By Katherine Tomlinson
I am not a brave person.
I am the one holding your slushie while you ride the monster coaster. I am the one wielding the video camera as you run with the wolves.
I am the one warning you not to go into the creepy old house.
I am not the one “taking it to the limit,” not even once, much less one more time.
I grew up in a house where there was nothing to fear.
My father was in the Army so we had a roof over our heads and access to inexpensive food and goods at the Commissary and PX.
My parents surrounded us with art and music and because we lived in Europe for much of my childhood, they took us on trips to places that it would have taken years to save for—Amsterdam, and Geneva and Berlin and Paris and Rome.
They gave us board games and crayons and colored pencils. There were paper dolls and ice skates, stuffed animals and baseball mitts. And always, there were books.
My mother read mysteries and reprints of classics in gray bindings so you knew they were a set. My father read biographies and history. He’d read his way out of Appalachia and into law school and even as an adult he continued his autodidactic ways.
My parents had to pinch their pennies but we never went hungry and we always had warm clothes and new shoes and glasses and health care when we needed them. More importantly, my sister and brother and I never had to cower in fear of heavy blows or cruel words or the other things, the worse things, that I didn’t know went on in some homes until I was much older.
There were plenty of things that made me anxious, but in the house where I grew up, there was nothing to fear.
And then I got out into the real world and discovered that I had won the parent lottery. I was horrified to discover how many people had parents who had not known how to parent, who had instead tormented their children with mental, physical, and sexual abuse that left visible and invisible scars.
The survivors I met had either been broken by their awful childhoods, or the experience had made them fierce. Before I encountered their realities, I’d thought I was a reasonably courageous person because I could look out of high-rise windows even though I didn’t like heights and I didn’t flinch at killing spiders.
Afterwards I realized then that I wasn’t brave at all because I’d never had to be brave.
I’d grown up surrounded by a lovely little cocoon of caring that softened the sharp edges, that cushioned the blows.
I’d had an easy life compared to many people.
Compared to most people, even.
Because I didn’t have to cope with fear as a child.
It was nice living in that cozy little bubble.
But now there’s a threat out there so existential even my privileged upbringing can’t shelter me from the fear.
What’s going on in America is terrifying.
What could happen is worse.
Like a bad parent, Donald Trump is abusing this country and turning its citizens into abusers themselves.
I don’t have much practice at it, but in the face of this fear I promise, to be fierce. I promise to be brave. I promise to resist.