When I attended college orientation, I received a whistle. Every woman did. We called them rape whistles. If we were being attacked or assaulted, we were supposed to blow the whistle. We had received such strong warnings about our safety that in my first few weeks of college, I expected a man to jump out of the bushes at any moment and attack.
There was a dance group I wanted to join, but the first meeting was scheduled in a building several blocks from my dorm and wouldn’t end until after dark. I had no one to walk home with. I debated whether I should go, and my very religious roommate sat me down, held my hands, and said a prayer that I would return safely. I attended the meeting and scampered all the way home, rape whistle in hand. After a few weeks of college, I became more at ease. I realized that the majority of assaults took place very late at night and involved alcohol. That didn’t excuse them. But it at least made me more confident that I could avoid an attack. I relegated the rape whistle to my backpack.
I was with that dance group when I heard about Columbine. We talked about it for weeks.
Last night, I listened to NPR while driving Eleanor home from her dance lesson. The reporter was discussing the San Bernardino shooting and the possibility of legislative changes. Then she mentioned the attempt to change laws after Sandy Hook, and she launched into a description of Sandy Hook. I punched the button for a new station.
I believe in educating my kids about the world, and I talk to Eleanor about poverty, racism, and wars. But there is one thing I want to protect her from forever, and that is knowledge of Sandy Hook. I pondered why NPR had to explain what had happened at Sandy Hook. Have people forgotten? Or can we no longer keep straight all of the massacres?
When I attended Eleanor’s kindergarten orientation, I was relieved to see that her classroom was far from the front door. I actually thought about that. Then I felt guilty, for my relief that other people’s children were closer to the front door, to whatever danger might enter. When we went for her first grade orientation, I thought about the same thing. This is not normal or healthy, my friends, this pondering of how my child might fare when a killer enters the school. The window of our home office looks out to the schoolyard, and I sometimes consider what I would do if I were to look out and see children fleeing.
The school holds lockdown drills a couple of times each year. The children are taught to hide and be quiet in case a stranger gets inside the building. I seethe as I type that. Every other country that has had a massacre like that has tightened its gun laws. We, instead, decided that we would teach every single child in this country how to hide when the gunman barges into the classroom. That’s the rational response, clearly.
I think maybe other people can distance themselves better from the constant tragedies because, for them, the loss of life, the loss of a child, is hypothetical. They can cloak themselves in the warmth of statistics, having never been on the losing side. Or maybe everybody else is just as upset as I am. If so, I hope they are voting.
I hear elected officials and political candidates say that no number of gun deaths could be worth changing our laws. They value guns more than children’s lives. What can I possibly say to that? It’s unfathomable. Still, I called my senator on Wednesday and left a voicemail. When the next massacre comes, I have said my piece.
I’d like to attend an upcoming rally in support of new gun regulations. This is Texas though, and when people rally peacefully, other people show up with big guns. Why worry about immigrants when your very own neighbors can terrorize you daily?
I was 18 years old when I received that rape whistle, when I first felt fear for my own safety. My 6-year-old daughter is being taught to hide silently in the dark, to live in fear, because that is the choice that this country’s so-called leaders have made for her. And that is the choice that voters have supported. I am sickened.