Tightly wound

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.

4 thoughts on “Tightly wound

  1. Momastery is working on changing gun laws–I signed their petition. I can only nod in agreement to everything you’ve said here. When I was in college, I would have never guessed that my husband’s job as an elementary school principal would feel dangerous to me.

  2. Goodness, I am with you on the gun laws. I have such strong feelings about that and really don’t see a place for them in our lives. And yet, it’s a regulation nearly impossible to actually regulate for the psychopaths who actually carry out such massacres. It makes me so sad about out complex and awesome technological world; that as much good as we do with it, we do even more evil.

    As a teacher, I held those lockdown drills. I was young and in my early 20s and didn’t blink an eye. I was more concerned about getting kids to cooperate and making sure my administration saw me doing my job. It’s SO much more now that I’m a mom. It’s a real fear. We had “outdoor” schools in CA like I’m sure you do in TX. It was normal and is normal for me, because I taught and attended those schools. My kids… not sure if they will attend an indoor or outdoor school. Regardless, Sandy Hook was an indoor school and it seriously makes me sick to think about that happening again. Something about children especially… about losing a child already and potentially losing another. It’s horrid.

    I think a “rape whistle” is really smart. I used to work at a restaurant on the pier in Redondo Beach, CA. It was an upscale restaurant, but the pier was dark at night and lots of people spaced and walking about. I parked far to save money (was about $10/night to park) in a nearby apartment complex. If I didn’t have someone escorting me to my car, I would literally run like hell to my car with the fear of being kidnapped and raped. I never was, but I heard stories that people had. One night, I actually ran by my (now) husband on a date with his ex-girlfriend. That’s the funny part, but the not-so-funny part is the whole reason I was running.

    The world is terrifying.

  3. The scary thing about those guns regulations discussions on NPR is one comment said by one of the panelists. Something like…”if nothing (gun control laws) happened after Sandy Hook where children were killed, nothing will ever happen…”

  4. I too have been feeling an ache deep down since Friday. I’ve made every eoffrt to avoid the news, in part because I don’t want my 9 year olds to hear or see it. On Friday, the youth minister at our church sent her weekly advent letter to us Sunday school teachers, and it included this quote that, for me, was so perfect I posted it immediately on my Facebook. It must have resonated with others too as I got several Likes. The only way to truly overcome our fear of death is to live life in such a way that its meaning cannot be taken away by death. This sounds grandiose, but it is really very simple. It means fighting the impulse to live for ourselves, instead of for others. It means choosing generosity over greed. It also means living humbly, rather than seeking influence and power. ~Johann Christoph Arnold Be Not Afraid from the book Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas

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