In middle school I wasn’t allowed to walk home with my friends, and I was truly miffed. Despite living in a quiet suburban neighborhood, right next door to my two best friends, my mother refused to let me work off my daily pizza/Gatorade/sherbet lunch and participate in the adolescent ritual that is schlepping a JanSport less than a mile home. Every day at 3:15 she would pull up in her Mustang convertible, blaring Metallica and waving like a madwoman, effectively ruining any semblance of street cred I might’ve had (it was already pretty low, I’ll give her that). I remember sinking into the front seat, ignoring the stares from her prepubescent fan club, and staring longingly at the bouncing ponytails and unfortunate bell bottom silhouettes of my girl friends as they skipped off in the direction of my own street.
When I asked her—rather, whined at her—why can’t I go with them?! her answer didn’t satisfy me. “If you were fat and ugly it’d be different. I can’t trust some stranger not to scoop you up and kidnap you.”
This logic extended to why I couldn’t go to sleepovers or overnight camps. It was why I wasn’t allowed to go to Jamie’s after I accidentally let it slip her dad let us climb over fences and go to the corner store to get popsicles by ourselves. My mom was convinced if I ever went without supervision I’d be lulled into a mysterious vehicle and end up with my face plastered on milk cartons. To a parent this makes perfect sense; to a 14 year old desperate to maintain a social life, not so much. I didn’t understand her concern for two reasons. First, while by no means fat or ugly, I wasn’t exactly a looker. I was still rocking the bushy caterpillar eyebrows and Paul Frank t-shirts, and any experience with makeup involved a distinct orange line separating my jaw from my neck. Second, I had no notion of the world being a “scary” place. I’d been given the lectures on stranger danger. I knew how to safely cross the street, and am still an obnoxious stickler for waiting for the little white man to tell me it’s OK. But I lived in an extra padded, bubble-wrapped bubble. I had wholesome friends who only got high if it involved sugar. The only reason I’d be at someone else’s house after 9 PM would be to finish a Gilmore Girls marathon. I didn’t believe there were bad people looking to terrorize a frizzy haired goody two shoes, and I resented her for being so overprotective.
Even now that I’m living on my own and making my own choices, I can still sense her pleas to “Just be safe, alright?” They’re masked behind “Have fun!” text messages and emailed photos of younger me on playgrounds captioned “my Katie baby,” but I know she spends quite a bit of time worrying about me. It kills her that I go hiking with boys I’ve just met. She bites her tongue when she hears about my excessive margarita consumption only because I got that lovely trait from her. If she had her way, I would live under her roof forever, working at her print shop, biking to and from the Safeway down the block (with a helmet & flashing light, of course), because cars are metal death traps and I’m her angel.
I’d never intentionally given her reason to fear for my safety, and I teased her for being so paranoid. All my knowledge of evil had remained at an ignorantly comfortable distance—“far away” in news headlines, gossip from friends of a friend, emotionally charged Facebook statuses. I lived in my own little paradise, selfishly aware that while there may be bad people out there, they weren’t terrorizing me, specifically.
My naïve blanket of security was ripped away a year ago almost to the day when my college community was torn apart by the mass murders of May 23rd. I was not personally injured. I didn’t see the victims, and only knew one from a brief evening of King’s Cup. Yet suddenly my bubble became much less padded and infinitely more claustrophobic. My street corner was blocked off as a crime scene. My roommate lost one of her closest friends. I spoke to a counselor for the first time in my life because I kept finding myself crying hysterically on the floor, unable to understand how something so awful could happen. Everyone around me was terrified and coping in any way possible, seemingly to no avail. It’s an event so horrifying I can’t even write extensively about it without getting physically sick. I stick to words like tragic and painful and terrible because describing it with anything more visceral just hurts too much. I remember looking at my roommate Lisa with tears in my eyes and choking, “I can’t imagine ever not feeling this way.” It wasn’t an article I’d skimmed on the internet. It wasn’t a Michael Moore documentary. It was my life, my friends, my home. And I completely lost it.
I waited to call my parents. Not because I wanted them to worry—quite the opposite, actually. I knew if I called them in the middle of a panic attack the carefully crafted illusion of my carefree college life would shatter, and they’d be ruined. When we finally spoke I tried to sound strong, letting silences fill the conversation in an attempt to keep in the crazy. They were just the right amount of somber and supportive, but it was obvious none of us knew how to close the 291 miles of aching between us. I started to close myself off as talking about everything became too difficult, and while I didn’t push them away, I didn’t reach out in the way they must’ve hoped. The way my Metallica blasting, suffocatingly affectionate mother would’ve expected from her baby girl.
It’s been only a year, and I wish I could say since the incident I’ve made a consistent effort to change. That I talk to my parents every day and never roll my eyes when my mom asks who I’ll be going out with. That I tell her every night “I love you, I’ll miss you, I’ll see you in the morning and goodnight,” like we used to sing as she tucked me into bed. But the urge to show an outpouring of emotion comes and goes in waves. When I’m having a rough day I try to find any outlet other than my parents because I don’t want them to think their child is unhealthy or miserable. I don’t want them to think they somehow failed in giving me the amount of love I needed to succeed in this world. One of the most difficult parts about remembering May 23rd has been knowing that there are parents who lost their children. There is a family out there that really did lose their Katie baby, and there is nothing I can do to change that. Imagining the pain those families have struggled with makes my heart ache so strongly I’m literally shaking, and I wish so badly there was something I could say or do to make everyone better. It’s not even close to the agony a parent feels when they watch their child in pain, but it’s enough to make me understand why my mother raised me with the hesitance and tenderness that she did. The protectiveness I feel toward Isla Vista and everyone that has suffered is how I know with absolute certainty my children are going to think I’m the meanest, most restrictive mommy in the school yard.
I don’t share these thoughts with her because I want to shield her from all things unpleasant, just as she did for me. Yet if there’s anything that night has taught me, it’s that keeping your emotions inside is never the answer. If you are feeling unwell, unloved, misunderstood; if you adore someone or feel like yelling from the rooftops just how wonderful your friends and family are; tell somebody. Tell your mom she’s batshit crazy and you love her more than you could ever put into words. Tell your friends you appreciate everything they’ve done for you and all the idiotic schemes you continue to put them through. Remember that the world is a scary place, and that there are bad people out there. But more importantly, remember you are surrounded by individuals willing to pick you up, at any time of the day, and remind you that you are worth cherishing. You are worth protecting. Please remember that.