Shared by our friend Jeff DeLuca

I’ve gotten used to the drive between Chapel Hill, NC and Jupiter, FL. When I’m feeling awake, I split the 10-11 hour trek between an audiobook and tunes. Post-campaign life has left me more burned out than I could ever imagine, so blasting music was the only option today. Crossing the Florida border tells me I’m entering the last third of the trip, which tends to drag so I stopped off in Jacksonville for gas, coffee, and something slightly healthier to eat than the Bojangles I consumed in South Carolina earlier that morning.

I almost pulled into a Hess station until I noticed that the Valero next door was a full six cents/gallon cheaper. As I step up to the filling station, I notice quickly that I’m “across the lines”. (Jacksonville is still one of the most segregated cities in the country.) Feeling dirty for the racism and classism inherent in such uneasiness, I start filling my tank. It’s cloudy and there’s a mist in the air. There’s a white woman in a thin, worn but not ratty, black dress wandering around the lot. The dress was torn at the bottom like she’d been walking on it. It’s 60 degrees out, which is like 40 in North Carolina. She could have been 40 or 60 years old. I don’t know. But she’s shivering as she approaches my car from behind, her dress damp from the mist. Feebly but with an Oklahoma accent that could cut a prairie wind, she asks me: “Sir, I mean no disrespect at all…” I turn toward her, compelled by her humble request and a gut feeling that something was very immediately wrong about her situation. Then I saw the black spot under her right eye.

“My husband of seventeen years just up and left me with nothing but this”, she said as she lifted her dress and exposed her shoeless, cut-up feet. This is not a woman who lives outside.  I can’t imagine it had been more than 24 hours since the event. “I’m not even from here. I’m from Tulsa, Oklahoma and I have nowhere to go.” Shock is the not the word.

I fumbled around my car looking for change, until I remembered the cash I had in my pocket. I asked her if I could help her get in touch with a women’s shelter. She already had. The beds were all full. I wasn’t surprised, but heartbroken for her all over again. As I gave her my last six dollars she teared up and taking me in her arms she kissed me on the neck. She was so genuine about it. Some would victim blame and say she was probably a drug addict, an alcoholic, or a nutcase. None of those would change the fact that she was left for dead by the man she gave her life to. A man who had the power to leave her with nothing on the streets of Jacksonville, 1100 miles and a $211 Greyhound ticket from home, three days before Thanksgiving, and did. I wish I had been with it enough to hug her back the way I would have liked to. To talk to her for a minute and get a better sense of her story. She disappeared down the street before I could think of another course of action.

I went inside the Food Mart, still totally in shock, and got my coffee and banana before getting back on the road. I turned on Tracy Chapman’s self-titled first album so it wasn’t long before the tears came. (You should listen to “Why?” after reading this.) I wondered what the woman I just met would do and if I could have or should have tried to do more for her. I’ll never know her name. Nor she mine. I’ll never know if she made it back to Tulsa, or if that was even the goal. I don’t know where she’s sleeping tonight or if she has dry clothes. I know violence though. I certainly know men’s violence, as generations of it have steered my personal narrative in ways I’ve only recently become mature enough to understand.

I am wondering exactly how many women are in the same situation I saw today, maybe within blocks of that Valero. I’m thinking too about those women filling the beds of crisis centers and women’s shelters across America. (Congress still hasn’t renewed the Violence Against Women Act.) I’m thinking I couldn’t care less about rich white men and their wannabes who don’t want to pay for the resources necessary to help survivors of interpersonal violence. I’m thinking about my own privilege (white, male, cisgender, able-bodied, not impoverished) and how lucky I am to know I’m sleeping under a roof in a warm bed tonight. I’m thinking about the unknown power of our decisions, even the decision of one gas station over another, and the unanticipated renogation of perspectives through personal connection. But mostly, I’m wondering if she’s ok.