There is so much I want to tell R.
So much I want to tell her, but can’t. I don’t want to scare her. Plus, she’s too young to understand. But I want her to know that she shouldn’t do this. That she can’t run out into the street in front of the house because this might happen. That she should always stay close to Mommy because people like this live in the world. That she can’t play outside alone because of this.
How do I keep her safe without taking away her innocence?
I started taking piano lessons when I was four years old. My teacher, Gayle, lived across the street from us. She had probably a dozen students, ranging in age from four to about 12. We had recitals at a local church twice a year, once at Christmas and once in the spring.
Jeanine was four years older than me, and I idolized her. She was pretty and friendly. She wore a maroon-colored dress to the Christmas recital in December 1982. And in February 1983, when I was six and she was ten, she was kidnapped, raped and murdered.
I don’t really remember my parents telling me what happened, but I assume that they did. I remember Gayle crying a lot. I remember seeing Jeanine’s parents on television. I remember never being left home alone. As the years went by, convictions were gained and overturned and new trials were ordered and pardons were granted and now, almost 25 years later, no one is paying for what he did to her.
When I was in sixth grade, I sat next to a boy named Shannon in Mr. Kallenbach’s math class. He had been held back once and was a year older than us. When May came around and we were all looking forward to going to middle school, Shannon went out to check the mail. He found a notice that he would be held back again. He waited until his mother was gone, then he shot himself in the head.
I remember the aftermath of this clearly. Since he lived in a neighborhood adjacent to mine, we knew within hours. They had counselors at school the next day. I remember crying out in the hallway outside Mrs. Doyle’s music class. I remember clutching my friends, feeling sad but not hysterical. My parents didn’t let me go to the funeral or visitation.
I suppose things like this are inevitable in any child’s life. I just wish I could protect R from it all. I wish she didn’t have to know that things like this happen. I wish, I wish, I wish. In the days after September 11, when Dave and I were newly engaged, I started to wonder why anyone would ever bring children into a world where something like that could happen. Where Darfur could happen. Where Rwanda could happen. Where Bosnia could happen.
I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe it’s to try to raise our children to do better, to be better. Maybe there’s no answer. Why did I decide to have children when just four years earlier I was certain I could not? I guess time dulls the horror. And what if everyone decided not to have children because bad things happen? That’s certainly not the answer.
But now we are left with explaining to our kids that bad things happen in this world, sometimes to good people and sometimes for no good reason and no fault of their own. I guess it’s all part of growing up.