Conflict, p.1M. S. Willis
Table of Contents
“We are all victims here.”
Momma walked the room in slow circles as she spoke to the group of women gathered for counseling at The Center. She was not a licensed counselor and she hired people to provide private and group sessions for those purposes. Momma was more of a motivational speaker, a natural leader in her own right, and a pure spirit that people could trust. As she paced the room, her footsteps clicked against the light wooden floor. The silence of the room as the group listened to her words was punctuated by those rhythmic footsteps. Her words cut through that silence even more and the echo of those words in the soundless room only added to their intensity and command.
I’d just turned seventeen and had been assisting Momma in these sessions for the past two years. I very rarely spoke and mostly just helped by handing out whatever reading material or worksheets Momma used during that particular session. Most of the time, I sat around and listened to the sorrowful tales of the women and the strengthening and encouraging words spoken by Momma in response to those stories.
Today’s session focused on the need to rebuild and also on the participants’ views on the term ‘victim.’ Momma had a particular distaste for that word as so many people used it in such a singular connotation. To most, the term ‘victim’ only meant the person that was directly injured or abused, but not to Momma. She was more encompassing in her definition and avoided using the term in such a way that it would make any one person feel singled out or alone. Momma knew if she could get these women to realize they weren’t alone in being victimized, they would gain strength in the knowledge that they were not weaker or more vulnerable than any other person in the room.
Her voice was authoritative and assured as she spoke. “I mean, think about it, ladies. Yes, all of you underwent some form of physical or emotional abuse, the severity of which is different in each case. You can look to your neighbors on your right and left and I can guarantee you one of them went through something worse than you or they endured it longer than you. So, does that make them more of a victim and you, less of one?” Momma paused a beat to allow what she was saying to be processed by the group. “The answer is ‘no’, ladies. Regardless of the severity of the trauma, the end result is that the trauma occurred, it affected you negatively, and as a result, you were victimized. But it does not stop with you. Think back to the things that happened to you; now think about the people who first found you, or helped you, or treated your injuries. Think about what it must have been like for a good person to see or hear about what happened, to feel powerless to stop the violent acts they knew were being committed by others on a daily basis. Think about having to see that every day. Those people are also victims. Think about how you feel when you watch the news and a child has been killed or some other horrible tragedy has befallen one person at the hands of another. It hurts us all, it impacts us all, and no matter the severity of the attack or role you play, we are all in this together despite our level of participation.”
This is my favorite speech of Momma’s. I know that when it gets to the point that Momma feels comfortable giving this particular speech, it means the women in the group have transitioned from the healing phase to the rebuilding phase. This is when Momma shines, when her inner strength and fortitude are displayed so brightly that you can’t help but feel more powerful when you hear her words.
Momma stopped to kneel down so that she was face to face with one of the older women of the group. She had tears in her eyes that Momma would reach up and wipe away. “Ellen. You are not weak for having been hurt; rather, you are strong for having survived. You are not alone in what happened to you either. I’m here with you, these women are here with you; the police, the lawyers, your family, your friends, we are all here with you and we hurt with you.” She paused a beat before continuing. “But we have a decision to make, Ellen.”
Momma stood up and starting pacing the room again, making sure to look purposefully into the eyes of every person there. “All of us have a decision to make. It is probably one of the easiest decisions to think about and the hardest to follow through, but in the end, and when our problems are broken down into their most basic form, it’s the only decision we are left with.”
She stopped in the center of the group as she said, “We are at a crossroads, ladies, and we have two choices. At this point in our lives, as a group of people affected in some way by the evil and heinous acts of another, we have to choose. Do we choose the path where we let this break us and define us? Will we lay down and die because of what happened to us?” She slowly turned, once again making sure to look at each person. “Or will we choose the path where we pick ourselves up, where we fight against it to get past it and where we come out stronger on the other side?”
The attention of the women was focused solely on Momma. Some seemed hesitant and unsure, while I swore I could see that special spark begin to build in the eyes of the others.
“So, what will it be, ladies? Let’s make our choice. It’s time for all of us to stop sitting around wallowing in the events of our past. I will warn you that the road to recovery is not always the easy road. We have to fight against those intent on harming us. But, because we are victims together, all of us, we can fight together. We can rebuild together. There is power in numbers.” Momma’s eyes continued to look around the room to meet and hold each and every pair of eyes there. “You have to get angry, ladies. You have to use what most consider a negative emotion as a driving force within you. Do not let the anger consume you, but do let it ignite the fire within you that pushes you forward along that difficult road. Because when you reach the end of that road and finally obtain the life you deserve, you have won that fight and you have triumphed in the face of your abuser.”
