A darkened heart still pumps on

Feminist vigilante movie trailers play on as viewers wonder which actress often typecast as the wife will now get her chance for more. They can, at last, play the scorned woman out to kill a predator. This female lead fights outside of a leather-clad male gaze; she wars like an ambassador for the oppressed. A darkened heart still pumps on.

Mothers whose children suffer abuse are forced to choose the severity of their story. Some seize the circumstances compared to others who idle until it might die down. I came home every day of tech week for a sophomore-year play, telling Mom about new instances of cruelty from our teacher. As the verbal abuse ran on, she notated the words for my school social worker. Gasping as I spoke, she still retained a secretary-like focus.

“So… everything is okay, don’t worry about this, but I told Ms. O about what she said to you,” she began before I could buckle my seatbelt for the drive home, “about what he said to all of the group.” She pressed the gas as if heading to dump a body.

She believes not in sunshiney denial but in the best parts being elevated despite wear

My mother, who raised three daughters beside an alcoholic husband, built her internal code on resilience amidst rips. Yet she couldn’t face all of this stoic. She took us on ice cream runs when my dad evaded us and never questioned therapy. As an administrative assistant at a school, she vouches for students hit on heads with soccer balls and the angsty ones alike. She is known to discuss the finer points of the NBA with children waiting for the principal’s reprimanding. Across classifications, she believes not in sunshiney denial but in the best parts being elevated despite wear.

Called dumb for skipping a line in the play and then told her the performance failed because of my work. I quieted my voice while relaying the moments to her. He could not evaporate me with an ally that treated these words like they were declared instead of hushed. A mom amidst her child’s trauma arrives in the armor not quite fit for her baby. Armoring cannot be rushed, she realizes. In the meantime, the mother is thrown into writing her own manifesto, centering confidence and patience.

She told my social worker about the abuse, who alerted the deans, who got the school board involved and told him to quit now or be fired. The teacher quit. For a sixteen-year-old, such actions felt like a heaving too huge to come from me. My mom factored all angles before becoming a whistleblower on my behalf. She did not want him to continue, yet she still considered the weight this filing could mean for me ahead. Mom tells me often that I will always be the right person for this situation. Justice suits me, she considers, even when triggers require much grounding.

In that month in 2016, I balked at being an informant, yet I knew the fight required humanity as much as grit. She perhaps even saw into 2024. That I would still find myself in flashbacks seemed a side plot compared to the character I grew into, both as a survivor and from the changes that come in one’s twenties. These days, my mother does not preface my statements. With every customer service woe faced, I organized lists of changes the company must make (all with cussing and laughter from my fellow receptionists adding their notes). No longer at that job now, I still have so much Gretchen-ness inside of me, so much fervor that exceeds drowsiness.

Eight years after the abuse started, Mom and I watched a true crime show’s episode on an abusive teacher. I whispered that the fact of trying to be The Cool Teacher resounded from the screen to my real life. He could say whatever he wanted to us because he allowed the students a glimpse of a lax adult. She declared her unrest once again before typing something into her phone.

“He’s at another school now,” she sighed as she scrolled a LinkedIn page on her phone. A sigh from Mom could transition into vigilantism. But this was not the time to grab real or imagined baseball bats when her daughter froze behind a sort of ice. Mom bundles up, patient as I claw out, and thrilled that I will harness this with grace.

Photo by Jizhidexiaohailang on Unsplash


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