Saturday, when my friend Deanna and her family were visiting, we took the commuter rail into Boston to visit a museum. We took three rows: she and her husband and youngest daughter, Jeff and I in the row behind them. Owen and their oldest daughter chose to sit across the aisle from us, by themselves. With a deck of cards between them, they played War and Go Fish the whole time.
On the way home, a visibly, loudly drunk man came into our car. He went up and down the aisle a bit, talking nonsense to people, before sitting down in the seat in front of D and her husband and youngest daughter.
And a few minutes, later, he started talking to Owen and their older daughter. He was so drunk that what came out was almost gibberish, his words slurred together badly.
I was, quite literally, trapped in the window seat, two rows behind him, blocked from the aisle by Jeff, who told me not to worry, that he was keeping an eye on him.
But I had a clear view of the kids’ faces, which reflected a mixture of discomfort, confusion, and amusement.
It went on for far too long. At one point, the man said, what? Does no one TALK on this train? and Owen responded to him, Yeah, we talk. Jeff shushed Owen gently, telling him not to speak with the man, to play their game instead.
And the whole time, my internal danger alarm bells were going off, louder and louder and louder. This is not okay. Why didn’t the man just pass out and leave the kids alone? Why did he keep trying to talk with them? I leaned over and asked Jeff to talk with the conductor about him, but he said only Don’t worry, it’s okay – I’ve got my eye on him.
And for a little while, it seemed like he was going to quiet down and leave the kids alone. But then he said something, again, interrupting the kids’ game.
Jeff leaned over and told the kids that they should probably move their seats a row back.
And that was enough for me.
I stood up, shaking with anger, looked the guy straight in the eyes and said, loudly, It is NOT okay to talk with my children. You will leave them alone now. If you continue to talk to them, I will get the conductor.
I might have been yelling. I know that when I sat down, I was nearly crying with anger. It was probably a good thing that Jeff was blocking me in my seat, because I probably would have stood in front of him and physically made him move his seat.
It quieted him. He complained loudly about the fact that he was just talking, that he hadn’t eaten in 7 days, but he left the kids alone after that.
And we laughed about it when we got home – how the guy was pretty harmless, just drunk and chatty and how me going all Mama Bear was a touch of overreaction. And we joked about the fact that I called D’s kids “mine” too.
It was instinct that made me react the way I did; pure instinct. Children I love were in a situation where I thought there was trouble, and I just reacted.
I was able to diffuse the situation, and I kept “my kids” safe.
She was asleep when he first texted her to tell her he loved her, that there was a shooting at the club. And over the next 45 minutes, she did all she could to help.
But she was trapped her bedroom, far away from the bathroom in which Eddie was hiding.
She could do nothing but call 911, text her son, and hope. And grieve when she learned that her son was one of the victims.
I can only imagine the rage, the panic, the instinct screaming at her PROTECT YOUR CHILD!
But she couldn’t keep her son safe.
I am so tired of taking a moment to honor victims. I’m sick of hearing about the “debate on gun control” – which isn’t a debate at all, just a bunch of people refusing to listen, hellbent on screaming their own opinion on the internet, not interested in compromise or even WORKING towards a solution. I’m so fucking tired of non-action, the rhetoric.
Because I now live in a world where I put my 8 year old son on the school bus every day, knowing that there’s a chance some angry person could storm his school with a gun and mow him down. Or he could die at the finish line of one of my races. Or, when he’s a teenager, in the mall or a movie theater. Or a club.
There are myriad ways my son can die; that’s always been true. He could choke on a hot dog or grape. He could die from allergic reaction to something he eats. He could forget to look while crossing the street and get struck by a car.
But the one that I’m most scared of is the one that IS PREVENTABLE. The one that is done on a mass scale, with assault weapons, all because we keep screaming at each other that the RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS IS OUR RIGHT, goddammit.
Our right to bear arms means our country allows anyone to by an assault weapon, without background checks. It means the CDC can’t even research the causes of gun violence.
And our right to bear arms means that more mothers will sit there, trapped, unable to protect their children.
This is not okay.
It’s not at all okay.
THIS IS NOT OKAY.
And this is me, standing up and screaming, shaking with rage.