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What She Taught Me About Feminism And Fear

Once, my mom spotted a bruised woman with three children holding a cardboard sign in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It was pouring down rain. I was seven. “Stay in the car,” she said, locking me in.

As a child, I didn’t understand most of the midnight phone calls to my mom, or the times women would come over with children in tow, sometimes even in pajamas, and I would be told to go entertain them while Mama ensconced herself in her bedroom with their mother.

Once, my mom spotted a bruised woman with three children holding a cardboard sign in the Wal-Mart parking lot. It was pouring down rain. I was seven.

“Stay in the car,” she said, locking me in. She went to talk to the woman. I was so uninterested in what was happening; we were on our way to Wal-Mart to get a new something-or-other for me, and this weird stranger and her crying kids were delaying our mission.

I was even less enthused when Mom got back in the car and said, “We have to make a little trip first,” and then drove, with the woman in her own car behind us, to either a battered women’s shelter or a food cupboard.

I couldn’t remember which when the memory came to me, so I called Mama and asked her.

“Oh, heavens,” she said. “Whatever made you think of that? I remember the woman, but not where we took her… There have been so many women.”

“That’s exactly what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said. “I wanted to talk about the ‘so many’ women.”

You see, I had a theory that was slowly taking shape in my mind: the fact that my mother was not “of” the community was what made her safe, safe for women who barely even knew her.

My mother wasn’t going to gossip at a church bazaar. My mother had a 6’7”, burly husband, whose stature came in handy more often than it should have. My parents did well but, unlike many of their flashier oilfield counterparts, lived extremely simply; my mother kept small stashes of cash in the house or in her purse — $100, $250 — and would dispense them to women who needed them.

“Oh,” she said when I explained it. “You’re reading way too much into all that. Some women just needed someone to talk to and I listened. I just listened to people.”

And then there was silence on the other end of the line, and I could tell she was thinking.

The next time she spoke, it was to talk for 90 minutes straight about the women she remembered, as they came back to her, dozens of them.

“The first time I ever really saw a situation like that… You were two years old, and I worked with this woman named Cindy. Her husband was a big-shot oil executive, I mean big time, and she was so beautiful. But she always wore these scarves around her neck. Cheap, nylon things — and it wasn’t in fashion the way it is now, to wear scarves like that. Every day, a scarf.

“And her husband was an alcoholic, but so clean cut. I didn’t really put two-and-two together until she came to me and said, ‘I need your help. My husband is going out of town soon, and I’ve got to leave while he’s gone or he’ll kill me.’

“One morning not too long after that, she called me and said he’d left a day early. ‘Today,’ she said, I’ll never forget it. ‘It’s got to be today. I’ve got to run.’

“Now, Tanya LaRoy’s grandmother lived down the street from us. Her name was Millie, you remember her? I took you down to her house, and I told her, ‘Mil, I’ve got to help a friend and I can’t tell you anything about it but could you please watch Haley?’

“And she just nodded. She never said one word about it, even afterward. Women just know, sometimes.

Rest the rest: xoJane