Every so often, America is starkly reminded of our mass shooting problem. After a while, they become only the names of towns: Columbine, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Aurora—small towns, suburban towns, towns recommended to raise a family in. And now we could say that, once again, Orlando has jolted us out of our complacency. But we mothers never had any to begin with.
In the wake of these mass shootings, we mothers can hardly contain our fear. They say that when you have a child, you let your heart go walking around outside your body. We don’t fear for ourselves. We fear for our children. The dead in Orlando were once someone’s children. Imagine their mothers calling their cell phones, over and over, and going to voicemail, over and over. They live every mother’s worst nightmare: Their children shot, bled out somewhere alone and uncomforted and afraid. We fear, we mothers. We live in terror.
Terror—this is their goal, these Dylan Klebolds and Adam Lanzas and James Holmeses and Omar Mateens. They are terrorists, committing terrorism. And we can’t let the terrorists win, of course. But while the terrorists may lose the battle for our minds, they always, always win our hearts. We mothers, we are terrorized. We are afraid of losing what we love.
We worry in the mall. We wonder whether or not those car carts our children ride in can stop bullets. Can we throw them on their sides and take cover behind them?
We worry in Target, as we walk by the dresses. We think, I could hide inside those racks. I could rip a dress and make a tourniquet before a kid bleeds out.
We worry in Walmart, where the thought comes, unbidden: Could I keep the kids quiet enough as we crouch behind a rack of housewares? What about the baby? Would he cry and give us away?
We worry at the movie theater—James Holmes shot up a movie theater—and we think of his mugshot and we know these flimsy seats couldn’t stop gunfire.
We worry at church (because Dylann Flood shot up a church) that the bullets will start spraying from a semiautomatic. We will have to lie over the prone bodies of our children and pray to the God on the altar that our bodies can stop bullets.
We worry, if we’re black or brown, that a white supremacist will come and shoot us for our skin color. We picture children bleeding, screaming, dying.
We worry, if we’re gay, that a hate-filled bigot will rain fire down upon us and our children at a Pride parade, and in the open air and crush of people, there will be nowhere to hide.
We worry when we send our children to school, as we’re reminded of kindergarteners dutifully pantomiming their active-shooter drills, of kindergarteners dying in a hail of gunfire at Sandy Hook. We kiss our high-schoolers and remember Columbine, wonder if any kids in their school are wearing trench coats and acting suspicious. We wonder if the teachers would catch them in time. We fear they wouldn’t.
We worry with every outing, every trip outside the house, because angry men with guns have taken their place beside traffic accidents, beside speeding cars in parking lots, beside predators in aisle 10 as one more worry, one more thing, one more way to hurt our babies. One more way to maim, to kill, to brutalize the hearts walking around outside our bodies.
Your brain runs away with you, especially after these mass shootings, and you can’t turn it off. You’re worried about your children, about keeping them safe and breathing and alive, dammit, and it’s impossible to make it stop. Yes, this is terror, over and over and over. Yes, we are victimized, over and over and over. We keep going to the mall and to Target and to movie theaters. We send our babies to school. We don’t shelter them behind locked doors. We don’t let the terrorists win. But we are mothers. And we have been terrorized.