Abused women often have children who are just as affected by domestic violence as they are and are less equipped to understand having to suddenly leave behind everything they thought was home. Whether or not these children are also abused or rather witness what is being done to their mother, the emotional and psychological effects can be endlessly traumatizing. This is the story of Dylan, a fictional representation of what children from violent homes must deal with when living in a shelter.

This is not the happiest place on Earth. He would much rather be home. Well, “home.” Not the place he came from, that place that looked like home and smelled like home but was most definitely not home. Home is where the heart is, they say, where someone is the safest they’ll ever be. He’s learned that those really are just words. He hadn’t felt safe for years now in that place he had called home.

It may not be the happiest place on Earth, but it is their safest refuge. It is unfamiliar to the women, but especially to the confused children.  Some kids are young enough to believe that they are on vacation, but the older ones have learned to grow up much too quickly.

Dylan is Karen’s eldest child. He’s only twelve but sometimes feels like he’s triple that. He must go to school regardless of how he feels. Good grades are going to be tough to maintain during this period of his life but he knows how important they are. They say that the early teen years are the most tumultuous stage in a person’s life, but it’s 100 times worse for Dylan and he’s sure that his friends and teachers will notice how insecure he’s feeling right now.

They gave him a coat to wear to school, but it’s red! The cool colour is black! He cannot let his mom see the tears in his eyes because it will make her cry, and she’s been crying too much – that scares him.

Dylan comes up with the most obvious plan of ‘losing’ his coat on the bus, but quickly changes his mind because it’s cold outside and they may not have another coat to give him.  They couldn’t supply him with boots so that made the coat especially important.

He sighs a big sigh and continues to hold back his sadness, his fear, all of it. He’s been having to do that a lot lately. They record his coat as ‘red’ when he heads off to school with his little brothers.  This mandatory procedure of writing down his description whenever he goes out increases his fear of suddenly disappearing into thin air.  His mom had relentlessly rehearsed role plays about what he should do, if and when, he or his little brothers are faced with danger in her absence.  They had also practiced an escape route back home when his dad was out, but that felt much easier because she would be taking the lead.

That night is the first time he’s heard his mom’s snore.  He’s fairly certain that this is not what they meant about really hearing your family and becoming closer knit. If he were not understanding of how much this place had given his family, his response would have been one of exaggerated teenage anger at this type of annoyance.

Dylan is helplessly snared in the constant trauma of a teenager confined to a domestic violence shelter. But he is a resilient young boy, who occupies himself by entertaining his younger siblings and reluctantly assuming the responsibility of washing light-coloured laundry separate from dark laundry. It’s all temporary, he tells himself. Deep down though, he knows that the memories he and his family share of that place they once called home were much more than temporary. It would take some getting used to, but he knew this place was their best chance at getting to make some happier memories.

Crisis Intervention Counselor