I had to stop watching E.R. when I was pregnant with Ben. The September 11th attacks had just happened, and I was all too cognizant of the dangers of the world. I didn’t need to invite them into the living room.
I had to stop saying “Drive safe” to Tony when he headed off on his 45-minute commute. After a few months of the ritual, he worried how I’d fret if I missed my chance one day, how guilty I’d feel if somehow my ritual words failed to protect him.
I had to stop stepping directly in to crosswalks, insisting bodily on my right of way, when I started pushing a stroller in front of me. “You can be right,” remarked my reasonable husband, “Or you can be safe.”
I had to tell Ben last spring that a child in his preschool had died in an accident.
I had to watch yesterday, my heart in my mouth, as a mad driver swerved toward a dad walking his son into our preschool. I was a few steps back. We’d both heard the crash behind us as the driver hit a car, the squeal of the tires as he pulled away, and the scream of a police car’s siren. The siren made me feel momentarily safe, until I looked back and saw how cautious the police car was in pursuit, until I saw the other car, its front end smashed, race up the street toward us. The dad scooped his son up into his arms. I pushed Ben and our carpool companion behind me, then hustled them onto the ramp in front of the school, which is protected (somewhat) by a metal railing. Ben and his buddy were delighted; they love to run up and down that ramp after school, playing a game they call “Dong!” I kept an eye on the car–which had strangely, thankfully, swerved away from our schoolmate, roared up the street, but then u-turned and headed back toward us–as I hurried the boys into school. I was glad it was my school workday, so I didn’t have to say goodbye to the boys but could stay and play. They never knew that for a moment, for them, it hadn’t been safe.
I have to think today of all the people who weren’t safe yesterday, and hope that those who survived will heal.
I live in earthquake country. I’m a parent. I don’t need to read the paper to know, really know, that I’m not safe. I don’t dwell on it; we keep earthquake kits in the car and garage, we have an emergency plan. But I don’t much like to be reminded of it, either. When danger swerves so close, it makes me want to gather the family close and hunker down.
After 9/11, after the tragedy last spring, we gathered friends around the dinner table. Yesterday, I came home to find Tony, unaware of the news, frying tofu, boiling noodles, steaming vegetables — making a fabulous meal. I’d brought (a different) one of Ben’s preschool friends home, and she and her parents wound up staying for supper. After those scary moments earlier in the day, sharing a meal together made me feel truly safe.