She moved to Ellen again and took Ellen’s hand into hers. Her voice grew softer as she spoke. “What’s it to be, Ellen? Do you want to remain where you are sitting or do you want to stand and walk with me down the road to recovery? Take that road with me and I promise you…” Momma turned to look at everyone once again. “…I promise ALL of you, that when we finish walking that road, you will be stronger, you will be happier, and you will be more independent and more prepared to take back your life.”
The air in the room was thick between the obvious hesitancy of the women and the charged and challenging quality to Momma’s words. I held my breath in anticipation as to what would happen next. After a quiet moment, Ellen stood up with Momma. She was on shaky legs; but she stood and that was what was important. Tears streamed down her face, but her expression was one of determination and courage. Slowly, the other women rose from their chairs. One by one they combined their hands forming a perfectly unified circle around the room. Each woman gave strength to the ones by their side and together they made the decision to move on. Tears always pricked at my eyes in this moment because I knew it was time for them to regain their lives and to regain hope
This part was about rebuilding and every person in this room was about to walk forward into a life where they would never have to depend on another to survive, would never again put up with abuse at the hands of another, and would learn to fight each and every day against anyone who attempted to hurt them.
It was time to fight.
“Well, at least the bruises have gone away.”
Logan stood behind me, clearly visible in the full length mirror that I was using to inspect myself. My face had mostly cleared up. Thankfully, the physical evidence of having been used for a punching bag was wearing away. What had once been angry dark purple bruises with wisps of red and yellow were now pinkish discolorations that could easily be hidden with a light coating of foundation. The bruising to my wrists was gone as well, but slight scarring had stayed from where the bindings had ripped into my skin.
It’s been three weeks since I temporarily moved in with Daemon; four weeks since my roommates and I were attacked by Chris; or, as I like to think of him, the ‘psychopath hell bent on seeing me dead.’ The police have been tireless in their search for Chris, but have not been able to locate him. When I was first released from the hospital, Detective Troy had been in daily contact with me about their efforts in locating Chris; but as time progressed, their leads were few and far between. I only occasionally heard from her now.
My roommate, Annie, was the person who was most badly hurt in the attack. She was released from the hospital two weeks ago, but she was immediately transferred to an inpatient psychological facility in town. When I visited her in the hospital, she refused to talk about what happened. Her normally vibrant personality has been dimmed to a point of lifelessness. She demanded that the nurses cut her once long auburn locks. Her eyes no longer shown like emeralds, but rather, were sunken and dull. We know that Chris raped her, that he had at least a couple hours alone with her, but we don’t know the exact details of what he had done in that amount of time. She won’t talk, she won’t look anyone in the eye, and she hasn’t smiled again since it happened.
I know her behaviors well. I grew up seeing the walking shells left behind after physical and psychological abuse and trauma. I also saw how life could be reborn into those shells with the proper time, therapy and care. I had suggested that Annie be transferred to my parents’ abused women’s center following her release from the hospital, but due to the severity of Annie’s psychological condition, The Center wasn’t equipped with the types of treatments that Annie would initially need. Momma told me that once Annie could leave inpatient treatment, she could go to The Center as a sort of halfway point. It would be there that she could be taught to not let her past define her and to continue moving forward with her life.
“Has Annie spoken to you since it happened?” I caught Logan’s eyes through the mirror. Even though he and Annie had only dated briefly before the attack, he’d been at the hospital every day trying to get her to see him. He’d never been forceful, but just put the request out there to see if she would finally accept. She never did. The only men Annie would allow near her were her father and brothers. She reluctantly allowed a male doctor to tend to her physical injuries, but a female psychologist had to be found for her other problems.
“No.” Logan sighed. “I don’t blame her though, you know? I found her that night, Paige. While Daemon had gone to help you, I ran to find her and the condition she was left in…” He paused and his expression could not hide the fact that he was picturing her broken body on her bed. “…I know it was bad. There was so much blood. I don’t want to think about what that sick bastard did to her, I can’t think about it. All I can do is keep trying to see her, keep hoping that she’ll pull through this.”
I nodded my head in understanding. “Have you seen David?”
Logan moved to sit on the dressing bench near the closet in my room. His arms crossed over with his elbows rested on his knees. His shoulders slumped forward and his tired posture gave away how hard he was taking all of this.
“Yeah, I saw him yesterday when I went up there. Matt was there visiting him and he looked good, like he hadn’t been attacked like everyone else.” Logan chuckled and grinned slightly. “It was nice to see that David hadn’t lost his sense of humor after everything that has happened.”
