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A photo by Volkan Olmez.

“Do you get energy from people, or do people drain you?” My therapist asked me a year ago. In silent retort, I burrowed my shoulder blades into the scratchy couch in his office. To be honest, I didn’t wholly understand the question.

Define people, I thought.

I stared back at him, my features tightening with enmity. It wasn’t the question I found unsettling, it was the resilient, glowing peace, the kind manufactured from life lessons garnered from seven plus decades of life, that lit his eyes. Wisdom. Often, in its presence, it feels intimidating, because of its authentic conception. It cannot be store-bought, or gifted. True wisdom is a result of your own applied living versus existing despite life’s unfairness. It’s the gift of not giving up.

I folded my arms over myself, vulnerable. Therapy, ugh. The voluntary act of gathering as many scattered “pieces” of yourself that will fit in to your arms, only to lay those jigsaw puzzle pieces on an invisible table and give into the resolve of trying to fit them together, solving small parts of your own widespread puzzle, in under an hour. Then with those pieces constructed, your big picture produced by your own hands, you get to wrestle with believing whether it’s reality or fiction all while an unbiased stranger stands over your shoulder observing. Again, therapy, ugh.

I needed clarity. “What do you mean people?” I asked. Because if ‘people’ are the small-in-size, yet large-in-wildness, army of emotional manics—my four daughters—I created to test, terrorize, and overwhelm me with a deluge of heart bursting love on the regular, I’d say drain till I’m a hollow corpse. But if ‘people’ are adults than I’d say they energize me. *Translation: I will drain you, it’s who I am.

Over the course of the past month, I’ve witnessed my narrative change and negatively morph. I’ve gone from a lover of people, to being plagued with a persona that is fearful of people. I’m not sure if it’s implicit of my future, or only teetering on my hopefully temporary and somewhat broken spirit.

Currently, I’m exhausted and coated in outrage-meets-heartache. My timeline, the straight, but curvy line representing the past month of my chaotic life, holds a plethora of emotions. The colored dots, bleeding together, are a virtual mood ring defining my ugly emotional state. Black and red. The line has short stretches of undisturbed, un-dotted spaces due to sleep, but even those small spaces dominated by my subconscious are an angry, steaming black night train. I am restless.

As a result, I’ve been a bone-tired, one-dimensional caricature, only capable of reacting from a self-defensive standpoint. It feels like liquid, the medium more watercolor than oil.

That’s anxiety. It clouds your judgement, left unable to pinpoint the source of your grievance, or even recognize a true threat, because anxiety also holds hands with paranoia. Everything feels like an attack.

Lets rewind to the start, before I make you (if I haven’t already) think I’ve gone completely mad, yet for the record I’ve always been a slightly emotional maniac—love me through it, kay?

My daughter’s 5th grade year started off rocky, to say the least. The landscape was an interval of unscalable boulders, designed by bullies. These bullies led with disturbing agendas, one’s that define ‘rape culture’ with an undertone of vulgarity.

I’ll admit, for a minute, I was so blindsided that I fought my own erratic rationale first. My frantic heart chiseled at my ribs, my chest filled with rage.  Coming to, I fought back with a strength I didn’t know I possessed. I was my daughter’s advocate, protector, and activist on a mission. Hell hath no fury like a mother scorned. Halfway through the fight, I was blindsided again. And I never saw it coming.

My ideals were shot in the head.

For most of the last decade, I have been wrapped in the euphoric state of mommin. I have four daughters ten-years-old and younger, each nearly a two year stair-step in descending age of one another, and I’m not saying everyday has been euphoric—this phase of life has been ugly hard, but for the most part, it’s self-induced.

As a mama to young children, you are often your biggest critic. You’re main enemy is your own tiredness, stress, and frailty. It’s worrying about your child’s schedule, nap times, health, nutrition, the milestones, knowledge of the alphabet and eventually sight words, and whether they are getting too much screen time. The enemy, while they are young, doesn’t feel like it’s the outside populous—aside from the occasional “judgy” mama, or the insane maniac you see on the news.

It sounds disturbing, ideals being shot in the head, but it’s the truth. Nobody warns you about the ‘real world’ wake-up call you will receive as your child steps into adolescence. Yes, nearly all say, with an air of survivor humor, “wait till they are sixteen.” Together, you share a laugh at the forewarning statement. You laugh at the threat and they laugh at your naiveness. But where was my warning, “just wait till their ten. When children the same age will vandalize your child’s innocence. The mean classmates who will label your child, stealing titles crafted from a demeaning list of words they surely can’t understand.”

When it happened, I didn’t know where to start. I was mad at myself. And I knew it stemmed from Mama Guilt—the responsibility mother’s place on ourselves to make our children’s life perfect.

This was the very tip of the serious matter iceberg—my child’s value of self.

