I decided to get some Starbucks today. I needed the extra caffeine with cleaning, final essays and packing for the move all needing to be done today. I ordered a sandwich too.

I pulled over to the shade to eat my sandwich and I witnessed a scene that could have taken place (and did) in my own life just two years ago… or four years ago… or six years ago. How deeply this morning’s events affected me is going to sit inside me for a while, like a stone in my stomach.

The couple was homeless. She, noticeably younger than him, was collecting cans. She bowed her head submissively as he berated her.

“You’re always carrying around garbage! You need to forget that shit and get me a pack of goddamn cigarettes. You better get me my cigarettes! You’re useless!”

She never replied to him. Her head was bowed. She emptied the contents of the can and tucked it neatly away in the bag she was carrying, recognizing it for the value it had. She knew that a few more and she could get the man his pack of cigarettes and maybe then he would be happy with her.

I knew better.

I looked at this woman and I saw myself. She was me. For those who don’t know me, I was in an abusive relationship for eight years. He beat me, he kicked me, he choked me until I blacked out and had pissed myself. This didn’t happen once. This didn’t happen occasionally. This happened at least three times a week for eight whole years.

The worst was the way he made me feel. He called me stupid and fat and useless. I felt like I was stupid and fat and useless. He told me that no other man would put up with the crap he had to deal with from me, and I bowed my head and I accepted it.

Just like the woman outside of Starbucks.

I looked at her and I saw myself.

I remembered being homeless. I remembered being helpless. I remembered thinking if I could only work harder to make him happy, then things would be better.

One day in February, two years ago, my husband bashed in my face. I lost a tooth, not in self-defense, but because I bit him and held on tight. I hoped that he wouldn’t be able to rear back for another hit. Blood was in my eyes and mouth and all over his hand that had just hit me and shattered my skull. I held that hand firmly between my teeth until he wrenched it free, taking my front tooth with it. That was two years ago. I lived a life of fear, of helplessness and self-loathing.

When I got rid of him, (which is a whole story unto itself) I went through a period of extreme anxiety and agoraphobia. I was petrified of even leaving the house. However, I knew that I needed to. I needed to push myself out for my sake and for the sake of my children. I checked out what it would take for me to go back to school, and I enrolled in the local community college. I realized then, as my grades soared and my self-esteem followed, that I was powerful. I would never again allow myself to be controlled by a man, because I knew I was strong enough, smart enough and good enough to do it on my own.

So there I sat on a Friday morning, watching myself bend and scrape to please a man who would never be assuaged.

I wanted to get out of my Jeep and tell her she was beautiful and strong and that she didn’t need him. I wanted to tell her that the only reason he treated her like that was to keep her down and that he knew if she ever gathered the strength to leave him, that he would be nothing. I wanted to give her some of what I had. I wanted her to have the strength and knowledge that she was good enough and she didn’t need him.

But I didn’t.

I had him fixed in a cold, hard stare. He made eye contact with me and held it. He knew that there was something in me that could threaten his tenuous hold on this false power he wielded. But she never even looked up at me. To her (just like to me all those years ago) there was nothing else. It was her lot in life. She only had the ability to think as far as trying to please the man, who would never be pleased. His displeasure and disapproval being his main tool of control. She had no way of knowing she was beautiful and strong and that she could make it and she could rid herself of this horrible man who hung like an anchor around her neck.

Perhaps no one had ever told her. Maybe no one had ever held a mirror up to her and let her see her own power and radiance.

I could have done something, or said something, or anything. I was afraid for her. I was afraid if I said anything that it would be worse for her. Maybe he would start on her with his fists instead of just his words. I wondered about her. Would I have listened to me all those years ago? I wondered disjointedly if my voice could even be heard, a well-dressed white woman in an SUV, clutching a Starbucks cup. Never mind that seven years before I was panhandling at that exact same corner, trying desperately to get my man a pack of cigarettes and a beer.

In my moment of fear and indecision, I put my Jeep in reverse and drove away. I almost turned around several times before getting home.

I put my head in my hands against my steering wheel and I cried.

I didn’t cry for myself. I found the strength to get out.

I cried for the ones left behind. I cried for the women who didn’t know they had that strength within them. I cried for them that didn’t know their worth. I cried for those left behind.

I cried because I drove away.