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Until the year I turned 16, domestic violence was something that didn’t seem connected to my life. My mother sometimes remarked that if my daredevil brother was as clumsy as his spectator sister, CPS would surely have paid her a visit and I knew about domestic violence from various lectures and after school specials, but it seemed so foreign in my idyllic little world. Then one day, I met a girl, let’s call her Sarah, who was as clumsy and accident prone as I was.

Sarah was a force of life. She was funny and impulsive and I adored her. Occasionally, she would appear in a cast or a sling. Once she slipped in the grass and sprained her wrist. We laughed and compared bruises from my most recent fall. Another time, she fell down the stairs and bruised her ribs. It didn’t seem as funny this time, but she still smiled and laughed and I didn’t know what to say. By the time she “ran into the door” and appeared at school with a black eye and split lip, I knew our injuries weren’t caused by the same lack of grace and luck, but she wouldn’t tell me the truth and I didn’t know how to help.

One day, she took a bottle of painkillers from the bathroom cabinet and swallowed them all. Her brother came home early from football practice and found her. EMTs pumped her stomach and stabilized her and she was sent home later that night where she took a second bottle of pills. They kept her in the psych ward for weeks under suicide watch and I’d visit with pizza and smuggled makeup, feeling grateful that for this short time, she was safe from her stepfather and from herself.

After that, I protected her the best I could. I’d pick her up before school and drag her to my house to study until her mom got off her shift and she’d no longer be alone with him. I’d host sleepovers or have her sit in the café where I worked watching me make lattes for tourists and mop sticky floors. When she missed school, I’d have a heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach all day until I could get home to call her and hear that she was okay.

Sarah was lucky. She graduated, got a job, and moved away. She has a family now, a career, and a healthy, safe life, but that could have gone very differently. I was quiet then because I didn’t know what to do, but I won’t be quiet now.

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