Lee: My mother’s biggest fear

The journal Dana Lee’s mom gave her before leaving for college. One journal entry in particular hit close to home after the IndyStar reported a sexual assault case on Butler’s campus. Photo by Dana Lee

DANA LEE | SPORTS EDITOR | delee1@butler.edu

My mom never told me she was scared, and I never knew what she was scared of until I was holding a green leather journal in my hands, reading about her fear.

It was the summer before freshman year and the only thing separating me from college was a three-hour drive down I-65 south. I tried to be undaunted by college. I wanted to be fearless and she wanted that for me too — which is why she couldn’t talk about her own fear.

Parents rarely do, and it was a different kind of fear from that night when I was 10 and my fever wouldn’t go down.

I wasn’t 10 anymore. I was 18, and when I arrived at Butler, my professors encouraged and convinced me I could carve out my own niche, if that’s what I wanted. I love this school for that.

But being a female college student also means risking becoming one in five women sexually assaulted on campus.

This is the fear that keeps a mother up at night when their teenage daughter is sleeping.

Fear and love motivated my mom to write. So, she kept a journal of everything she wanted to tell me before I left. Things she hoped would “stick between my ears so I could pull it out someday when I needed it.” Things she needed to write about. Even when she didn’t know how to.

So she didn’t. Thirteen entries in, scotch tape anchors the corners of her fear, and an article titled, “Why it’s so hard to talk to our daughters about campus rape.”

It’s supposed to put into words what my mom cannot, and she signed the entry like every other before it. “Love, mom.”  

Everyone says I’m my father’s daughter. Sarcasm is the first giveaway. Then the dimples, because we share the same ones on both cheeks when we laugh.

But I’m also my mother’s daughter. Her journal is my reminder. I write when I’m scared, even when I don’t know how.

Today, writing means acknowledging an evil I don’t know how to.

Why it targets college women. Me. My sister. My friends that walk home together, so no one is left in situations detailed by campus police reports. Even when doing so is a form of victim-blaming in itself. “Well, why was she all by herself when she wore that skirt Friday night?”

Blame the victim, and it’s easy to ignore evil. Ignore the victim, and evil disappears.

Or maybe it would be easier if I stopped caring, because that’s the only way Michigan State could’ve allowed Larry Nassar to continue “treating” athletes 18 years after he was first accused.

The doctors and schools we’re told to trust are the ones perpetrating and covering for the very same evil they caution against.

In the aftermath of the Penn State and Jerry Sandusky scandal, it was Michigan State’s head basketball coach Tom Izzo who said, “It sickens me for the victims.”

Was he also sickened when two freshmen on his team were accused of raping the same woman in 2010? Apparently not; both players appeared in every regular-season game that year.

I write about sports because of its window into humanity, but today there is too much of it and I can’t distance myself from the very thing that draws me closer to the hurricane.

I’m reaching closer and closer, but maybe that’s not accurate. The hurricane comes to me.

Monday morning, and the IndyStar publishes a story about a rape on Butler’s campus. The victim’s mother writes a letter, and it runs on the front page of this newspaper. The hurricane comes closer still. It makes being fearless hard.

I don’t know the victim. I don’t know her mother. But I know my own. My mom writes about her fears in a green leather journal, but she’s never had to write about them coming true.

I’m my father’s daughter. I’m crying when I call him on the phone and the sobs sound foreign through the bluetooth speaker of his car. I think he was on his way to the gym, because it’s 4:00 p.m. on a Tuesday and he doesn’t know about the hurricane yet.

Doesn’t know how I keep drawing closer because I have to understand why. Why evil showed up here, this place where I try to be fearless.

But I know he’s worried because he repeats my name several times.

My mind goes there. If this call were under different circumstances, if my mom’s fears came true, what would I say? I think his mind goes there too, because I’m his daughter. I’m his daughter, and it doesn’t take long to piece everything together.

“Did anything happen?”

The last time I cried like this was after the Sandy Hook shooting five years ago, but he has to remind me.

Time is funny when it heals wounds. The hurt becomes periodic. There are no memorials for victims of sexual assault. But I imagine if there were, they would be invisible.

I forgot to mention one more thing about my mom’s green leather journal.

There’s a Bible verse from Psalm 91:11 on the front. I know why she chose it because she writes about it in her first entry. Her hope needed to be bigger than her fear.

“For He shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.”

Where were the angels for the women at Michigan State?

Follow Dana Lee on Twitter at @dana_lee7

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