Happy Birthday to The Abuse Victim Who Bummed a Smoke Off Me

God I hope this finds you.

I only had a couple of minutes to talk to you. I saw you sitting across the road from me as I made my phone call to my health fund explaining I needed to save more money for my family. I stood there for ten minutes on the phone with an unlit cigarette in my hand, explaining that I was switching funds and had an unexpected hospital admission come up on Jan 2nd. You probably overheard the stress and panic in my voice as I pleaded with the insurance company to make sure my cover switched smoothly, so my admission went well and they didn’t turn me away when I had flown interstate for my care.

You probably also overheard my gratitude when I took the time to genuinely thank the woman on the other end of the phone for helping me. My honesty when I apologised for having to switch funds, and said that it wasn’t personal. Me saying it was just I needed to save my family money, and thank you for being gracious and going out of your way and helping me when you didn’t have to.

You approached me as I sat down after I ended my phone call, slumped under a tree and lit up my cigarette. My reward to myself for getting yet another endless task ticked off my list for the day. Until 6 weeks ago I hadn’t smoked for nearly 7 years. I hit rock bottom recently though, and took up my old vice again. Not for long, just for now. I can’t afford it for long. Health stuff yadda yadda, but my main reasons at the moment are money, and the inconvenience of making sure I never smoke in front of my children, which is hard when you have observant kids and a heavy smoking habit. But they’ve never seen me smoke once. I make sure of it.

What I have realised is I have found much kindness in fellow smokers along the way. I know they all have their demons, just like me. We all have our demons, smokers just have a glaring obvious, highly stigmatised one. An addiction most need to feed at least every few hours, regardless of stigmatisation or judgement. We all got our vices, that’s what I say anyway. Who am I to judge another smoker with a cigarette in my hand. Who am I to deny another person a small comfort when they’re having a rough time.

I recently found spirituality in a Tobacco shop, after 30 years shunning anything remotely spiritual, the universe spoke to me in a way I couldn’t ignore anymore. I’m a writer and I love irony, even in my darkest times.

I found spirituality and kindness in a Tobacco shop when I went in there after 7 years or not smoking, and didn’t know how to buy cigarettes anymore. Everything was in plain packaging since I last smoked. The tobacconist was the first person who asked ‘what happened to you to bring you into my shop after so long not smoking?’ I had just been at a hospital where someone should have asked what happened to me, but no one did.

The place that was meant to help me live left me for dead, the place that sells me things to kill me gave me hope and compassion. Oh the irony. I’m a writer, with a dark sense of humour that gets me through my darkest times. The place that was meant to save me left me for dead, the place that sells me things to kills me showed me kindness.

You pegged me as kind when you asked for a cigarette off me, and you were right. I said ‘Of course man, hell we’ve all got our vices, I feel you. I said I took these things up again recently after 7 years because I’ve been having a really rough and stressful time lately. You’re welcome to one.’

You told me that you had been having a hard time too. You said it was your Birthday tomorrow, and things had been really hard for you too. I could tell you were worn down and life had been cruel to you. I know how expensive cigarettes are, because the truth is I can’t afford them either. We have savings we are burning through for now though, so I have a full pack in my bag. I reached into my packet and gave you a second cigarette for your Birthday tomorrow. Kindness. Kindness to people enduring hard times is good.

You thanked me, and then told me your boyfriend strangled you last night. I briefly look at your neck and saw the red marks on it. You tell me he’s not far away, you see him walking towards you now from down the street.

I only have a minute or two with you. We both know we need this to look like you just bummed a smoke off me. Nothing more, or he will be mad and suspicious. Neither of us can be targets of his rage. Don’t wake the beast, it’s an unspoken agreement.

I ask you if you have a place to go, you say yes but he will find you there. I know you’re right. I asked you if you have friends or family, you tell me you have friends, but you don’t talk to them anymore.

Of course I think, I studied this cycle at university. I know this cycle. Isolation starts before the abuse. He isolated you long before he laid hands on you. You’re so deep in now, if he’s strangling you it will only escalate.

I tell you about women’s shelters. All the while knowing how deeply the funding to them has been cut by the government and you probably won’t get a bed. You say he’s coming now, he’s walking towards us now. I make sure not to turn and look behind me. I keep my voice low and casual, My eyes fixed casually away from you. I know we are out of time. I know these kind of men, I am afraid to become his target too. I tell you that you need to get out. You don’t disagree. I tell you, in a lower tone now as you say he’s getting closer, to know your options. To look up your options. That you need to get out soon.

