[Trigger warning for reference to domestic violence.]
One day, in July, my phone bleeped to alert me I had a new text message. I picked it up and found a picture waiting for me. It was an image of a woman's face, badly bruised. Her eyes were both blackened, her left eye so swollen that it made the socket look disfigured.
I didn't know this woman. I had no idea why this picture had been sent to me. Was it a callous prank? A threat? Or just a wrong number?
I texted back: "Who are you trying to reach? Do you need help?"
Came the terse reply: "No wrong number so sorry."
Like everyone else, I've been socialized to Mind My Own Business, even about matters where it's patently obvious My Business should be about stepping in between someone being hurt and someone doing the hurting. I wanted to not reply. But I replied.
"It's okay. No need to be sorry. If you need someone to help you, please don't hesitate to ask me. I'm a woman who is a survivor of assault and works with other survivors of assault, and you may have reached me by coincidence, but please feel like you can ask me help if you need it. Best wishes."
Came the reply: "Oh no I was in an auto accident 2 days ago and sent the pic to a friend and switched 2 numbers around but thank u so much anyway."
"Okay," I replied. I noted that she was not taken aback by, or offended by, or defensive about the implication that she may have been assaulted. "I figured I'd offer just in case it wasn't something like that. Sorry about your accident! Get well soon. :)"
I didn't expect a reply. But one came nonetheless.
"I am so glad this did happen in case another one of my friends ever gets beat up again and im serious about that."
I texted back: "Keep my number and let us both hope you never have reason to use it."
"I will," she wrote, "and thank u very much."
* * *
Last week, I saw a woman who I think was she in a local drugstore. She carried a small child in her arms, and, for reasons I can't explain, I felt embarrassed at recognizing her, I guess because she couldn't recognize me back, which felt unfair somehow.
We passed each other going opposite directions, just two women, living our lives, almost perfect strangers, and I walked on to the register, bought my junk, and left.