i done been husked, y'all

About 5 years ago, Ryan came out of our bedroom one morning and saw me eating a bowl of Cheerios and watching a documentary about Auschwitz.

"Jesus. Isn't it a little early for that?" he asked me.

"Why?" I responded, taking another dripping bite.

I was in the practice of keeping historical horrors at an arm's length. I could hear about them, even see photographs or videos, yet keep them entirely in the context in which they occurred. I could learn about atrocities with the same mild, detached interest that I might exhibit watching a show about the how tortillas are made. "Huh. That's interesting." From adolescence I found a comfortable home in tales of gore and unspeakable human cruelty.

What can I say. I was a weird kid.

In fifth grade, at the age of 9, I read Number the Stars, Night, and In the Mouth of the Wolf, and declared to my mom that, "I love the holocaust." The face she made was one I would not fully understand until the day my son said, "Fuck it" at Trader Joe's - a face that said, "shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit," "who else heard that," and "oh God, what have I done," all at the same time.

"You don't love the holocaust," she said, gently. "You mean to say that you are interested in it."

I was embarrassed - of course I didn't love a genocide. But I did love to learn about it.

I read The Nazi Doctors for an ninth grade book report and created a profoundly disturbing poster board that my mother would not allow me to take to school. Bless her for that. If I'd brought that slab of crazy into class, nobody would have danced with me at the Halloween dance, even though that year I wore a genie costume that probably would have been more appropriate at a frat house.

I learned about Hiroshima, North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Kurds in Iraq, Hutus and Tutsis, Apartheid. In my spare time I did this. Before you ask, the answer is yes. Yes, I was also in therapy.

I watched Sophie's Choice, Schindler's List, and later, The Pianist, Hotel Rwanda, The Rabbit Hole. I evaluated them as films. I liked the historical transformations of present-day actors. I considered the costume designs and scores. These books and films were storytelling devices and I judged them as such, with coolness and nary a nightmare, never with the fear that something like that could happen to me. I knew that these stories were atrocious, and I could reel off fifteen synonyms for "terrible," but I never felt a pang of grief or terror.

Reality TV, Oprah's Book Club, Reese Witherspoon movies, the mainstream stuff with soft focus and happy endings, all of that was the pop culture version of a dessert at the Cheesecake Factory - too sweet, and way too much. I preferred the bitter, aged, and complex to the simple sweetness of brownie sundae movies.

Then I had kids.

And suddenly - almost instantly - I could not bear to watch Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, because I couldn't help thinking about waiting for letters from my son, living his life far from the safety of my arms, in the heart of harm's way.

I will never watch Sophie's Choice again. If I do, I will not see Meryl's costume. I will not google the cinematographer. I will be trying with all my might not to see my own two boys' faces laid over the young actors'.

I can't even watch Titanic. Remember when Jack draws that little Irish girl with her daddy on the deck... and then later you see her saying good-bye to her father... I cannot have that shit. I just cannot.

When I had kids, my heart was husked.

I can't think of another way to say it.

My heart simply cracked open. The shell fell away and left me bare, as defenseless and vulnerable to wounds as ripe fruit.

Suddenly I understood why all the middle-aged moms I knew watched Friends and read Nora Roberts. Babies don't get hurt in those stories. Families aren't wrecked. Nobody has to make impossible choices or live with the agony of loss. I had joined the ranks of the unarmed and unarmored.

I miss the ability to observe from a distance, to hear a sad story without weeping, to watch a movie without laying my own family's faces over the screen, my own pounding heart over the score, my own pleas for mercy over the dialogue.

I consume less of the world now. I make choices to protect my soft heart from harm.

Local news? A-no thank you.

Did you post an Upworthy video about Kenyan orphans or a schizophrenic parent who harmed her child? I've already unfriended you.

My willful ignorance causes me both comfort and guilt, because I know that this world will continue to hurt children whether I choose to read about it or not, and the pain of those children deserves to be known.

I just...

I can't do it.

I feel other people's pain and fear banging against my own ribs in near-panic. I picture my heart like a rabbit in a cage, frantic and quivering.

But there is an upside to softness.

I'm open now, like it or not, to the overwhelming good, the sweet, and the beautiful. I get rolled over by a song lyric or, yes, my children, on a daily basis. I cry more. I feel more. I have no defenses.

My heart got husked.

And a hefty slab of cheesecake and some harmless reality TV sounds damn fine.

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