~ The Art Of Change ~ with Carol Omer ~

Art and Creativity as Mediums for Empowerment , Connection and Change…

On Her Shoulders…

Posted by carolom on June 12, 2018

*A fictional account of the kind of  real life stories behind the walls of a domestic violence shelter.

Bridget heard the crunch of stones on the pathway two seconds before the knock on the door. Two seconds that gave her time to turn off the television, position herself behind the curtain and pretend she wasn’t home.  Her visitor knew she was in there of course and after her first lyrical tap on the screen was ignored she called out “Hey Bridget, you may have forgotten, just want to remind you, it’s group day today. There’s childcare on site and we are having morning tea. You are very welcome to join us”.

Bridget looked over at her sleeping baby, hoped he wouldn’t wake up and then returned her attention to the slight gap in the curtain. She hadn’t left her unit since arriving at the shelter four days ago, refusing to respond to the weekend staff and their invitation to join the group for Saturday brunch and Sunday lunch in the meeting house.
Bec, the newest team member expressed her concern during the handover with the Monday shift,  “I think we might need to use our key to check on Bridget, she hasn’t made contact all weekend and she might have self harmed or overdosed in there.” Tricia, the site manager, smiled and responded with, “It’s fine Bec, we know Bridget’s okay her lights are on in the evening and staff saw her taking rubbish out to the bin on the weekend.”

The familiar frustration that came with the feeling that she was not being heard washed over Bec, her chest tightened, her heart started beating faster and to her great annoyance she could feel her cheeks begin to go red. Tricia’s answer did little to appease Bec’s growing concern for Bridget. “Okay” she responded, frustration tightening her voice, “but can we document it in her file that I have expressed a concern please?”

This was a familiar scenario for Tricia, managing passionate social workers, fresh out of university, who insisted on ensuring that every detail is documented.  They worked alongside of seasoned staff that didn’t share the same reverence for reams of policies, risk management forms and paperwork that, according to Vicky, “have wrapped our little village in red tape and rules”.

“Of course Bec, your concern is noted.”  

“Thanks Tricia”.  Bec’s response was terse and she had to make a conscious effort not to bang the door as she left the shelter.


Behind the closed curtains and locked doors of her unit, Bridget felt safer than she had felt in a very long time. Her beautiful son was sleeping
soundly, he would wake up for his warm milk and cuddles, rest contentedly in her arms and usually fall asleep again shortly after. Bridget envisaged she would not need to leave the unit for at least a week, thanks to the thoughtfulness of charities that provided generous food vouchers for women at the shelter and the efficiency of the staff that supplied her with sheets, towels, kitchenware and spicy smelling soap and shampoo (leftover from the Christmas donations),

At Bridget’s’ induction Vicky mentioned there were domestic violence support groups on site at the shelter and she was welcome to attend but Bridget wasn’t ready to mix with the women from the other units. “The last thing I need is to be with women whose life is as crappy as mine.” was her silent response.

Nathan woke for his mid morning feed and after an hour of delighting in each another’s company, fell asleep again. “We are both so tired aren’t we baby” she cooed as he began to doze against her chest. Bridget returned to her computer, grateful for the wifi access, (provided at no cost to the shelter by the local service club) and although the staff wouldn’t have guessed, she was also immensely grateful for thepeaceful quiet sanctuary behind the high fences and security cameras. She felt very safe and was currently in the middle of a project that consumed most of her waking hours.

From the staff office Tricia heard Bec’s car reverse out of the driveway and down the street, the hole in the muffler was getting larger and her arrival and departure at the shelter becoming increasingly noisy. She smiled to herself, opened Bridget’s file, documented Bec’s concern and her response, sent a copy to Bec and exited the computer. In the 23 years she had been working in women’s shelters, Tricia had come to understand that the staff members who are the most anxious for the women at the shelter were sometimes the ones who needed the closest supervision.

Her ruminations were interrupted by the arrival of Margaret, returning from dropping two children at school and their mother to a hospital appointment. It had been a busy start to the working week and Margaret was ready for a cup of coffee and two of the chocolate biscuits that were in endless supply in the staff pantry.

She didn’t ask Tricia if she wanted a coffee, after working together for fifteen years, morning tea was a well-established ritual. Bec’s response to the offer to join them  was usually “thanks for the offer but I’m too busy to stop for a break”. It amused the women, they knew it was Bec’s way of letting them know she didn’t really approve of sitting and chatting when there were so many emergencies that needed her attention.
They sat down at the round kitchen table and exchanged a smile. “So how was Bec today?” Margaret asked.  “She was annoyed that I wouldn’t give permission to use our key to enter Bridget’s unit. She thinks Bridget is at risk and we need to check on her”.

Margaret smiled slightly, the familiarity of this scenario holding no surprises for her.

“Didn’t the weekend staff see Bridget putting her rubbish out and haven’t her lights been on every night?

