Clara* but when he returned to the small Portuguese

Clara* met Emilio* in 2006, 8 years before I met her, and in very different circumstances. Emilio was a neighbor’s son who had left for America in the late 90’s, mentioned during the occasional sidewalk conversation, but rarely more than that, but when he returned to the small Portuguese town after his father’s passing, he swept Clara off her feet. He was handsome, hardworking, and honest, and she was impressed by his dedication when he told her that he had opened a successful restaurant, as well as his openness when admitting that he had a failed pervious marriage that left him with a young son. They agreed to keep in contact after he left, and only a year of phone calls later,  Emilio convinced Clara to move to Warwick* to marry him.When Clara moved to Warwick, she began to help Emilio in his restaurant by greeting customers and occasionally using her skills in the kitchen. She was popular among Emilio’s Portuguese customers who were comforted by the authentic cooking and tales from back home. Despite this popularity, or, more so, because of it, Emilio was increasingly unhappy. He was envious and bitter of the attention Rosa was receiving, often even accusing her of flirting. He began to watch her constantly, monitoring her every action. Grocery shopping was fraught with tension for fear that any delay would lead to an argument. Fear of an argument soon became fear of a threat, and then fear of a slap, a black eye, a broken bone, death. Emilio’s son David*, now 11, would sometimes attempt to step in, but he too bore the burden of his father’s rage. This was not new for David. Clara soon learned that Emilio’s first wife had wound up in the hospital for several months following an “accident” in the kitchen. Clara worried that Emilio might one day go too far, seriously injuring or even killing both her and David. She felt trapped, though, not knowing where to turn for help. None of that mattered after June 10. The restaurant was preparing to celebrate Dia de Portugal and Clara had worked hard to decorate and create a special meal for the day. She had also dressed nicely to greet the guests. But Emilio was instead convinced that Clara was trying to draw the eyes of younger men. He tore into her, calling her a “whore” and “trash” and accusing her of selling herself. This time, however, Clara fought back, pointing out that she was do more than her share of the restaurant’s work and had no need to sell her body to anyone, Emilio least of all. Furious, he tackled her to the ground, beating and choking her, only stopping at the sound of arriving. Regardless of the threat of deportation, Clara decided that she had had enough. That night, after Clara had apologized to Emilio for her previous behavior and he had gone off to bed, she took the limited contents of the cash register, gathered up a groggy David, and disappeared into the night. She had enough money for two nights in an inexpensive motel, but, after failing to pay on the third night, wound up in a homeless shelter.The shelter, although providing a bed at night and one warm meal, was by no means safe. Fellow shelter-dwellers and even staff members began to harass her and make sexual advances, causing her to have flashbacks of the trauma experienced, which the shelter provided no services to help her address. In addition, the constant dread that Emilio would eventual discover her location never left her mind – he was around every corner, behind every door, inside every man – and she could not turn to the police for assistance because of her immigrant status. She was desperate to escape the shelter, but as her mental health deteriorated, Clara found it increasingly difficult to take the steps to obtain a job and secure permanent housing. She started passing bad checks, panhandling, and selling stolen goods on the street. One day, the police picked her up for selling items without a vendor’s permit. It later turned out that a warrant was already out for her arrest – for kidnapping.Once she was released from prison, now with even greater determination to land on her feet and begin her life again, Clara sought public housing, but the public housing authority told her she was ineligible for housing assistance  because of her prior conviction. Because of her conviction, Clara was also unable to find an employer who would hire her; as a result, she wasn’t able to afford housing in the private market. Because of all of this, Clara once again found herself living on the streets. This is where I met her.We slept in adjoining beds – 21 & 22 – guaranteed to us if we showed up by curfew every night. We didn’t dare miss a night. She showed me the ropes, rules both spoken and unspoken – keep your belongings with you at all times, always take a shower but never take more than 10 minutes, sit with the women during mandatory chapel, do NOT miss chapel, don’t get on anybody’s bad side, take advantage of the soup kitchens, buy pepper spray, and trust nobody. I took her words to heart.She told me her story every chilly evening as we waited for the shelter doors to open, every night as we made our cots with mysteriously-stained sheets, and every break of dawn as we waited for the first bus of the day, my hand tightly clasped to the pepper spray with every passing car that slowed down and every hooded figure that approached. When I first met her, she would take the bus to busy Westminster street, and spend the day going store-front to store-front in hopes of a job opening, but rejection wore her down over time. She started to take the bus further, beyond Westminster, beyond my stop, and I don’t know where she went, but I knew when she came back high. Until one night when she didn’t come back. By that time I had (with all of my young, English-speaking, enthusiastic whiteness) gotten a job and after a few weeks had earned enough to buy a one-way to Chicago where I could crash with a friend for a much-discounted rent rate. I saw Clara one more time, sitting at a bus station a few blocks from the shelter. I drove back to my parent’s house from Bed, Bath & Beyond, my final trip to stock up on dorm-room necessities. I didn’t stop.I was too ashamed.