Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Witness to an unleashing of verbal abuse in a grocery store parking lot August 29, 2017

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.


HE EXITED AHEAD OF US, the man with his right arm in a cast. His whole demeanor exuded anger as he strode from the grocery store pharmacy empty-handed.

Then the f-word started flying like missiles zoning for a target in the parking lot. “Where the f*** is she?” he shouted, followed by a string of more f-words. Clearly he expected her at the door, waiting for him.

His fury struck me like a coiled rattlesnake. His every move, his every word, heightened my concern. For her. His poisonous words flowed in a venomous assault on the absent woman. If he could verbally attack her in public without her present, what would he say and do in private?

“If he does anything to her, I will call the police,” I told Randy. My husband knew I meant it. I will not hesitate, ever, to phone law enforcement when I see someone being abused. I have done so in the past. If an abused woman was my daughter, my sister, my niece, my friend, I would want someone to speak up, to take action, to refuse to remain silent.

My eyes traced the irate man’s path across the parking lot toward a maroon SUV too distant to notice license plate or details. We watched, listened. I was already mentally preparing to punch 911 into my smartphone.


A photo of police reports published in the Faribault Daily News in May show the pervasiveness of domestic calls to local law enforcement. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo May 2017.


But no criminal laws had been violated, only human rules of common decency and respect. “He has anger control issues,” Randy observed. I agreed. I feared his rampant rage might explode into physical abuse of the woman behind the steering wheel. Heck, he had already verbally abused her in her absence. I doubt that ended once the vehicle door slammed.

I stood next to our van on the opposite side of the lot, eyes following the vehicle as it turned right onto a frontage road and eventually onto Minnesota State Highway 60 heading west out of Faribault.

I wondered and worried. Could I have done more? What awaited this woman? Would she be OK? Or would he blacken her eyes, clench his hands around her throat, shove her around?  Would he tell her she was worthless and no good and a b****? Would he strike with those venomous words, “f*** you,” while she recoiled in fear?

Perhaps I am wrong about this man, this situation. But my gut and observations tell me otherwise. I trust both; they have never failed me.


I hope victims of domestic abuse will focus on that word, HOPE, and take action to reclaim their lives, lives free of abuse.


FYI: If you are in an abusive relationship (and that covers not only physical, but also verbal, mental, psychological, emotional, spiritual, technological and financial abuse), please seek help. Talk to a trusted friend, family member, clergy or anyone who can help you. Reach out to your local women’s shelter or advocacy services. If you are in immediate danger, call 911. The probability of violence against victims heightens substantially when they try to leave their abusers. Do not do this alone, for your own safety. You deserve to be free. Free of any type of abuse.

NOTE: I am aware that men can also be victims of abuse. But since women are most often victims, I write about domestic abuse and violence from their perspective. Click here to read previous posts I have written on the subject.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


30 Responses to “Witness to an unleashing of verbal abuse in a grocery store parking lot”

  1. Thanks Audrey. Well written and scary. Since he was leaving a pharmacy empty handed my guess is he was denied some type of pain medication. Audrey when you do call the police what do you say- that would help me or know. Thanks.

    • Thank you. I had the same thought as you, that he was not given the pain medication he wanted and that triggered his anger.

      When you call the police, it’s important to first of all explain the situation. For example, when I saw a man shoving a woman and her pulling away multiple times, I knew that warranted an immediate call to law enforcement. I felt that the woman was in danger. I gave the location, reported what I saw, gave a description of the couple and told the dispatcher the direction in which they were headed. Remember as many details as you can. That said, in the tenseness of the moment, it’s not always easy to remember the importance of details.

      When I called 911 in the early morning hours after hearing a woman scream for help, it was too dark to see exactly what was going on. I just knew this woman needed help. Now. I reported what I heard, the location and what I could see.

      One other time I did not call the cops, but yelled across the street to a teenage girl who was crying and her boyfriend was with her. I didn’t feel she was in danger, but I was concerned enough to holler and ask, “Are you OK?” I continued to watch and would have called police had I felt it necessary. I still wonder if I should have crossed the street and talked to her to more closely evaluate the situation.

      Domestics are really difficult situations because of the emotions involved. My uncle, a retired police officer, said domestic calls were the most dangerous.

  2. OOOOOO, that is so scary. I can’t stand people like that.
    Not sure what I would’ve done either, but I would have waited until she pulled up to see
    what happened.
    What I would have wanted to say is: “What ‘s wrong? Are you having a bad day? Why do you need to use the “F” word around other people? I hope you’re nice to your partner. If not, I will be there to protect her from you.”
    Thank you for your VOICE, Audrey! xx you are appreciated from MN.
    Btw, the sister of the woman who was murdered in Faribault ( at the Chamber of Commerce contacted me.)

    • Kim, it’s interesting that you would have asked, “What’s wrong?” etc. Just before this man started dropping the f-bomb, I was about to say, “I’m sorry you have a broken arm. I just went through a similar situation.” But then he exploded and I knew it best to stay away for my safety. The woman did not drive up to pick him up. He had to walk across the parking lot. And we were parked on the other side.

      I am so thankful that Barb’s sister reached out to you. You will be able to offer her much comfort and hope. This Thursday a memorial mosaic to Barb is being dedicated at the Chamber office. It was created by Minneapolis artist Caron Bell. The inside of the Chamber entry, where Barb was murdered, has also been redone by local business volunteers.