Tricia nodded as she dunked her choc mint biscuit into the coffee, leaving it there just long enough for the edges to begin to melt into the hot liquid. “Yes and yes. Bridget needs rest, you’ve read her file, she’s exhausted! She was invited to the group this morning but she pretended she wasn’t home. She needs time”. Tricia smiled as she popped the last of the sweet, melted chocolate into her mouth. “Bridget  is going to be fine. Bec is the one  I am concerned about”.

In the sanctuary of her unit, surrounded by the small handful of possessions she had brought with her, Bridget immersed herself in the project that had been inspired by one of the brochures she received during her induction. A small, purple and green pamphlet titled Digital Safety for Women sat amongst the service agreement forms, payment benefit forms and information folder with numbers for local doctors, schools and legal aid (over the weekend she had noted there were no take away pizza numbers but then cancelled her interest because she realised she would have to speak to a staff member about the delivery anyway).

Last Thursday morning, when the police had arrived to escort her safely from the damaged house, she had been able to collect some of her possessions that weren’t broken. Her laptop had miraculously survived the attacks, even though he checked it randomly and frequently and had threatened to remove it from her along with her phone. For some reason it had never been a target during his rages. She assumed it was because it had been a gift from his parents for her 21st birthday and carried a higher status than the vast array of personal belongings that he had destroyed, pawned or hidden from her.

Bridget was following the instructions in the pamphlet to a tee. She had a small list that she would ask the staff to help her with once she emerged from her unit but there were some things she could do on her own and she was well into the process of doing them. With a red biro (found in the pencil case that accompanied the gold colored note book that was amongst her induction package) she turned to her list. Block his number. Tick . Delete all photos of him from my phone. Tick.  Delete nasty messages but keep a record for the police on memory stick. Tick. Suspend all of my social media accounts. Tick. Change all passwords for all of my accounts. Tick. Ask staff for a safety referral to audit my phone, computer and car for tracking devices. Pending. Change my mobile number and upgrade. Pending.


She smiled with satisfaction, stood and stretched her a
rms above her head and brought them slowly to her sides as an unfamiliar calmness began to envelope her. For a moment the big red ticks on the page in front of her looked like darting arrows. “Serena would love that” she said out loud, “It looks like Artemis shot her bow and arrow all over my page”. She laughed for the first time in weeks, the memory of heryoga teacher’s quirky ways making  her feel reconnected to the life she had before she met the man who turned her world upside down.

Bridget could feel a shift in the air. She looked over at Nathan who had awoken from his brief nap and was laying contentedly in his cot, looking at her. He kicked his legs as she leant over to pick him up, filling him with delight to hear his name and see her smiling.

“It’s dark in here isn’t it baby, let’s open these curtains.” A quick cuddle, two kisses on his forehead and she placed her precious little boy into the bouncer on the floor. “Watch this” she said pulling on the curtain chord theatrically and then sliding the netting across the rod. Bright light flooded the room and they both blinked rapidly, as a powerful stream of sunshine illuminated the arm of the grey vinyl couch.  

“Look where we are baby, there’s trees everywhere”. Nathan waved his arms excitedly, he didn’t understand what his mama was saying but he could see her beaming at him like he had never seen before.

Tricia & Margaret were standing side by side  under the kitchen window when they saw the curtain in unit seven open. They looked at one another and smiled. “Bridget?”

“Yes” Tricia answered, “I’ll head up there and see if she needs a hand”.

Bridget bent down to the bouncer and scooped Nathan in her arms, nestling into his neck and laughing. “We’re free baby and we are going to be okay. I Promise”. For a moment Nathan was completely silent as he felt his mothers soft, rhythmic breath across his hair. He pulled his head back to look at her and gurgled with joy, luxuriating in the happiness of his mothers gaze.

“Hang on, there’s something I’ve forgotten for my list” and she picked up the red biro and wrote with a flourish, ending the sentence with Pending!!

She was about to prepare Nathans bath when she heard the sharp knock on the security screen. “Hold on” she called out, unlocking the two security bolts and releasing the catch on the outside door.

Tricia felt the familiar wave of admiration and concern rise in her chest as she looked directly into Bridget’s eyes. “Hi Bridget and hello Nathan, I’ve come to see if there’s anything you need a hand with?”

Bridget adjusted Nathan’s position on her hip and opened the door wider. “Yes, thanks, come in. I have a list”. She looked slightly embarrassed as she continued,  “And I’m wondering if you know of a good tattooist near here. Have a look at my drawing. I’m going to get her tattooed on my shoulders.”

Tricia smiled and touched Bridget lightly on the arm, “I do actually, I don’t have tattoo’s myself but I’ve seen some pretty amazing designs over the years.  The woman who stayed in this unit before you designed a butterfly tattoo as well. Isn’t that a coincidence? She called it her transformation woman”.

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