Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Two: Neighborhood Watch)

Non-Fiction | published in Real Change on May. 16th, 2012

This piece is part of a series:

- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter One: Honeymoon Phase)
- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Two: Neighborhood Watch)
- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Three: No Contact)
- Gravity of Abuse (Chapter Four: Three Strikes)


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Twilight zone

Four days after the hearing, Brandy and Karen sat at a coffee shop. Brandy felt a slight pain arc across her lower stomach and thought: menstrual cramp. Except it couldn’t be, because she was pregnant. Karen asked if they should go the hospital. Brandy told her no. Instead, Karen drove her back to the Georgian.

Every few minutes the pain would return. “Then I knew: Oh, my gosh, I’ve been having contractions all day.” She phoned Karen, who jumped in her boyfriend’s oversized truck. At the motel, she helped Brandy up into the seat.

Karen thought she’d memorized the directions, but behind the wheel, she got lost. Left turns, right turns, stop signs: They created a maze in her head. Finally, she pulled up to the University of Washington Medical Center. Forgoing a wheelchair, Brandy duck-walked to the reception desk. Her contractions were four minutes apart.

Brandy expected the contractions to become stronger, but as she walked the hallways with Karen, her contractions stalled at two minutes apart. One hour passed, another, a third.

She lay on a gurney in her light blue gown while Karen dozed on a couch. Another hour passed. Karen started awake. The contractions were still coming every two minutes.

Three hours, four hours, five, six. No change. A doctor ordered an epidural, a medical procedure to administer an anesthetic to the base of the spinal column. An anesthesiologist inserted a needle through the skin above Brandy’s cervical column, hoping to see spinal fluid in the syringe. He punctured her skin a second time. A third time, a fourth, a fifth. Nothing. Before he could try again, Brandy told him to stop.

A doctor examined Brandy. With his hand on her stomach, the doctor shifted the position of the fetus. The baby inside her stirred. The labor progressed.

Brandy pushed. Karen squeezed her hand. Nurses coached them both. Brandy pushed harder. Then it happened: Brandy gave birth. A boy. Her son. Eight pounds, 14 ounces. Endorphins flooded her bloodstream. She cried. “To just see this perfect baby,” Brandy remembers. “It made me feel very good.”

At that same moment four miles away, Richard sat in the King County Jail. He didn’t know he’d become a father.

During the pregnancy, she and Richard had discussed baby names. Richard chose the first name, and for a middle name, Brandy invoked her brother. Ian Robert Duncan. She cradled her son on her chest.

Karen found the birth powerful — and relieving. It signaled a new start for Brandy, a new life for Ian. Then Karen looked around. The room was empty. Sure, she was there. The staff, too. But what about the balloons and flowers and visitors? People should have been there to celebrate with Brandy. “I just remember feeling so lonely and lost,” Karen recalls. The moment felt both happy and sad to Karen, like being in another dimension. Like “The Twilight Zone.”

Brandy was indeed about to cross a boundary. Shortly after the birth, Brandy received a call: The Eastside Domestic Violence Program had a room for her in one of its confidential shelters. But the shelter, a safe house, existed in a nebulous world, its whereabouts a secret. Brandy couldn’t have visitors. No one would know where to find her.

When Ian was three days old, Brandy checked out of the hospital. She slid into a waiting cab. In her past lay Tent City 3, the Georgian, the last six weeks with Karen. In her future, her son, an opportunity for change. Woven through it all was Richard.

Ian screamed his head off as she held him in the back seat. The cab driver shot her a dirty look. Brandy rocked the infant to soothe him while she tried to tamp down her own fear of going to a strange place and the likelihood of a reconnection with Richard. Nothing she did worked. So the fear rode with her, an unwelcome passenger, as Brandy and her wailing, newborn child journeyed out of the city and into the unknown.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, call: the Washington State Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.800.562.6025; the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.800.799.7233

You can also contact the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, wscadv.org

“Gravity of Abuse” grew out of a three-month 2010 Seattle University fellowship to study family homelessness in Washington state. The fellowship was funded by the Gates Foundation. All quotes, thoughts and feelings of individuals stem from interviews, personal correspondence, police reports and court documents. Research for the series lasted 22 months.

Photography by Kate Baldwin


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