*May's mother married a man who didn't want May around. He frequently beat her, and when May turned 12 she became involved with a 17-year-old who would treat her the same way.
At first, he showered her with attention, which no one else in her short life had paid her.
But soon he became possessive, controlling and physically abusive—a typical pattern of behavior for many batterers. He took her car keys so she couldn't drive anywhere. His friends called her "Dee's girl" instead of by her name. And when he beat her in front of them for accidentally bumping into him after an argument, they laughed.
"The more they laughed, the harder he hit," she remembers. "And the more I cried, the harder they laughed. So from that day on I stopped crying."
Fully believing that Dee would eventually beat her to death, May made her escape with the help of local police. After staying in a couple of off-Cape shelters, May made her way to the Cape Cod Center for Women, where she found peace to heal and become whole. She received counseling, talked with the other residents, wrote in her journal, and just breathed in the sweet air in our quiet back yard.
After nine months in our shelter, May got her own apartment and began working as an advocate for the new residents coming in to the Cape Cod Center for Women.
"It was a horrible situation I was in," she says. "But coming here and having to deal with it completely changed my life around."
*Louise sang to her baby with love in her heart and joy in her voice during her stay at the Cape Cod Center for Women.
The songs were new to her—client advocates at the shelter taught her them—and so was the sound of freedom in her voice.
Louise, a mentally challenged young woman, came to the CCCW from a home on Martha’s Vineyard, where her brother regularly beat her.
After police responded to a report of trouble at the home, local domestic violence advocates were contacted, and they reached out to the CCCW seeking shelter off-island for Louise and her baby.
When she arrived at the CCCW sanctuary, Louise had few parenting skills because her mother primarily had cared for the baby. But that soon changed. Client advocates taught Louise how to feed him, gently bathe him, and best of all—how to sing songs to him that made him coo.
Because of her disabilities, Louise could not live alone. And client advocates wondered how they would find her housing after her stay. Fortunately, they found a local priest willing to help. In his sermon, he told parishioners about Louise and her baby, and posted a notice in his church bulletin asking if anyone would be able to rent a room in exchange for house cleaning and other chores.
Soon after, Louise was offered a comfortable in-law apartment. And she began her new life free from violence, in her own community.
With the help of many Vineyard services coordinated by the CCCW, Louise has remained independent and sends letters of thanks every now and then. When they come, those of us at the CCCW remember her lullabies and smile.
When *Christine arrived at the Cape Cod Center for Women, she was scared, not only because she was fleeing a violent man, but because she didn’t know what to expect behind our door.
Would the residence be clean and peaceful or unkempt and chaotic? Would staff members really care, or simply treat her as a statistic—another body through a revolving-door shelter where residents have little time to make significant life changes?
Christine was shocked when she entered.
“It looked like a home,” she says, recalling her initial reaction. “It looked like a house. It was a place that was taken care of. It was spiritual and at peace—a place that helped you feel balanced, not a place that was dirty and people were stressed out.”
When women like Christine first come to our door, they and their children are traumatized. Some can’t eat or sleep—or even talk very much. They are easily startled and always on edge. While they may not realize it yet, they are craving the tranquility that is so critical to their healing. And that’s what Christine and her three children found at the Cape Cod Center for Women
“We had a place where we could feel safe and loved. I use that word (loved) because that was what we felt there. It was a sanctuary. It’s very restorative. We could have our own room. We had a brand new blanket.”
Shelter advocates helped Christine do the things she needed to do to get back on her feet, like navigate the confusing court system, work on her parenting skills, and find a place to live.
“There was a lot of respect,” says Christine, who now lives independently with her children. “And that’s important, and the listening. The people who work there listen, they really listen.”
Today, Christine eagerly tells the story of her three months at the Cape Cod Center for Women. She says it’s her way of giving back to the place that gave her so much.
“It’s a jewel,” she says. “It’s a healing place. And people need to know.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.