That being said, about a year and a half ago, I found myself in a situation I never imagined would happen. In fact, I’m about 99.99% sure I had watched other women in this situation and judged them. Ouch.
It was a sunny afternoon in Midwest, U.S.A. I was clumsily trying to feed my itty bitty toddler with shaking hands in a Wendy’s dining room. A discussion with my then separated husband turned ugly. We were in an all-out argument…in public. It was nasty, and although we were not yelling, we were NOT quiet. As I looked around, crying, trying to work out this argument while keeping our son calm, I could see some eyes trying to avoid us, while others were practically staring us down. I will never forget one face in particular. She was middle aged, prim-and-proper, and I can almost guarantee she was a member at one of the 47 churches within a stone’s throw from where we were sitting. I mean, I call where we lived the “Belt Buckle of the Bible Belt.”
Her face told me that I was ruining her lunch with her girlfriend, that I was a disgusting mess, that I should get my act together and take it somewhere else. How could I embarrass myself and my family like this, she asked with her glaring stare. I remember that it felt like time stopped when she and I locked eyes. She gave me a look that made me feel like a scolded child; like I was supposed to heed her instruction to behave myself in public.
What I want her to know, what I want you to know, is that I did not want to be “that girl”. No one is above finding themselves in a broken relationship or a messed up life. We’re all human, and we live in a broken world. Bills pile up, illness hits, lies are told, sin happens. Life gets stressful, and sometimes we don’t handle it as gracefully as we’d like. I want you to know that I was not some trashy person airy my dirty laundry in public. I never wanted to make someone uncomfortable with this fight, with my pain. I was humiliated, whether those people gave me dirty looks or not.
I want you to know that you shouldn’t judge someone because they are handling a situation differently than you would, because there is ALWAYS more to the story than you know. I was “raised right”, but after years of pain and emotional abuse that was quickly escalating, I didn’t have energy to be polite in that moment. I was having that argument with my husband in public because I was scared of him. I was afraid of what might happen if no one else was around. Rather than being disgusted that I was fighting in front of them, I wish those people could have felt honored that I chose their presence as protection. My husband was battling undiagnosed bipolar disorder at that point, and his mania had become more intense than ever before. I feared he would hurt me or our son. We had JUST separated days before. I was scared, jobless, under immense debt (a symptom of his illness), and struggling to keep life as normal as possible for our 18 month old. Everything in my world was crashing down, and the best thing I could think of was to meet my husband at Wendy’s. I didn’t go there to fight with him. We met so he could see our son, and yes I know that fighting in front of your children in that way is frowned upon. But I was doing my best as a wife and mother. I was fighting for us.
What I really want you to know is that the argument at Wendy’s was a triumph for me. Although I was embarrassed, I look back at that time in my life with pride because I was finally sticking up for myself. I was showing my son that no one should be treated the way we were being treated. It may not have been comfortable or polite to fight in public, but I’d do it all again if I had to, because fighting for us meant my husband finally got help, my son has a healthy Daddy, and I have a husband who loves me with all that he is and knows that he has to take care of himself so that he can take care of us.
I want you to know that it’s okay to be “those people”. Everyone experiences pain and struggle in this life. We’d all be better off if it were okay to be real, sharing the parts of us that aren’t so pretty. The next time you see someone struggling in public, say a prayer for that person, and please take your dirty looks somewhere else. If you can’t be kind and supportive, at least keep your negative energy to yourself. I would never wish that situation on another person, but if you do find yourself in a similar position, I hope that the people around you are compassionate. The golden rule goes a long way…