I can never listen to the radio as I drive to the emergency room.
I rush to get ready. When I was pregnant, I would pack crackers and water to take with me. Now, I just grab my binder and my wallet and keys. I try to remember to eat something on the way, because I could be there for up to four hours.
In the pitch black of 11 pm, 3 am, 5:30 am I rush to my car. Some nights, the wind whips around me and I shiver not only from the cold but from the whistling sound it makes.
Sometimes, I pray. For God to give me strength to help. To change this person's experience for the better, even if it's only a tiny fraction of good in an otherwise awful event.
I don't always think about how I am meeting someone on what may be the worst night of their entire life.
When I arrive and they let me in to the ER, I can usually tell which room I'm going to by the police officer standing outside the door.
At first, I was surprised because they are almost never visibly broken as I expected they would be. Some are alone, some have a friend with them.
So far, the domestic violence calls have always been worse than the sexual assault calls for me. The emotions have been stronger, the devestation more apparent.
When I leave the hospital, it is often morning. Dawn is breaking and it's in that early time when the world is lighting up, but not quite awake.
As I drive home, I think about them. Days, weeks, months later I am surprised by the things that stick with me, these unexpected memories.
How pretty she was, with luscious, wavy brown hair.
Her mascara, the way it coated her lashes, thick like molasses and the streaks it left on her face.
The restraints hanging from the bottom of the bed, and how she knew they were there.
The way she sounded when she told me that she had learned her lesson, that she would never call the police again. How belieiving her physically hurt my heart.
Her son, 12 or 13, telling her that she didn't deserve to get treated this way.
Her pink hair.
Her pink bracelet.
How young she looked.
How beautiful her face was when it filled with her smile as she went to get dressed.
It is never the bruises or the violence or the pain that stick with me. It's not the stories.
It is the women.
So many people out there have experienced violence. I am an advocate, but thre are a lot of ways to help and offer support. One of the websites I support is Violence Unsilenced, where surivors have a voice. I'd love for you to visit it.
If you're in Bellingham, check out Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services on Facebook.