I am pulling into the Rideau Centre on a Wednesday morning.
It's the end of my first shift, a long morning piece that winds its way from Vanier to Carlington while cutting through the heart of the city on Rideau street. Most drivers I know hate the number 14 route. It's all strollers and arguments, and Wednesdays' seniors day turns each bus into some kind of strange mashup of Honey Boo Boo and an episode of Hoarders. This is not easy work.
This shift was no different than any Wednesday, and I was elated to see my relief man as I pulled in.
We shared a typical conversation about the bus, detours and such, when a commotion of yelling started. I poked my head out the bus to see who was yelling at whom, then grabbed my backpack and headed out onto the sidewalk.
This young couple were in the shelter, and the young man was absolutely berating what appeared to be his girlfriend. He was calling her all kinds of names, calling her stupid, taking long pauses then starting back up again. Cruel words, shocking words, and she was in tears, completely silent.
This was not an argument, this was a public humiliation.
Everyone who had been standing inside the shelter was now standing outside the shelter making eyes at each other, or pretending that nothing important enough was happening to get involved. There was nothing physical happening, but it still felt violent. I walked into the shelter, and stood there staring at this young couple. The young man kept yelling at her, not even noticing that I was standing there.
At this point, I had a decision to make. Do I get involved? Or do I do as most of the folks who just vacated the shelter did, standing on the sidewalk listening to the entertainment like a child at the top of the stairs who's half interested in the party events, but mostly avoiding the monster under the bed.
I made eye contact with her, and held it.
"Are you okay? Do you need help? You can walk with me, right now. I am a bus driver with OC Transpo, and you can trust me. We can just walk. I'm married with three kids, I'm not a threat, and I can help you."
I'm not going to print what the young man screamed to me next, but I ignored his words and continued talking to her. At this point, I'm surveying the crowd outside the shelter, who are now more interested in this event but still not getting involved. I'm wondering who might support me if this event goes where it seems to be trending to. The young man is starting to threaten me.
At this point I have another decision to make. Sizing the young man up, I'm pretty sure I could handle him, even if he has a weapon. There are no buses around, no way for me ask a colleague for help, but I'm pretty sure I can handle myself. I've been in a scrap or two.
In my mind, I'm thinking I's like to try to get this young man to throw a punch at me. I will damned well make sure he spends the rest of this day in jail rather than continue this verbal attack. I can take a punch, and press charges. Part of me is hoping he will make me defend myself vigorously, but I know that what is really needed here is an arrestable assault, not a corporal lesson.
I say to her:
"Is he hitting you yet? Because he will. No person yells at someone he really loves like this guy yells at you. No person degrades another person like that, and loves them. This is a control issue. If this guy is not hitting you yet, trust me, he will be hitting you in the future. I have lived through this. You are so young. You need to walk away from this, right now."
The young man doesn't throw the punch. He just continues to tell me to walk away, this is none of my business, "What's this to YOU?", etc, etc. He's all talk, and too smart to take the bait. Like most of these cowards, he likely doesn't want to pick a fight with someone he can't control, or someone who hits back.
That's when the young woman broke my heart.
"I'm okay." she said.
I can see her fear. I can see her pain. But I know I can't do a god damned thing about it. So I walked out of the shelter as he called me an effing idiot.
I have no idea what happened next. I'd like to think that this young lady managed to get away from this situation, or that this young man was not what he seemed and that this was a bad day.
Mostly, I hope that both of these people get help.
If you find yourself looking for help, and don't know how to get it, click the above link or call them at 613-238-3311.
We all need to pay attention to the voices we hear around us, in the shelter at Rideau street or the homes of friends we visit. We need to listen to the strangers in our lives, and the friends we choose. Most people fear that they will not be taken seriously.
We need to give them a voice. We need to speak up.