Trigger warning: abuse
This wasn’t supposed to be her mission.
Sheila wasn’t born into a happy, carefree life. Every time she pulled out her dusty, faded photo albums and scanned through the photographic evidence, she noted it was extremely rare to find an image that captured her smiling. In fact, in nearly every photo she appeared to be on the precipice of bursting tragically into tears.
Throughout her childhood, the mantra Sheila’s parents frequently uttered was: “Children are meant to be seen and not heard.” With that, they went about their lives with what seemed to be very little interest in hers, other than to yell at her when nearly everything she said and everything she did seemed to irritate them into a rage.
So, while Sheila was seen, she was never actually seen. And from this upbringing she learned very early in life that people fundamentally can’t be trusted. Keep your distance. Don’t say too much. Don’t make waves.
One of Sheila’s favorite means of escape as a child was to lie on the ground beneath the enormous oak tree in her front yard and gaze through the veil of dark green leaves fluttering in the breeze, up toward the puffy billowing clouds in the sky. She tried to make out what images the clouds were forming. Were they dogs? Cats? Cows? She was never really sure, but she threw herself into the guessing game anyway. After enough time passed; however, eventually she’d tire of that game, and daydream about the better life she would have someday in a faraway land.
Another of Sheila’s childhood escapes was her intense passion for animals and their unmistakable ability to express unconditional love. She could always count on them. She could hold them, pet them, and love them. Predictably, they returned the favor. It dawned on her that when she grew up, she would need to find a job where she could work almost exclusively with animals. People were a challenge. Animals were not.
Sheila decided she would be a Veterinarian. It seemed like a logical plan. Unfortunately, not long after landing on that decision, the students in her high school biology class were required to dissect fetal pigs. Sheila got so nauseous from the sights and smells – the open-bellied animals and the stench of formaldehyde – that she had to leave the room and head straight to the nurse’s office. A lightbulb lit up over her head that day – I will never be a Veterinarian. Sheila would be forced to conjure an entirely new life plan.
Sheila whiled away the time in her very dull math class during her senior year of high school by staring out the windows and longing for her happier real life to commence, even if she hadn’t yet figured out what her real life was supposed to be. Luckily, her teacher had conveniently assigned her to a desk by the windows where she could watch the grove of trees behind the school with their leaves rustling in the wind, she could watch the gardener on his riding mower, sending up the glorious scent of fresh-cut grass right through the open windows in the springtime, and she could listen to songs the birds were singing to one other. Sheila’s teacher never really seemed to notice that she wasn’t paying any attention or that she wasn’t living up to her full potential in that class.
In the final days of the school year, the other students filed up to the math teacher’s desk for him to sign their yearbooks. Sheila wasn’t going to bother. What good could possibly come from it? But after all the other students were back in their seats, she bravely stood up and walked up to his desk, silently handing him her yearbook. He looked up at her, picked up his pen, and crafted a single sentence, “May you always be a dreamer; may your wildest dreams come true.”
And that’s when she knew, for the very first time, that someone saw her. He actually saw her.
Sheila went off to college on her path toward discovering her new life’s mission. She came back with two things – a degree and a husband. One was pretty good, the other turned out to be pretty terrible. That was probably because the husband was a highly unpredictable and very troubled human, much like her parents – more than she ever wanted to admit. Her husband made his problems her problems and took out his rage on her for many years until eventually she realized she had to get a divorce and move on before her entire body, not just the places she could cover with long pants and long-sleeved shirts, was black and blue.
Unfortunately, Sheila then met another troubled human. He succeeded in convincing her he was a really great guy who would love and protect her from her ex who had made a sport of stalking her. But not long after moving in with this new man, Sheila learned that he took out his issues on whichever human was closest to him at the time. Sometimes it was his daughter, but usually it was Sheila.
Then, even after being forced to move on once again, Sheila still refused to give up on love. Unfortunately, next she met the worst kind of human – one who could cunningly hide his violent nature and sociopathy until after the wedding bells tolled. It didn’t take her long to realize that after three strikes, she was officially taking herself out of the game.
All three of those horrible relationships served to reinforce for her what she had already learned as a child – humans are definitely not to be trusted. But more importantly, she learned, after sharing her stories with just a handful of close friends, that she was not alone in her suffering. Not even close to alone.
That’s when Sheila had her eureka moment, finally discovering her true life’s mission. It wasn’t what she’d planned for, or what she ever would have wanted for her life. And she certainly didn’t need to be a human punching bag for much of her life to get there. Or maybe she did? Either way, it got her to where she needed to be. She wanted to save as many women as she could, knowing that even if she could only save one person from a life of pain and suffering, a life of abuse and violence, a life of feeling entirely unloved and uncared for, she would fulfill what she now knew to be her life’s mission – to be there for other women who were suffering as she had suffered, and to see them. To really see them.