Here is the cold, ugly, and hard truth that started my downward slope: Nearly a month ago, she was punched in the face, called a bitch, and then this boy went online and told eight other classmates, in a thread on Instagram, that my daughter sucks dic (because he isn’t mature enough to know that the slang word for penis is actually spelled with a k, too—it’s the one syllable rule), and other boys in the same thread called her a loser, an idiot, and other words…

I nearly threw up writing the above paragraph.

After coming full circle—the school, police, child, parents—I realized how broken our system truly is.

The school is limited, the rope of their control is a short leash. Two police officers and a clerk offered me sympathy, one officer told me that this is really a “parent’s job” to handle. They should, along with the school, discipline the child, because he doubted the DA is going to press charges against a ten-year-old. The child said “sorry” but he clearly didn’t mean it, because he still went online after his written apology, on a social media account he isn’t even technically allowed to have due to not meeting the age requirements, and wrote lewd acts about my child because I assume he’s mad he got in trouble at school. The parents are still silent—either too embarrassed to communicate with me, or too uncaring to extend any responsibility or restitution.

There is a ton of finger-pointing, but little accountability. It’s EVERYONE else’s problem to handle. The system we rely on, formal jurisdiction, says it has to go to the worst possible scenario, and even then it’s dependent on age and background, as to what they will charge. Two words: Brock Turner.

I have never been more disgusted with our state of affairs regarding bullying and ‘rape culture.’ The dominant response I got was “maybe he, or they just like her…” I wanted to scream, nearly uttering ‘bullshit’ when people said that to me. Is that the generic, but acceptable excuse?  If you like them, and aren’t mature enough to communicate it, then by all means, physically and verbally assault them.

To be fair, I don’t want one experience marking every young boy as a perpetrator in my eyes, making me live in a constant state of fear for my daughters. But the sad fact is that it wasn’t one occurrence, one boy. It was four boys, who cyber-bullied her, influenced by one boy’s anger. This bullying extended over two weeks.  The ugly truth is that one bad apple can influence the weaker will of others. If one isn’t held fully responsible then this does become a theme, an epidemic. And we are there.  And the masses don’t want to believe it.

I was guilty, too.  Somehow, to this point, I’ve lived in my stay-at-home-mama bubble, shielded from the tragic state of this epidemic, until it directly affected my life.

I’m sick with myself.

It is happening and here, in the Midwest, it’s taboo—only to be whispered. The audible gasps I received when I, in a tone that is nothing close to a whisper, mentioned this child, who called my daughter a bitch and punched her in the face and then told her classmates that she commits lewd acts, in the same sentence that included Brock Turner, the rapist, says it all.

And we, myself included, have the gall to wonder where the “Brock Turners” come from? They don’t just emerge, at twenty-one, committing heinous, violent sexual acts against women. It starts a decade before then. The same way young girls are taught to undervalue and loosely define themselves for the sake of sexuality (just look at the clothes sold at Justice to too young girls).

We are missing a vital step that protects our children from rape culture.

Or are we content to be blind and spoon-fed that this pornographic, morally decaying world, is too far gone to change?  Are we all okay settling for relying on ‘hope’ that our child doesn’t become a victim?  Or have we become this freaking lazy? Or we just naive?

I don’t know the answer, but we are something–read the statistics on rape and sexual violence and not be sickened and outraged.  Better, read Brock Turner’s victim’s letter to him here.  This is real.

My stomach is in knots, bile and anger eating at my insides. I’ve been slapped in the face with bitter reality. In the course of a month, I’ve shed so much of my own naiveness that my skin is raw, I feel like I’m on the underside of a third degree burn.

It has disturbed me on a depressive level. Ever have those moments days when you are confused, hurt, and disgustingly angry that the sight of a beautiful, cloudless day, the kind where the temperature is agreeable and the breeze is the perfect strength to just lightly feather across your skin, but not prick it with coldness, that it pisses you off?  You crave the storm, pelting rain and a blanket of darkness. You want a greater power to commiserate with you, reveling in the shadows.  Some recognition, an omission that your inner tirade is justified.

The honest truth: as a mother of four daughters, I’m terrified. How do you protect your daughter from a silent enemy? Because that is what ‘Rape Culture” is and it’s lingering around our children.

The images on tv that objectify and label women, the sexists that push women beneath men, the culture that says it’s unacceptable, but not truly punishable at ten because he’s immature and maybe just likes her. If there isn’t any true recourse, who will this child become? And how do I protect my daughters from him?

The sick part is that I can’t, not fully–wisdom, this experience, says so.  It’s an uncomfortable fit, this new awareness, but it’s the first step in protecting my daughters, and I refuse to remain silent, letting the torment of rape culture be a bi-line of my daughters’ childhood.

Hell hath no fury like a scorned Mother…