As I write this morning, I’m wearing a pair of white ankle socks that are slightly too big for me. On the top of the right sock, there’s a rust-colored stain the size of a quarter. They’re not my socks, but I’ve worn them non-stop for the past two days.
I’m currently living in Arkansas as the author in residence for the month. The church I’m working with owns a small apartment building across the street, so that’s where I’m staying during my time here.
There are offices on the first floor, and four apartments on the second floor. The apartments are mostly used for battered women — women who have fled abusive, harmful, damaging, dangerous relationships and need a rent-free place to stay while they begin to piece their life back together. While they regroup and start over. While they find the courage to try at life again.
There’s a key pad at the front door. When the pastor gave me the code, he pointed to the glass front door and said, “It’s bullet proof. If any angry men are chasing you down the street, just get inside and make sure the door locks behind you, and you’ll be safe.”
His warning alarmed me. “Is that…um….likely to happen?” I asked, wondering just how dangerous my new living situation was.
He shrugged. “Well, with these situations, you just never know,” he said. “Some of these women have left some really, really bad dudes.”
I’ve been here for two weeks now, getting to know one of the women who was brought here from Asia when she was 11 years old (they falsified her birth certificate and said she was 19). Shortly after she arrived in the U.S., she was married off as a child bride, and gave birth to her first child at 13. She was locked in the house for nearly three decades, and abused in unspeakable ways.
Last month, she found the courage to leave.
I’ve learned the stories of other women who have stayed here, too. Women whose stories are tragic. But women who, in spite of their broken hearts and broken bodies, are incredibly brave. I feel honored to be able to stay here with them, living in solidarity with them and appreciating their hard-fought freedom.
This weekend I went through some intense inner emotional turmoil for reasons I don’t yet fully understand. I cried longer and harder than I’ve cried in a very long time. I had a hard time just getting out of bed. It felt like some invisible weight was sitting on my chest. Like some unmetered sorrow had not only overtaken, but also overwhelmed me.
In the midst of a crying spree Sunday afternoon, I decided it might be cathartic to throw all my clothes in the washing machine. Maybe if I had fresh, clean clothes it might be a symbol of me getting past this turmoil, having a clean start myself.
The laundry room is on the first floor of the apartment building. I put everything into the washing machine and came back upstairs, where I sat on the couch and stared out the window for a while.
While my clothes were washing, the sun went down and it got cold in my apartment. There’s a central thermostat in the hallway that controls the temperature in all of the apartments, and it’s locked, so I couldn’t turn up the heat.
I realized that all my clothes and blankets were soaking wet in the washing machine and it would be at least another hour before they finished washing and went through the dryer.
And that’s when I found the socks. I opened a drawer of the dresser in my bedroom, and there, all the way in the back, hiding in a dark corner, was a folded pair of white ankle socks that the woman who stayed in this apartment before me must have left behind.
I put the socks on, and in spite of the fact that they were a little too big and had that orange stain, they felt comforting and cozy and warm.
I wore them all night. I woke up the next morning and padded to the kitchen to put on some coffee. I tried to avoid seeing my reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall near the coffee pot because I felt so disheveled. But at least I had to give myself a little credit– I was standing upright, so that was a good start.
A few minutes later, I climbed back in bed with a steaming hot cup of coffee and my laptop.
As I was sitting in bed writing, my friend Reba called to check on me.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m sitting in bed writing about my socks,” I said.
And then there was a long pause because, well, what do you say to that?
“I’m proud of you,” she said. And it meant a lot coming from her. She’s the friend who says that courage is dreams with shoes on. She knows the pain and the power of finding footwear to move forward in times of crisis.
All yesterday morning, I found myself contemplating those white socks a lot.
If courage is dreams with shoes on, I thought, maybe hope is courage with socks on.
As I thought about the socks, I also thought about the woman who lived in this apartment before me. The woman who left these socks behind.
I don’t know her name or the details of her situation, but I know she came here in trouble, in distress, in crisis.
And it gives me hope that at some point, she got out of bed, packed up her clothes, opened that bullet-proof door, and walked back into the world.
It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, I can, too.