“Mom, come! Come, Mom! Come, come with me!” All day today, my little one has been following me around, taking my hand, leading me outside, to the playset, to the garden, to the places where he plays, asking me to play with him. I am so tired, and achy, and more than a little anxious about tomorrow’s chemo, where I start a brand-new chemotherapy drug that I know so little about. His grandparents are here to play with him, but today, he knows something’s up, and only Mom will do.
So I go with him, of course. I haul my aching body over to his favorite places, to the swings, to the playset, and lie down near where he is playing, calling words of encouragement, and being available for hugs and kisses when the he bumps his head or needs a little extra love in his day. This is what I do. This is what I do best. I love this little guy. But still, some days I get tired, and achy, and more than a little anxious.
Perhaps I should stop reading the newspaper. For it certainly doesn’t help that today is October 3, 2007.
Do you know the significance of today? Do you remember? Do you remember the fear and anxiety that the D.C. snipers brought to our area five years ago today?
I remember it like it was yesterday. Just a few weeks after the first anniversary of 9-11, just a year after the anthrax attacks on federal buildings in D.C. (including mine), as the nation was gearing up to go to war, war came to us. My little suburb, along with others across the D.C. area, was under attack.
Reports of the first gunshot victim were mixed in with other news of the day. The next day, a second unusual killing — a woman slumped on a bench, with no apparent motive, struggle, or other information available. Then, gunshots rang out at the Michael’s that I had been to the week before. At the gas station where we filled up on the way out there. At the grocery store.
Gunshots at the grocery store.
How wild was that? As the news sunk in, the fear started to spread. Many of us here in the suburbs began to bundle our errands, to conserve our gas, to stock up at the grocery store, and to not run out for “just a few things” if we didn’t really have to. Some crouched behind their cars when they stopped for gas. Some went in pairs, one to fill up and one to stand guard, to watch. Some walked more quickly from the Metro through the parking lot, looking around, furiously searching the corners of the lots and the scraggly trees for anything suspicious. But, in this case of stealth and sharpshooting, what was suspicious?
The only clue was the reported sighting of a white box truck at the Home Depot shooting. Later, a similar truck would be reported at another of the shootings, but was it fact or coincidence? No matter; it was all we had.
So we began to go about our errands again, but every sighting of a white box truck (hundreds! thousands!) caused a momentary panic in many of our hearts, an irrational fear, a tugging that maybe, just maybe we should change lanes or pull over or call someone — do something!
But there really wasn’t much that we could do. A crazy man (or two?) was on the loose, and for a few weeks that October, we all lived in his sights.
I do not like to remember those days. Those days when fear got the best of us, when fear and violence and a form of terrorism was brought home to our leafy neighborhoods where, a year or two earlier, we had felt safe. Secure. At home. Suddenly, we were safe nowhere. And the worst part was, we didn’t know where to go to be safe again.
My mind races now, with the perspective of five years since the snipers, six years since 9-11, and too many years of war.
This must be a tiny taste of what it must be like to live in Baghdad today. Just a taste. A terrifying, terrifying taste.
And so, when my son wakes up from his afternoon nap, I will hold him close, and play with him, and rejoice in the safety of our home and neighborhood.
My family is so lucky to be safe and together today. I cannot imagine the anxious days that mothers in war-torn countries spend, trying desparately to keep their children safe. My heart goes out to them today, and I weep.