(Bridge Night #1, Part 1)
Since returning back from my youth retreat, and during the second part of my journey, I have slept more “on the streets” rather than staying at the outdoor shelter. After weeks at the shelter, I have made really good friends around town…learning from their experiences has made me more educated about the street life and they taught me how to manage my time and decisions.
Life away from the shelter has been a nice change…but also a challenge. The streets are much more difficult to manage and personally control, but the increased freedom is nice. (Although there are limitations to that freedom and liberty depending on city ordinances.)
I have stayed in sheds, barns, and campsites, but until last Monday, I have not fully slept under a city bridge. I needed to experience this for multiple reasons.
After I finished Edison Young Life Club on the South Side of San Antonio, I planned on finding some of my friends who sleep under a bridge near a city park. Sleeping with friends is much safer and informative…
My plan was to walk through the park (near the bridges) around 9:15pm, find my friends, and learn where to stay. In the end, if I could not find them…I would keep walking to the outdoor shelter and make it in before curfew at 10pm.
A full proof plan. Now I had to enact that plan.
I arrived at the park at 9:30pm after checking out a few bridges around the area. No sign of Georgia and my friends.
I had a choice… Go through the park to get to the outdoor shelter or take the main road. (Both ways were paths my friends took before…it was a 50/50 chance to find them.)
Something told me to go into the park…and turn left…so I did.
100 yards into the park, I saw two shadowy figures, who could have been my friends, sitting on a park bench. As I got closer, I realized it was a random boyfriend talking with his girlfriend…but they were not talking…they were arguing.
In fact, they were arguing a lot.
The arguing increased to verbal fighting and right before I could move any closer…the boyfriend spat in the face of his girlfriend and walked away yelling and screaming.
I was frozen. (This all happened within seconds) I said to her silently, “Please don’t chase him or provoke him even more,” but immediately she ran to him, pushed him from behind, and he fell to the ground. Just as I started to get closer to step in…he got up and started punching her multiple times and hitting her over the head with a bottle.
It happened that quickly.
My mind was racing…but all of the sudden I found myself charging the dude and getting ready to take him out. I kept yelling… “Back off!”
Mind you, I never have been in a fight.
Not even growing up. When I was a kids, I always hated play fighting or wrestling….I was the kid who always got hurt.
But tonight, I was ready to go!
Come what may.
Before I could reach him and take him down…he ran away.
I was surprised. Even impressed.
I am not that intimidating.
However, I should not be flattered.
Most abusive men are cowards.
He was a coward. No room to take on another man…just the woman.
When I approached her, she was crying and badly beaten. I said to her, “you are safe now, you can trust me…I am safe.”
Now, my statement made sense to me…I knew I would not hurt her. Nevertheless, as you might guess, she was not too sure about me…and I don’t blame her.
After some time talking…I told her I was a pastor. “You are?” she asked back.
“Yep, I know it’s crazy…but I really am….and I can help you.”
“That means you were suppose to be right here at this very moment.” she replied.
“That’s what I am afraid of,” I said back in totally honesty, “let’s get you some help.”
She was bleeding from the head quite badly. There was a lot of blood. She was also getting dizzy. So I helped her to the main street and had her sit by a tree.
She debated going to the hospital or to a women’s shelter. It was her choice. I told her I would do exactly want she wanted and sought to find the safest option. But she was hesitant to receive any official help from a shelter or a hospital. She was afraid they would ask more questions at the hospital and get her boyfriend in trouble, but I said they will ask questions anywhere… ( I really didn’t know this…but I was assuming as much without knowing all the facts…)
She eventually chose the hospital. I called my friend Emily to pick us up and take us to the hospital. Emily was gracious and kind to help. I had to pull out my iPhone to call her…and locate exactly where I was standing. Randomly enough, my friends pulled up to me on their bikes to check out all the commotion. They knew who the woman was…and her boyfriend….(actually common law husband they said)… They were gracious to help for a minute, comfort her, and help her get situated in my friends car.
(I was afraid they would be confused about my iPhone…but they have never mentioned it since….I guess it didn’t bother them I had a smartphone or a friend to call who has a nice car…)
Emily and I drove her to the closet hospital in downtown San Antonio. As I checked her in at the ER…I realized the nurses had to assume I might be the abuser…it was an awkward feeling… I have never been treated like an abuser before…it was a strange feeling. It made me think about the men who really treat women in such awful ways….
After a few minutes of observation, the nurses realized I was helping her and assisted her to the ER…so they became more accommodating to my presence.
As we were waiting for her doctor, she told me her life story.
Her name was Christi. She was born in Abilene, Texas. Her father beat her as a child and her mom taught her to sell, cook, and do meth as a teenager. By 16, she had already been raped multiple times, grew accustomed to abusive boyfriends and family members, and learned how to live life on the streets to survive. At 17, Christi left Abilene and began living on and off the streets in South Texas. The drug use intensified, the violence got worse, and she went to jail for cooking and selling Meth—-the trade her mother taught her back in Abilene.
My heart was breaking as she told me her story.
All I could do was listen and pray.
My mom was raised in Abilene, TX. Christi and my mom went to the same high school. (Obviously years apart….) My grandfather worked as a pastor and taught in the Bible Department at Abilene Christian University for decades. I went to Abilene almost every year at Christmas and Summer breaks (staying at the Embassy Suites near the mall she would sell most of her drugs) to visit my mom’s parents. I don’t know why I was surprised to hear she was from Abilene…but all I kept thinking about was my mom. She is a woman too…
Also, it was not comforting to know that Christi would most likely go back to the same guy after all of this was over. This broke my heart even more. I wanted to control her decisions for her…. Sure, I was helping for now…but I could not change the entire situation.
The nurses checked her vitals, cleaned her wounds, and a few hours later discharged her back into the streets. The Hospital cared for Christi well…but they have no authority over the abuse… so after the care was completed Emily took her to the indoor shelter where Christi stays most nights.
The time was 11:45pm.
Bad News. I was way past my curfew…so I needed to get back and find my friends. (They were nice enough to point out the general area where they would be sleeping under the bridge when they ran into me and Christi before we went to the hospital.) I was glad Emily was there to take Christi back so I could find my place before the night got even later.
As I walked back to the park…I realized there was a good chance I could run into Christi’s boyfriend or common law husband. So, I prepared for the worst. I didn’t want to see him…but kicking his tail was an emotion that was real inside my soul. It gets ugly out there. Even for a passive pastor.
As I entered the park again (trying to get to the bridge where my friends sleep), I saw a man at the same park bench. I hesitated, backtracked, and tried to discreetly take a different route…but before I could find another way….
The man screamed, “Hey you…yeah you…where the hell do you think your going!”
My heart stopped and I was preparing to get my butt kicked by this man.
Come to find out….my first night under the bridge was just getting started…..
I was in the thick of it now!