You know that image of the perfect sidewalk—the one with new smells, wonders, and adventures? The one most of us envision where our hopes and dreams meld together? That is what my sidewalk looked like … for one millisecond.
A year ago, I found my dream at a dead end. For so long, I had anticipated that marriage to this man would lead to the picturesque path I desired. Just days before, I had merged onto this sidewalk, took my partner in stride, and embarked on the journey—hand in hand. I could not understand what had gone wrong. This sidewalk did not feel right anymore. I had anticipated bumps and hazards but now found myself stubbing toes with every step and tripping on the cracks in the pavement. Had I taken a wrong turn?
I wanted to keep walking down this pathway. I had chosen it and committed myself to it. I tried to stay standing but suddenly had nothing to hold on to … he had dropped my hand! I got back up and brushed myself off. I could do this. Every sidewalk has a rough spot, I told myself. I grabbed his hand again, forced a smile, and said, “Let’s move on.”
We turned onto the street where our new home was and headed toward the houses I knew well. I was excited to see the blooming flowers, the trees we loved, the swings of fond memories—but I looked next to me, and suddenly I was alone. A dog appeared from nowhere and attacked me from the side. His teeth and words berating me for being on his sidewalk and yelled “Get off.” This was his street, and I had no place here.
I was captive and caught in a corner that sent me running for the alley. I tucked myself away, trying to shield myself from the bites, and soon he disappeared. Beware of the dog.
From my shelter, I saw our home, there in the distance. I think it looked the same. Somehow I did not remember it looking so worn down. Still, it was home … there, just out of reach … a little bit further down the path. Surely my partner would be there, existing in the future we had dreamed of together. He must have found a way past the dog, since he and the dog vanished at the same moment.
That poor dog, I thought. I wondered why he needed to protect himself so fiercely. He seemed so familiar … and yet like a bad memory. I looked down to see he had left his mark on me. His bites went deep; they had torn at my flesh, and cut to the bone. If I could just get the dog to calm down, I thought, to see that I meant no threat. I would show him I did not need the sidewalk just for myself; I wanted him to share it with me.
Still tripping on the stones beneath me, I plodded my way through the overgrown bushes. They seemed to sprout and grow taller before my eyes, their long vines reaching out and tearing at my clothes and my skin. I could not go very quickly. The thorns grew bigger and snagged harder; the vines started choking me as I tried to move toward him. There was no reprieve. Cutting. Stinging. Tangling. Finally, I discovered an open gate, a patio where I could sit for a moment, for a time—maybe just a night. I needed rest. I could still see our home in front of me … but this was taking so long. When did this sidewalk get so rough and overgrown?
I looked down at the bites. They were growing and infected. I must have been bitten by more than the dog, I thought. Maybe I have poison ivy as well. I was getting sick. The wounds had become internal, and they were not healing. How was I going to get back on that sidewalk? Can I go on? I must. The bruises and the internal injuries ached so that my breath, my very life, was holding on by a thread.
Certainly I can survive this. Many have experienced seasons worse than this. I am sure our home still exists, just up the road. I cannot see it now; it is so covered by trees and moss. Everything seems to be decaying like a hundred years have gone by. Where was that sidewalk I had started on just a few months before? Where was the pavement with even lines and a hand to hold as we walk side by side? Why does every step, every forward movement, meet with a tree branch that blocks my path?
My sidewalk—once our sidewalk—had now crumbled. Trees, potholes, and hazards had corroded this once-beautiful path of my life. The only way to move forward was to cross to the other side of the road. The sidewalk was clearer there.
I was alone, looking at the life I once dreamed of, wondering how that dream had crumbled so quickly.
Sometimes I would tiptoe back to the sidewalk on the other side of the road, only to be met with the same bites, lashes, and scrapes.
Then one day, after a few months, it happened. That final roadblock: the “Sidewalk Closed” sign. I stood there for weeks looking longingly at that sidewalk, waiting for it to reopen. Then more signs went up, the dangerous “DO NOT ENTER” ones. I needed to leave the area. I could hear and see the demolition by this point. Alerts came every day: “Hazardous Area!” and “Closed to Traffic” and “No Trespassing.” Still, I longed for that sidewalk. I wanted that life—the one down that path—but it was closed, and it showed no sign of ever opening again.
This is my story of domestic abuse. I was lucky that I had another side of the street. While this was a metaphor for the stings, the cuts, and the wounds of emotional and verbal abuse, things often stay hidden until it becomes physically unsafe. Manipulation, condemnation, threats, punishment, dominance, control, and discipline do not belong in relationship. If you are in a relationship where these images felt real, talk to someone. Whether it is physical or not, be honest about it. Abuse may happen on the surface, but it survives underneath.
Domestic Abuse Resources:
National Domestic Abuse Hotline
thehotline.org (assessments, live chat, resources)
loveisrespect.org or text to ”loveis”
Christianity Today article - ”But He Never Hit Me”
Questions to consider: How do you trust God in times when the “Sidewalk Ends”? How do you journey through the brokenness of domestic abuse with someone?