I smiled at that. David had been beaten within an inch of his life. Matt, his boyfriend, had taken a decent hit to the head as well. Matt was released from the hospital within a couple of days, but David had been in a coma for close to two weeks. He had severe swelling to the brain and several broken bones in his face. His shoulder had been ripped out of the socket and he had several large lacerations from when he and Chris had fought in the living room of our apartment.
“Oh yeah? What was he up to when you saw him?” With David, it could be anything. The man had a way of introducing levity into even the darkest of situations.
Logan laughed quietly as he remembered his experience with David. “He had Matt bring him over a dozen magazines and they were picking facial features. David was adamant that he was going to need plastic surgery when his face finally healed, so he cut out parts of faces in the magazine that he liked and taped them all over his face. He looked like something out of a Picasso painting with little extra noses and mouths and other paper body parts stuck to him.”
I laughed. David was a beautiful person inside and out, however, his superficial side sometimes tended to dominate his outward persona.
My skin suddenly tingled. I knew that Daemon had walked into the room. I didn’t even have to turn around to feel the powerful aura that surrounded him. His scent, his heat, his energy immediately surrounded and seeped into me anytime he was near.
I’d stubbornly demanded that Daemon and I consider ourselves “roommates” and sleep in separate bedrooms when I relented to staying at his house. Chris still had not been found and the three weeks that I’ve stayed here have been pure torture. Daemon held to my demand and used his knowledge of my weaknesses and turn-ons to tease me relentlessly. It didn’t help that he refused to allow me out of his sight, even refusing to go to Tomb to watch over the club. Combined with his constant presence in my dreams, I was living twenty four hour days of sexual anticipation and need. My hormones have been on warp speed, it was getting to the point that just the sight of Daemon left me damp and panting. He didn’t even need to touch me. His constant gaze was palpable. His desire was evident. But his ability to hold himself back, to deny me what he was igniting within me, was infuriating.
I could feel his eyes sliding up my backside as I stood there. His gaze caressed me and I saw a lopsided grin break through when he eyed the goose bumps running up my arm. His crystal blue eyes caught mine in the mirror, the intensity of his stare caused my breath to become erratic. My muscles were tense as I tried to hide my reaction to him, but it was useless. I determined when I first met Daemon that my body and my mind were two different departments of the same corporation when it came to him. They worked together for the good of the whole, but had two entirely different methods of operation. However, despite the mutinous actions of my body, and those traitorous bumps that revealed my lust for Daemon, I would never openly admit how he affected me.
His eyelids grew heavy and hooded as his eyes held mine. The tip of his tongue darted out to wet his lips and his grin grew more seductive, causing his dimples to pop out on his shadowed cheeks. He had just finished showering and dressing for our day. The tips of his perpetually messy hair brushed his jaw and curled from moisture from his shower. A single drop of water ran down the tan skin of his jaw and left a slow trail as it traveled down his neck to his shoulder. My mouth ached to wrap around that skin and lick up the path of that drop. My body trembled slightly and I had to break his gaze.
We were going to see my parents today and I was excited to go. It’d been several weeks since I’d seen them last. I was looking forward to showing them how I had healed. My parents’ faces when they’d seen me after the attack were heartbreaking. Their worst fear had been realized when they saw that their daughter had suffered the ver
Through my peripheral vision I could see Daemon stalking up to me. His slow swagger was feline in movement, lethal and surefooted as he approached. Not once had I seen him glance in Logan’s direction and I realized how focused he was on my body. As I was not permitted to drive my bike after it was returned from the shop, I was able to wear a light blue sundress and sandals. My legs and shoulders were bare and the dress reached to my mid-thigh. My usual clothing consisted mostly of jeans and tank tops because of the motorcycle that I drive. However, Daemon was afraid that Chris would recognize the bike and attack me again if he were to see me. This meant that Daemon used his truck to drive me everywhere I had to go. The only good part was that I was able to wear some of the clothes that normally just hung in my closet. However, Daemon’s current reaction was making me reconsider not having chosen to wear jeans.
His eyes were locked to the bottom hem line of my dress as he approached me. I could feel as he imagined running his hand up my leg and lifting the material of the dress to discover the smooth skin of my thighs underneath. My knees gave at the sensation. I inwardly scolded myself for having reacted. Daemon’s ability to project his desire was unnerving. I didn’t understand how he could so thoroughly saturate me in his essence just by his mere proximity to my skin.
He stopped just short of touching me and my back was bathed in the heat rolling off of his chest. His hands casually went to his pockets and the top of his pants hung just perfectly off his hips. The fitted black shirt hid nothing of the sculpted chest and abdomen underneath; the material was folded and stretched taught over his shoulders. His scent mixed with his cologne wisped past me and my skin was softly wrapped in the deep vibrations of his hushed voice.
Conflict by M. S. Willis / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes