A while back, I reviewed Megan Abbott’s novel, The End of Everything. At Abbott’s blog, she discusses what appear to be unconscious connections between her novel (which deals with a missing child) and similar cases that took place during her youth, with the latter case happening near where she grew up. One of her points is that the cases that took place during her childhood led to an intensification of parental fear:
[Her book] is inspired by that feeling so specific to the late 70s-early 80s. The sense of the world changing, abruptly, even over night, because all the adults were suddenly terrified and that terror painted the entire world of my youth (many of our youth’s) with a powerful menace. The message was: You are not safe, and you never were.
I’m a bit older than Ms. Abbott, but I remember the turning point in my childhood as well. Nashvillians of a certain age will remember the murder of Marcia Trimble. It was almost an archetypical case: the victim delivering Girl Scout cookies in her “nice neighborhood”, the searches, the mother’s prediction and prayer that her daughter would be home on Easter, the discovery of the body on Easter Sunday. Decades intervened before the killer was found, and he too fit the myth — the serial predator who chose his victim at random.
I was nine, in fourth grade, when the murder took place. Somewhere in my boxes of stuff there is a small pocket Testament of the sort the Gideons give out, which I received when I was a kid myself, either from Vacation Bible School or youth league football. Somewhere in the book, there is a passage I underlined because Marcia Trimble’s mother had mentioned on TV that it was her daughter’s favorite passage of Scripture. I don’t remember what it was now, but the fact that I remember doing it indicates the way the case enveloped our community.
This morning I sit while my daughter sleeps late in her room, as fourteen-year-olds are wont to do. The Spawn and I are both cautious by nature, both because of our troubling levels of perfectionism and because we’re aware of the hideous things that can happen. If anything, I suspect it may be worse for her, because while I remember the Trimble case as something that happened to a kid my age, the horror that has entered our lives actually took people she knew and loved.
Parents of my generation are sometimes accused of being overprotective, of being “helicopters.” I know there’s some truth to that — I’ve had to deal professionally with those folks from time to time. And yes, I know the chances of stranger abduction are very small, and that most acts of violence come from those we thought we knew well. But I don’t find a great deal of solace in that — it only seems to show that “Stranger Danger” can come not only from the strangers of whom we’re aware, but from the stranger that may lie in those who are closest to us. The trick is in finding a balance between that uncomfortable knowledge and the necessity of living, and of wanting our children to live and live fully. I guess that’s where faith comes in, but while I might find the helicopter parents bothersome at times (and I try not to be one myself), I understand how they got there. Like the gospels in my attic, parents of my generation have been underlined by the Marcia Trimbles and Adam Walshes, and those of us they — and the strangers — left behind.