He walks by, you and I say our goodbyes like strangers. I watch you walk off, I’m haunted. Haunted by what he will do to you tonight, haunted by what if I had not been on the phone for the ten minutes prior, and I had lit that cigarette and you’d approached me sooner and I’d directed you to actual helpful resources, when we had the time.

God I have so many resources I could have directed you too. All I have is the hope this will find you now.

When you run, go somewhere he can’t find you.

When you run, turn off the location services on your phone, and make sure that any other apps you guys share like Find My Phone are disabled.

Be aware of all the ways he can control and find you. Be 19 steps ahead.

Google how to leave an abusive partner when he isn’t around, but make sure you delete your search history.

Make your plan before you leave.

Make sure when you leave you never have to come back, because leaving is when you are most at risk of him hurting you the worst, or killing you. I’m not trying to scare you, it’s statistics.

Make your plan, start now, make it quietly. One day when he isn’t expecting it and you are ready, run. Run to safety, find your exit, never go back. Make sure you never have to.

Know what resources are available to you. Look into free women’s legal services in your area. They have experience with hundreds of women who have been exactly where you are, they are your gateway to where you need to go. They are discrete, they can help. Start there. You have options, know this. I know this because even though I don’t know YOU, I know women like you. I also know men like HIM.

Know that you can get him in a lot of trouble by letting the people who are keeping an eye on him know that he is not playing by the rules, and they will put him back in a place where he can’t hurt you. He left bruises, bruises are evidence. He will keep leaving bruises, because his behaviour will keep escalating.

You know that’s true, because before he strangled you last night he did other things first. One day you document that evidence, formally when you’re ready and safe, and you can put him back in a box where he can’t get to you.

There are organisations out there that can, and will help you. You just need an in and to find them, they can help you with money, protection, no interest loans, crisis Centrelink Payments, direction, resources, shelters. You just need to know where to look. If I’d had more time I would have told you where.

I told you that you need to get out. You knew I was right. You didn’t disagree with me or defend him. That says to me you are close to being ready, good. I told you something you needed to hear, you know it in your heart that the violence and abuse will just get worse because that is the nature of the cycle. You have seen it, and you are living it.

I said you have got to get out, and I told you to know your options. I hope that you find this post.

I watched you walk away with him and acted like I didn’t know you. I had $150 in my wallet I would have given you to stay in a motel that night, and a desperate urge to track you down and offer to drive you to safety. I drove around the block, hoping to see you.

I was trying to think of ways to get you away from him, parking nearby and locking my keys in my car on purpose, while playing to what I hoped was his appeal for a damsel in distress and smoking with you and quietly talking. Hoping he knew how to break into cars to get my keys out. Knowing I had roadside assist if he didn’t and I didn’t care if my plan didn’t work.

I didn’t find you though, the universe didn’t want me to, because I have to keep myself safe too. He can’t know me, and I can’t be his target. He never noticed me or saw my face. If he ever reads this post he won’t know it’s about you.

I never found you, and even if I did, I couldn’t have helped you more. I can’t risk my family and my own safety. I have to keep myself safe too, for me and my family. I wish I could help you more, this is the best I have. You can’t leave until you’re ready. I know you’re close to being ready.

I don’t know how long he strangled you for last night, but I know when I said you have to leave, you have to get out, that you listened to me. I also know that you chose to talk to and trust me for a reason.

I am going to pay boost this post now, to a targeted audience in our local area and hope it finds you. You told me how old you will be tomorrow. I hope it comes up in your Facebook feed. I hope people share it. I hope you see it and have a little more information.

I would have given you more than two cigarettes if I had the chance, but I needed to keep myself and my family safe. I’m just a girl who gave you a smoke, as far as he knows. I would have given you the whole damn packet because god knows you seem like you need a vice right now, but I’m betting on the fact that he controls your finances and would have found the packet and asked how you got it. I bet he’s controlling. That comes before they strangle you too.

He needs to never see this, but you do.

I hope you get out. You know you have to.

Good luck, please get out safely.

I hope this finds you, and I hope you find safe passage out of there. Make your plan, find your exit strategy, then when you know it’s as safe as it can be, run like hell to safety.

He’s shown you who he is. You have options. Know your options.

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