Sunday, February 16, 2014 / 9:00 AM

Some late night near the end of 2011, Jenny and I had just left an ugly holiday sweater party and were walking the wrong way back to the apartment where we were staying. We didn’t realize it until I saw the alphabet going backwards, and even then we went two more blocks down the wrong path before deciding to turn around and call it a night.

But before we realized that and before we backtracked, we were walking and talking about something fairly inconsequential for 2 a.m. in the dead of winter. We passed a couple sitting on the steps in front of a row of houses. They were having an intense discussion, and I remember glancing down for a moment at the girl with her head in her hands, but we kept walking because it was cold and all we could think about was tea and warm blankets.

And then we heard shouting. We stopped and looked back and the guy was standing and punching down at the girl--screaming at her, hitting her--and people were walking right on by and trying not to look. I couldn’t not look.

She was screaming. He kept hitting her, and for a moment I saw a flash of a girl I recognized.

Next to me, Jenny snapped.

"Are you serious?" she asked. "Is this serious?”

She didn’t hesitate and ran back toward them. The guy saw her, stopped, and ran away. The girl was huddled into a ball on the ground, her arms wrapped around herself. She was crying, and Jenny sat down next to her and put her arms around the stranger. I shook myself out of my daze and joined them.

We sat with the girl, who couldn't have been a year or two older than us, for awhile and talked. She kept saying, “He usually isn’t like this" and, "We're really in love." They were visiting from out of town, and she wasn’t sure what to do. She didn’t know anyone in the area, so we told her, “Well, now you know us.” We introduced ourselves, and I wish I remembered her name right now. We told her to come stay with us, but she said she wanted to try to talk to her boyfriend back at their hotel. We gave her our numbers and sat with her a little longer, and hugged her before she stood up to go.

He was standing on the corner across the street from us. He’d come back for her. We watched her go to him and walk away, and Jenny and I were silent on our whole walk back to the apartment. When we got inside, Jenny asked me if she thought we should’ve forced her to come with us.

I still don't know the answer to that. I don’t think it would’ve worked. You can’t force someone in that situation to do anything.

Maybe I’m wrong. I’d like to be wrong. Maybe you can force someone to walk out of a bad situation and not have them run from you the next day, or resent you for what you commanded. Maybe Jenny and I should have taken the girl by the hand and walked her back to our place and tried to keep her safe for as long as we could--until the girl told herself enough that he usually didn't do things like this, and they loved each other, and maybe it was just this one time that things went so wrong. But it would be different after he said he was sorry--that's what we're supposed to believe, right?

I don't know. There aren't any Disney stories or fairytales to tell us how this is supposed to end.

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