Several weeks ago I received a call from a friend. She was attending a conference in Eugene and wanted to invite my husband and me to dinner. Never ones to pass on a free meal, we quickly agreed and arranged to meet the next evening for good food, conversation, and trading NDN (Indian) thoughts on politics and life. We had a lovely time and when everyone else had wandered off to check out the desserts, my friend’s lovely granddaughter and I were left at the table. It was then that she disclosed to me that she had been abused by a young man she was seeing. I became immediately upset. A beautiful and strong young Indian woman, just past her teens, was being hurt by someone she was casually dating.
As she shared her story with me, she did so with the eternal optimism of youth and told me that she wasn’t afraid and that she “could handle it”. I was very quiet for a moment and replied, “You are going to die”. She, like many Indian people had been taught to not show fear and when she started to cry, I understood that she had shared her story with me because she actually did know the relationship was toxic and dangerous to her.
I realized at that moment why my friend had brought her granddaughter with her to the conference. It was to to save her from being stalked and abused. The entire family had taken all of the appropriate steps of working with both the Tribal police and with the local authorities to ensure Granddaughter’s safety, however, the fear remained.
As an older Indian woman, I am often given the opportunity to listen to and hear stories told by young folks. This was not the first time I had heard the cry of an abused young person who thought s/he could “handle the situation” so I did not let a moment pass before I shifted into advocacy mode. I told her of a book I had read many years ago. It is titled, The Gift of Fear, and was written by a retired police officer who when he was on the force saw too many instances when people are abused because they don’t see fear as a gift that could save their lives. I suggested that I would deliver the book to her that evening at the hotel where they were staying. I figured that my friend would be the one to read the book but wasn’t sure if Granddaughter would do so.
A month passed and I received another phone call. This time the call was from Granddaughter, she was crying and she had called to thank me for the gift of the book because she felt it had saved her from further abuse. It seems that the young man had continued to stalk her and had attacked and attempted to strangle her as she left her place of employment. I was so relieved to hear that by simply reading the book she learned enough survival techniques that she was able to save herself.
Through reading the book Granddaughter had learned to remain calm and think her way through the situation. She learned that rather than argue, she should agree with her abuser and to run away and scream for help if she was being struck. Unfortunately, the young man was an astute observer of ethnic prejudice and as Granddaughter ran screaming through a parking lot, he ran after her and yelled, “Don’t worry, she’s just a drunken Indian. I am trying to calm her down”. People who were there simply turned and ignored what was happening. Fortunately she was able to get to a friend’s home before the abuser could catch up with her.
My reason for posting this story is that understanding fear as a gift can alert you to dangerous situations long before physical abuse is evident. Even if you live in the most peaceful rural community in rural Oregon, you may know of someone, or are someone, who is in an abusive relationship. There is help for you! Take the time to visit websites that offer services for folks who are suffering abuse in their domestic relationships. Read books like: The Gift Of Fear and Codependent No More. By simply speaking to someone about your situation you may just save a life. It could be yours.