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Kama O'Connor

For two and a half years, my daughter and I lived near a Marine Corps base in southern California. Our town sat in a dry, unforgiving desert where the signs of life were cracked like the parched ground. Summer days weren’t lazy and relaxed; they were fraught with heat and the scorching reality that the shimmering mirage on the horizon offered no reprieve. Winter brought wind storms that threatened everything not tied down. I lashed my daughter to the land, afraid I would lose her. Had I already lost her to the hard life I’d unwillingly dragged her to? I wasn’t sure. 

And then came the bombs. Practice bombs, sure, but they felt real, shook me to the core. Reverberations of explosions rattled the windows in our home, and AAVs rolled down the streets as often as tumbleweeds. Men with tan, semi-automatic weapons shared my dusty running trails.

Fear stretched my soul to the point of breaking each time the ground trembled, each time a loaded weapon sidled up beside me, every time the wind picked up. That feeling of panic turned to acceptance at one point when we’d been living there a number of months, and eventually, acceptance turned to ambivalence. One summer day, months in, what was once awe-inspiring and difficult to fathom, turned normal.

When I look back on that time, both of us healthy and largely unscathed, I shake my head with wonder. Was it me that assimilated too quickly, turned the abnormal and perverse into a daily routine? Or did I let that moment in my life shape and mold me into someone who didn’t want to live in fear anymore? I’m still not sure. 

As Oprah often proclaims, what I know for certain is that fear has taken root inside my chest again. Gone are the weapons of mass destruction, the bombs—practice or not—the rifles of every caliber. Instead, an invisible enemy has infiltrated the masses, sussed out the weak and preyed on them. And I’m terrified I will acclimate to the changed landscape. 

More than that, I worry my daughter will. She’s no longer tied to a place that seems bent on killing everyone who wanders in. She’s free, adventurous, and braver than anyone who’s seen what she has seen has a right to be. So what will happen to her spirit when she sees the armed men and women in front of the capitol building, trying to steal what isn’t theirs to have? What will she think when her friend calls science a hoax? When she sees bars and restaurants and parks and pools and the world filled with people sitting elbow-to-elbow but her mother—the one who is supposed to protect her—tells her she can’t hug her grandmother yet? 

Will she let the world in through cracked armor that shines a little less brightly since March? Or will she remain strong, grounded no longer in fear, but truth that what we ask of her is for the betterment of the whole, rather than the few? I’m not sure. 

I’ve got faith, though, and I’ll spread that shit like wildfire, hoping it will burn out the fear, the uncertainty, the meanness. And I’ll teach Izzy to light her own match. Be her own light. Make her own path. It’s all I can do, right? I’m not sure, but I will.

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