A few weekends ago, after a leisurely day spent walking around San Francisco with my sister and her fiance, we all headed back towards their apartment to say goodnight before making our way home.
We’d been together since the early afternoon and the kids were tired from all the walking and window shopping. It was Sunday night and I was a bit anxious about getting them into the car fast so we could get home to put them to bed at a somewhat reasonable hour.
It’s always when you’re anxious to be somewhere else that fate interferes.
So there we were, dusk, warm day, tired kids, tired parents, tired aunt and soon-to-be-uncle. Bellies full from a great dinner and facing an hour long drive home. And that’s when the couple just a few feet from us morphed from ‘random couple on a bench’ to ‘potentially explosive situation hard to deal with in front of kids.’
She stood up, tried to get away from him, he grabbed her arm and held her, she crashed to the ground, and he fell on top of her.
The four of us looked at each other.
The girl lay on the ground and curled into a ball, sobbing her heart out. The boy stood over her, doing nothing.
Every bone in my body was screaming to keep walking, to get my kids away from the situation, to just go get in the car and drive home. But she lay there and just sobbed.
The kids stared at her, at us, and back at her again.
And that’s when I realized that, as much as I wanted to hustle them away, to shield them from what seriously looked like an abusive relationship situation, I couldn’t.
“Is she okay?” We asked the boyfriend.
He shrugged, looked at her helplessly. He babbled about how she was his girlfriend, had been for years. They were just visiting. He just wanted to go back to their hotel.
It was 6pm and they were both utterly wasted.
She struggled to sit up and we helped her get back onto the bench. He handed her her shoe and her sunglasses and she tried to put her sunglasses on her foot.
M asked if we needed to call the cops.
And all this time the girls gaped.
We talked to them for a bit, silently assessing the situation. In the end we cancelled the call to the police, she got her shoe on her foot and her glasses on her head. He helped her to stand up with gentle touches, caring touches. They walked away, she, in front, like she was still mad at him about something, him trailing behind, trying to catch up.
We’ll never know what really happened, but before we let them go we were all pretty confident that what had at first looked like an abuse situation was nothing more than a regular spat exacerbated by too much booze.
The girls still talk about the strange girl who tried to put her glasses on her foot.
I still think about the urge to walk away, to not get involved.
I grew up in Paris, a city where, if you’re looking, you can find gnarly situations on every street corner. I learned early on that getting involved was dangerous and not recommended. I grew up looking the other way.
I don’t want my kids growing up that way. I want them to know that they can help. That they can make a difference.
Yesterday a man stopped and didn’t look the other way when a girl screamed for help from behind his neighbor’s front door. Today that girl and at least two others are safely reunited with their families. Families they hadn’t seen for 10 years.
He could so easily have walked away, have pretended he hadn’t heard, have refused to get involved. So many people would.
I’m glad we’re teaching our children to be more like him and less like them.
1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.*
More than 5 children die every day from the result of child abuse.**
What if more people were like Charles Ramsey? Would those numbers go down?