks. She wants to meet the women, wants to know if she could talk to them, play with their children. "Not yet," I tell her, "but if they were, you would see that they are women just like me. Some will be middle-class, some poor, some rich.
"Sooner or later, someone we know will be there."
It is surely the hardest thing I have to tell her. It brings domestic violence so near, so real. And it reminds me that women I know have suffered it in silence, have hidden it from friends, family, neighbors. From me.
Keeping them safe
"When I was in high school, I worked at a department store. My boss was this feisty little woman named Cissy," I suddenly remember. "One day she came to work with sunglasses on, and wore them all day. We joked about it behind her back. We said she thought she was a movie star.
"She took them off the next day," I say, more to myself than my daughter. "Her left eye was black and purple. Her husband, this big guy, had punched her."
We are silent, my daughter wise enough to know I cannot answer the next question: Why did he do it?
So she asks me a better one, and this one I can answer. "Will someone be there to keep them safe?"
Yes, I tell her emphatically. Yes.
They will be there. Every night and every day. People have raised money for this shelter. They have sewn quilts for every bed. They will make meals for the women and children, unlock the door to welcome them, sit with them, listen to them. Watch over them as they sleep. "It is such a small group of people who want to hurt them," I tell her, "and such a large group who want to help. That is how we handle things that are awful and unfair. That's what keeps the world in balance."
We ride on in peaceful silence, my heart satisfied. In some small way, I have not only told the story, but found the moral at the end.
Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at the Enquirer, 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202.