      • Hi, Audrey,
        Yes, I wasn’t sure who she was until she told me the story & I told her I read about it
        on your blog.
        She is flying in from Atlanta for the ceremony.
        We have a Lot in common.
        For example, we lost our soulmates.
        I’m on the way to read your letter before work. xxx THANK YOU))!!

      • I am sorry that another sister is going through this same thing of losing a soulmate. You are going to be of great comfort to Barb’s sister.

  3. I say trust your gut. I think you were right to feel what you did. We should hope more people would be as observant as you! Great post Audrey!

    • Trusting my instincts has always worked for me. Sometimes I wish it wouldn’t because it can lead to a lot of pain. Being observant is part of who I am personally and professionally. Observing and listening are necessary skills for a writer. My educational background and work experience are in journalism.

  4. People like that are scary because you never know what or who they are going to turn that anger towards at times. We were recently involved in an incident of hate near our neighborhood and we were doing nothing but going about our day. These persons just needed to verbally vomit on someone and we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. We called the Sheriff’s Office on them and they told us what to do if we encountered them again. What happens if they do this to a child, disabled or an elderly person. They created a safety concern and put people at risk doing what they do. We have told so many of our neighbors to be on the lookout. Our neighborhood is going to be a safe one where people can walk, play, bike, etc. It amazes me what little things turn people to anger and hate. Take Care – Enjoy Your Day

  5. Jackie Says:

    I feel so sad for anyone who has to be with someone who acts like that, I hope it’s just words he uses to vent and it doesn’t become physical. (although I hate those words) Thanks for the necessary reminder for all of us to be aware of potential abuse situations around us, Like you….I will pick up the phone if I have to !

    • Thank you, Jackie, for being willing to take action if necessary.

      From what I’ve read and been told, it takes longer to recover (in most instances) from emotional abuse than physical abuse. I believe it. Abuse is about control, manipulation and power. The abuse may be so insidious and subtle that the victim doesn’t realize what is happening until she’s trapped and demeaned and feeling completely powerless.

  6. Almost Iowa Says:

    “If he does anything to her, I will call the police”


    It is ALWAYS your duty as a citizen to report any assault and to NEVER think, oh, it’s between them.

    Also, your instinct to call 911 rather than getting personally involved is correct. The cops are trained and experience in handling these situations, we are not. Our involvement risks escalating the assault.

    Even if there is no physical assault – but you feel that physical abuse is in the air, call the police and let them decide what to do.

  7. Don Says:

    What is wrong with people these days????? Is it the violence in our society, Hollywood movies, video games etc. I cannot fathom why people hurt other people either physically or emotionally. Anger management problems, get a punching bag, mow the lawn, paint the house do something to release the pent up energy. I realize these are simplistic solutions but why is it that people get so violent………. scratching head………………….. As a young child growing up and I started to throw a temper tantrum my parents were always calm and when those occasions happened I found myself mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, splitting wood etc. anything to work off my frustrations and guess what it worked!

    The use of the F word drives me crazy! Growing up I vividly recall saying the F word by mistake to my MOM and by golly I thought the world was ending. She did not spank me nor holler at me but calmly indicated that that word was not an appropriate word to use. Her showing disappointment in me was way harder on me that anything else she could have done. To this day I do not use that word!

  8. Marilyn Donnell Says:

    Yes, I will report if I see or hear something not right. But I was glad I did not have to give evidence in court (I still had to live in the area after the offender was sentenced). [The sound of her head ricocheting off the wall had woken us up.]

  9. LisaDay Says:

    The world is a better place when we care about each other. Great information, both in post and in the comments.

  10. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    I think I would have called the police with license plate number anyway. At the very least your observations could have been put on record. What you described sounds like a drug addiction

    • I wasn’t near enough to get a license plate number and was concerned about following this guy. I didn’t want him to turn on me. Not an excuse, but a choice I made. Yes, he very well could have a drug addiction problem along with the anger issues.

  11. Littlesundog Says:

    Goodness, just a couple of weeks ago Forrest and I witnessed something similar at the local Walmart. A older man verbally berated his wife in front of people every chance he got. He ranted (using profanity) about how slow she was, and how it was a big waste of his time to have to wait on her, and she’d better watch how much of his damned money that she spent… it went on an on. She meekly walked on ahead, looking mortified. I could tell the man thought he was impressing the onlookers. No one did anything. People either gave him dirty looks or scattered about. I stood paralyzed myself, only it was because I was remembering how I felt as a young girl with my family, trying to shop with my angry Dad who was doing the same kind of berating, only it was yelling at each one of us for something or another. It was actually worse for all of us if anyone approached Dad or tried to talk with him. Dad would take his amped up anger out on all of us back in the car. I’m with you… better to stay behind the scenes and watch quietly, phone at the ready.

    • Oh, Lori, I knew you had endured abuse. But to read the specifics makes me sad at the pain of it all. I am sorry that your dad took his anger out on all of you.

      Your encounter with the abusive man sounds horrible. I would have had a really difficult time remaining silent. But I now understand, from your perspective, why speaking up isn’t always the right thing to do. If only someone could have had a quiet alone moment with that dear woman to encourage her and to support her.

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