I lived in a commune (or “intentional community”) throughout college, and on entirely random occasions I blurt out stories about it in the hopes of remembering them a little longer and maybe sharing an interesting tale or two for the rest of the world. But mostly so I don’t forget.
Before I started staying with The Abbey, Josh, the guy who started it (and somehow convinced the pointy-hat higher ups of the Lutheran church to give him a fairly ludicrous amount of money), used the empty rooms to help people off the streets that needed a safe place to stay. So basically what we did later, only just by himself.
One day Josh sent me off on a benign job, to help a couple, Jim and Michelle, that had lived at the church pre-Abbey and drive the wife to get some prescription meds after a surgery.
As I got close to the door to ring the bell, I heard the yelling. I’m no stranger to couples fighting, and it generally doesn’t bother me, but that yelling made my stomach clench. It felt wrong.
I tentatively rang the doorbell again, then slunk back to my car to text Josh that they weren’t answering. I didn’t mention my unsettling feeling since there was no logic or reason to back it up, but gratefully returned home and put it out of my mind.
Until the next day, when a somber Josh dropped off Michelle and told me to keep her company for a bit.
Michelle was pale and sickly, smelled like she probably hadn’t had a bath in a couple of days, and was wearing nothing but a thin nightgown and telltale hospital wristband. Uncomfortable, I tried to make small talk, but she quickly dissolved into tears and a string of repeated phrases, from which I slowly worked out her story, and had it supplemented by Josh later.
Josh had sent a friendly, elderly male to get her prescription and Jim, furious that she hadn’t shared her painkillers with him and accusing her of cheating on him with said elderly man, had lit the bed where she was sleeping on fire.
The reason she had been left with me was so that others could coordinate getting her to a safe house for abused women, and then all of us promptly had to leave the property as Jim began calling in death threats for taking his wife away. Our local police department shrugged and said, “well, he hasn’t done anything to you yet. Call us if he does.”
And this all sounds very triumphant and noble, but I have to admit something. In those few minutes with Michelle, all I could think was I don’t want to be here, I don’t want to see this. This wasn’t the romantic story of overcoming abuse; in that moment it was just a broken, scared woman.
A couple of weeks later, I saw Michelle again as I was on the bus to school. She was transformed, looking healthy and confident, wearing stylish clothes and making friendly conversation with those around her.
A few months later, I saw her again on the bus. This time with Jim, and this time much quieter and without talking to the other passengers.
I hadn’t thought of Jim and Michelle in at least a year, but a few days ago it was revealed that Rihanna is dating Chris Brown again. The Chris Brown that beat her up, never really apologized, and throws a fit whenever anyone reminds him of it.
A few of the reactions I heard were judgemental or self-righteous, but I just felt sad. All of the confidence, fame, connections and money Rihanna possesses still couldn’t keep her from falling back into the cycle of abuse any more than a no-name, sporadically homeless woman in a mountain town.