Ugh, dreams. But bleary and committed to wakefulness I have to ask: does anyone ever tell kids its okay to be afraid of things? Is that part of the parental playbook? Because I just crashed out of sleep in the middle of a dream about a diner, wherein I was listening in to the booth behind me as I ate my food, and it was a father and son, maybe what, of seven or eight? They were eating ice cream that was some sort of consolation award because the kid had tried to do something and he was afraid of it and hadn’t done it. I’m going to say riding his bike without training wheels but that is me projecting because that terrified me—I don’t remember what it was for this kid in the dream. But it was something like that. Some kid thing that is, yes, terrifying. And the dad is trying to talk him out of this. I, in the next booth, chafe, thinking this is ludicrous—the kid’s afraid, you jerk. With reason. You want to screw him up implying he’s a coward, that he should never be afraid of anything, that he should just barrel into the world white knuckled and teeth bared and guilt about STILL being afraid (even if only a little) wadded up in the pit of his stomach like an oily rag? I was fighting in the next booth not to say anything. Not my kid, not my business, etc. etc.
Then—o, hallmark of our times—some jackass shows up shooting. Of course. Glass breaking, people screaming, bits of food exploding as it is hit, smearing everything. I am under a table and the kid is too. His face is smeared with exploded scrambled eggs. His dad is smeared with what could be ketchup but isn’t. I’m still watching them even though the situation just got way worse. The guy, with his gaspy hurting breaths, is trying to tell the kid it’s okay. And I, watching, am filled with fury. I want to yell, “This is NOT okay, dude! The fuck you think you are doing, telling your kid not to fear this? He should be afraid! This is terrifying! This is for you isn’t it? You just can’t bear the thought of your little boy being in a world that has justifiable cause for fear so you LIE to him about it and tell him it’s not scary. But it is! Look at this mess! You were eating scrambled eggs a minute ago and now you’re huddling under a table dying in front of him! And you want him not to be afraid? In your final minutes you can’t be honest enough with him to tell him you’re scared out of your mind for him and maybe of dying too but mostly for him—you have to keep up this miserable charade of fearlessness?!?!”
I was irate. And then the guy died. And his kid met my eyes under the tables and I mean what the hell do you say? What good does my rage do? I’m no damn parent. Maybe it’s really hard to admit to yourself you can’t shelter your kid from this and that it won’t be okay like you always say it will be and that to say it WON’T be okay feels like an even worse betrayal than lying about it looks to be to me, from the outside. Probably begrudging people on death’s door this last fiction they tell themselves is small and mean of me. Maybe being in shock will prevent the kid from taking it too much to heart?
But there it was, my rage, and the object of it whisked out of life before I could address it at all, and my loss (my what, unrequited trolling?) was as, rightfully, NOTHING compared to the loss of that kid staring at me under the tables as bullets continued to whiz by overhead. (All of this was mere moments, you see. And the fact that we could see each other under tables despite having just been in booths—dream logic.) And then my alarm went off and woke me up.
I don’t know why my subconscious served that up. Before bed I watched the gun people yelling at the Sandy Hook dad in the courtroom but obviously my anger was not at the dad. And after seeing it on the Colbert Report I ordered Rookie, which arrived yesterday (“if only it had existed when I was in high school! actually…I wouldn’t have touched anything girly with a 9-foot pole in high school”), and which contained an article by Dan Savage which contained the phrase “No kid should do today what I did 30 years ago, not in our post-Columbine (google it), zero-tolerance world.” That blew my mind. Columbine? Google it? Are you crazy? Have you been living under a goddamn rock? Everyone has some shittily grand dream of being a hero or a martyr or both in middle/high school. Mine was of defusing various Columbine-like situations. Either of rescuing the people I respected most, or being killed in the process if it then guaranteed their safety. (Oh adolescent vanity—as if any psychopath would choose raping me over killing all the innocent people he set out to kill in the first place.) That event thoroughly fucked my teen angst-filled daydreams (right up till 9/11 showed up and thoroughly fucked them from the other side), not to mention those of the legions of kids like me I’m sure, and Dan Savage is telling kids to GOOGLE it??
Well, yeah. These kids were, what, toddlers at best when it happened. Soon they would only have been piles of protoplasm and then they won’t even have been a thought in their parents’ heads. So they’ll only get heresay. Maybe it’ll start to sound like precautions against date rape or blackout drinking—“oh sure, bad stuff happens but it won’t to me.” They won’t have been there in lockdown as their teachers run back and forth to the news, shitting bricks. It’ll be just another thing adults try to scare them with. Something to sneer at.
But when, as seems hopelessly inevitable here, it DOES happen in their lifetime and they ARE afraid, are their parents going to tell them not to be? Even though the parents themselves get all white-knuckled on the remote just watching the news? Are they going to tell that lie?
What else are they supposed to say, I guess. “Be afraid, kid, be very afraid. Because this is the shitty kind of place I brought you into?” I guess that would mess you up too.