The last time she felt safe was when she was a child of seven or eight. Back when each day stretched out before her like a mile, with endless possibilities of play and friends in the neighborhood, in the pool, around the block, across the street, in other houses - utterly carefree. She didn’t know of fear.
Now her fear knows no boundaries at all. It is limitless. It is an omnipresent monster residing just under the surface; easily stirred. Like when she cannot ignore it any longer and she turns on the news against her better judgement or clicks on the article, awakening the beast and letting it into her heart, her mind and her sleep. Once it has taken up residence it consumes her easily and her thoughts become a reoccurring stream of When will it happen again? Where? How? It is only a matter of time.
She would feel the same, of course she would, even if her life wasn’t responsible for another’s. But it is. She has a child of her own. Which brings the intensity of her emotions to an extreme she never realized was possible.
Her daughter’s youth mirrors her own. She is temporarily, rightfully suspended in a bubble of joy. Days that revolve around swimming and friends, sleepovers and catching fireflies. She talks about her birthday in August and Nancy Drew. She falls asleep exhausted, sun kissed and happy. She shines with kindness and an open heart. Nothing bad has left a permanent impression in her mind. Nothing bad at all.
Her mother’s mind cannot un-see the things that she’s seen.
The six year old children who kissed their mothers goodbye in the morning just like every other day and never came home. The sons and daughters, moms and dads, cousins and aunts and uncles and friends who went to work in a high rise building and never came home. Or the ones who went to the movies, the mall, drove on the expressway, were in chemistry class in high school or gathered for a party in a conference room and didn’t come home. The families who went to the airport with excitement about their holiday and never came home. The young adults who went to their favorite club to dance on a Saturday night and never came home. And then there’s the college girls who attended a party and were horrifyingly violated by another student. They came home, but were never the same.
At some point a harsh reality like this will crash through her bubble and burst it, and she will be exposed to the things that keep her mother up at night. And the veil that shielded her from the ugly in the world will be lifted gently as her mother struggles to explain the divisiveness all around us, flying in the face of their family mantra we are all in this together. She will have to tell her about the many things that make people hate one another: beliefs, skin color, who you love. She will teach her that her safety requires good choices, yes, but also an awareness that there are those who walk among us who are broken, unstable, angry, mentally ill; and some who harbor an intolerance for entire cultures, races and religions.
She will have to tell her that there is more hate than tolerance, more judgement than acceptance, more rage than love.
Her daughter’s teenage years will come and she will learn how to drive and the freedom will liberate her and put her out there. Into the mall or the movie theater or the dance club. And her mother’s fear will expand and contract, expand and contract, until she comes home.
This is my daughter. My daughter is unaware of most everything outside of her world. And I hope that veil remains over her eyes for a long time, keeping her blissfully ignorant.
I held onto my secrets for years. Decades, actually. And there are many reasons why. Reasons that anyone who has endured it — lived it — will understand. But only those who have endured it — lived it — will.
I’m writing this for everyone else.
I love you, but I’ve got to let you go.
Each time our paths cross I open my heart with renewed hope that it will be different somehow. And each time I walk away feeling empty.
My dear (____________), I realize now that at some point, I gave away my power to you. I was rebuilding my life, creating it piece by piece, and in all of its uncertainty and tender roots, I shyly let a chosen few in to tread softly and take a peek. I wanted to share my trepidation and fear and doubt and exhilaration and sheer anticipation with you. So I gave you permission to validate me. In no small way I longed for it. But it never came.