I could see it filling the room around me, could feel it.
Before she even said a word, her anger and fear surrounded her and her older son like super-heated static electricity, igniting the hair on my neck and arms.
It smelled surprisingly of misplaced guilt.
Her baby squirmed on my lap, howling as if in pain. He was only hungry, but she didn't know that. She held her older son close, tears in his eyes.
"What happened?" She asked, out of breath.
I could feel sweat bead on my forehead and above my ears. All I could think to say was, "He's only hungry. He wants his bottle. Remember, you said left it in the car."
She glared at me, then softened at her baby.
"He never cries like that unless he's hurt."
She set her older son down and picked up her baby, cradling him close.
"What happened?" She asked again. Her hands trembled. I imagined her striking me.
The other child advocate joined us. "Really, he's only hungry. He saw the other boy with the bottle and just started crying. That's why I came to get you. Nothing else is wrong."
I felt sincere knowing it was the truth, but it became a dark caricature of itself between us.
"He never cries like that unless he's hurt," she repeated, backing out of the room with her boys.
I struggled to focus my positive resolve and said, "I assure you nothing happened to him. He's just hungry and wanted the other boy's bottle."
The static electricity faded as she backed into the hallway shadow, but I knew she didn't believe me.
This is what abusive fathers have done to their families. This is why I'm a child advocate at a local women's shelter.
I was the older son she held. This is why I need to help the healing.