Throughout October, the Tundra Women’s Coalition in Bethel has hosted events to recognize Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Thursday, the coalition held the final event: a candlelight vigil for victims of domestic violence in the community.
Seventeen people gathered in a circle at the women’s shelter for the vigil. The event started with people, including shelter staffer and event organizer Alagirl Elizabeth Andrew, reading poems they had written.
“First butterflies, first relationship, first happiness, first love. First red flag. First heartbreak. He said he’s sorry. First forgiveness of many,” Andrew read out. “First accusation. First hint of control. First restriction. First isolation. Wait, how did it get this bad? First cry for help? No, wait, it’s okay. He said he won’t do it again.”
In her poem, Andrew described the roller coaster of being locked in a violent relationship.
“Don’t leave, I’ll kill you. Don’t leave, I’ll kill your family. Don’t leave, I’ll tell your mom your secrets,” Andrew read. “Go back, it’s easier. Go back, he’s sorry. Go back, he won’t do it again. Go back, he will be nice to you again. No, I’m done.”
Tables with brightly colored flowers — lilies, roses, chrysanthemums — sat in the center of the circle. People were instructed to stand up, choose a flower and put it into one of the vases at the head of the room.
“And when you take a flower, just keep in mind somebody who you might know, or yourself, and if they’ve been affected by domestic violence,” Andrew said.
One by one, people stood up and chose their flowers. The rest of the room stayed silent.
As the vases filled with bouquets, some people spoke about sisters, daughters and friends who they had watched be tormented by violent relationships. Some didn’t make it out alive. Some showed people what hope looks like and got out of abusive dynamics.
“Always, when it feels like there isn’t a way out, there is always a way,” Andrew said. “We’re never alone no matter how alone we may feel.”
Afterward, the group stood in a circle with candles. Some toddlers had arrived and brought a lighter mood, snatching flowers off the table to play.
“Candlelight by itself could be a very dim light,” said Andrew. “But all of us have our candles together in a dark room; it lights up the whole room better than it does by itself. And we just want everybody to remember that as long as we work together, we could help fight this.”
Despite the somber memories that the night memorialized, after the candles something lifted. People started to chat, to laugh. Kayley Pleasant was glad she came.
“Because it makes me feel good,” Pleasant said. “And I get to express myself and there’s gratitude. And I don’t know, it’s very freeing.”
And then together, they sang.