Refuge from abuse: My fire escape

Rita Cascia
The sound of a grown woman whimpering and cowering in fear is painful to hear and cringingly unbearable to see

Cavernous. Dim. Quiet.  It provided just the right hiding place.

In its corner, I would sit. The corner was still too big for me as I curled myself into a ball; the bigger my belly became, the more difficult it became to hug my knees.  Sometimes, the tears could come. Sometimes nothing. I would just stare. I would listen to the sound of my breathing; occasionally, there was the rustling of the unborn child in my womb — both signaled that I was somehow still alive.

I don’t know how long I would stay in the fire escape. It had become my hiding place and I began to look for its solace, its comfort and the safety that it offered from our apartment, from him.

Other times, when I allowed self-pity, the fire escape felt like a dungeon I had been banished to. I was afraid the roving guard would find me. What would I say? How would I explain? Did I want him to find me? Would he be able to help me?

Would the roving guard see what I was too proud to tell my family, my closest friend, or even admit to myself?

They all still remembered the wedding, the honeymoon, and the baby born from it.

What would I tell them? That I had failed? That the fairytale trappings were all for show?  

Would they even believe me?

Endless cycle

He always told me they wouldn’t. “No one will believe you and I’ll just tell them that if I were really beating you, you’d be in the ICU by now,” he would say, mocking me.

True, there were no bruises on my face. Blows on the side of your head don’t usually leave a mark. Once there was a badly swollen right eye.

“It’s not even noticeable,” he told me. Everyone at work believed me when I said I was stupid and clumsy enough to open the car door and hit myself. I was the boss after all, they wouldn’t dare question me.

The scenes constantly replayed in my head, over and over again — just like what my life had become — a cycle of fighting, shouting and beating, the requisite mad fucking, followed by the compulsory truce. It became a routine that would play over and over again, trapping me, giving him more power.

In the dim light of the fire escape, it all seemed less real. The scenes in my head could play out like it was someone else’s life and not mine.

The only sound was my whimpering , illuminated by my shame. It was deafening in the hollow of the fire escape, but it was a sound I had heard before — from my mother. When my father thought she deserved a backhand to silence her or teach her a lesson.

The sound of a grown woman whimpering and cowering in fear is painful to hear and cringingly unbearable to see. I remembered thinking to myself, “I will never allow that to happen to me.”

But I did. I did allow it to happen to me.

‘Think of the children’

I believed him when he said that no one could ever love me; that I was lucky that he even continued to try. I thought I couldn’t do better and slowly the thought changed to I simply got what I deserved  a slap, a punch, a humiliating remark to make me look pitiful in front of my friends. “Bakit, lumalaban ka naman, di ba? Hindi ka kawawa.” (Why? You fight back when I hit you. You’re not to be pitied.”)

Once, the maids saw him strike me in the bathroom and before they looked away, I saw them look at me with pity that I long had for myself. This is how my children would look at me in the future, I thought. I recognized that, too; it was the way I had once looked at my own mother.

Finally, I decided to leave.

It was neither that easy, nor that simple.

They didn’t want to believe. My own mother, long familiar with my father’s malevolence, told me to think of the children and try to work it out, just as she had.

“No, Mom,” I told her. “I have to think of myself first. That’s how I’m choosing to protect them.”


Some came forward to say they had witnessed our fights long before, but just did not want to meddle.

No longer able to harm me physically, he continued to find ways to hurt me by sending me lascivious messages at all hours of the day, or harassing me at work. When he began stalking me outside my family’s home, my parents acquiesced and finally accepted my decision to leave him.

I was the first one in my family to bear the title “separada.

I apologized profusely to my parents for bringing shame to my family. It was nothing compared to the humiliation and self-pity I felt all those times, alone in the fire escape. Only this time, I chose to no longer hide. –


Editor’s Note: Because of how personal and sensitive this account is, we are making an exception and using a fictitious name. Rita of Cascia is the patron saint of abused women. It is a name chosen by the author herself because of its symbolic irony.




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