I think I’ve lost a layer of skin since I had children. Or maybe having children had nothing to do with it; maybe I just got more empathetic as I got older. But when I listen to the news these days it’s as if someone has taken a potato peeler and removed whatever defences I used to have when I heard all the terrible things: “It’s not here.” “It’s not me.” It’s not my family.” “It’s nobody I know.” “It couldn’t happen to us.” They don’t work so well any more.
Maybe it’s just that things keep on happening, and my radius increases as time goes on, so that “here” spans a lot more than just the town I grew up in, and “us” includes a lot more people than just me and my parents. Maybe it’s that the law of averages indicates that some day it could just as easily be me, or us, or here, as anywhere else. Some parts of the earth may be less prone to natural disasters, and some parts of the state may see less crime than others, but as my mother would tell you, you could leave the house tomorrow and walk under a bus. There are no guarantees.
But even when I’m not appreciating how lucky I am, and wondering how long I can reasonably expect that luck to hold, those other people whose luck has run out seem closer now. I don’t want to hear about them; I certainly can’t let myself think about them. Imagining my way into their skin is not something I’m going to begin to try to do.
The news is more real, maybe: when I was a child it may as well have been fiction. I wasn’t sheltered from the news as a child. I remember earthquakes and hijackings, shootings and bombings and stories about terrible things happening to children. I remember being more upset about stories of mistreatment of animals than of people. My mother was shocked when I mentioned this, but my rationale was that animals can’t ever speak up for themselves. I suppose I didn’t know about all those people who can’t either, for so many more complex reasons. I was scared of the house burning down, mostly, or random robbers coming to steal – I don’t know what, we had an eight-inch black-and-white television and my mother had costume jewellery. I didn’t know about all the other things there were to be scared of.
Mabel looks at my face sometimes and asks me why I have lines on my forehead. She thinks they’re funny. She wonders why she doesn’t have any. I pretend not to mind them, and tell her matter-of-factly that as you get older your skin doesn’t bounce back so much, and so the lines show that I’ve been smiling and frowning and making other funny faces for lots of years now. I make her some funny faces and she laughs.
My skin got thinner because I used some of it up, making two amazing people and smiling and frowning and wondering and worrying about them. So I suppose it’s not going to stop any time soon.