She told a story where a smile was nothing more than a mask put on to hide the truth.

Today she stood up in front of a crowd, lined wall to wall with people silently waiting for her to speak. She was nervous as a thousand memories and thoughts raced through her mind. Even though she had told her story for what seemed like a million times, each time was like the first. She would begin to tell the story a woman who survived domestic abuse, her Mother. She never expected to do anything less than speak the truth of her history to raise awareness and just maybe, possibly, help a women or child who can relate in some way. What made her so unique was that it came from many perspectives combined into one; from her own, as a child and, of course her mother. She told a story where a smile was nothing more than a mask put on to hide the truth.

She spoke about their journey of violent physical, emotional, and verbal abuse that they endured together in her younger years. Ten years that had seemed like a lifetime without any hope for a brighter future. To this day she could not present the crowd with any explanation as to what convinced her mother to leave. She speculated that perhaps it was a friend or family member but that, of course couldn’t make any sense because all their friends and family abandoned them for their disapproval of the abuser. Maybe it was just a leap of faith in hopes of a brighter future. Whatever it was, it brought her family to a place of safety unlike any she had ever seen in her lifetime.

There were people with smiles and hugs. There were people that would tell her that it was okay to cry now. These people were staff of this shelter but brought her a sense of warmth and acceptance. They stayed for days which became weeks that she held onto because the countdown of the return grew less and less every day. Even though Mother tried to reassure her that they would never return, she would never believe it because that lifestyle was the only one that existed outside the shelter walls. It wasn’t until the last day, when her chest felt the heaviest and her heart raced the fasted that she would ever believe otherwise. As they gathered their belongings and closed the door to the minivan every moment seemed too dragged out. As they drove past their old house, Mom grabbed her hand and gave her a wink. From that day on she smiled because she was happy, not because she needed to put on a mask.