essay life

in charlottesville, virginia

August 13, 2017

I am a mother, and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia -

I am a mother, and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

These are two unrelated facts.


I spend a lot of time these days holding my baby, when he will stay still long enough to let me.

He’s becoming less and less convinced that he is a baby, learning to walk, heading out to explore the world, stopping briefly to tumble into my arms before climbing over my legs to get somewhere new.

I hold him close when I can, breath in the milky-sweaty smell of his skin, feel my heart stuck somewhere in my throat.

I am a mother.


I live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

We knew were coming. They announced it proudly, that they would come with guns and torches, t­hat they wanted to make us afraid, to make us think twice before we raise our voices or change our laws or offer love to someone they do not think of as human enough.

On Friday, I tried to go about my day, walk the baby in the morning, lunch with my husband, head to and from work. Every time I saw a group of white men, sitting in a coffee shop talking in low voices, strolling the downtown and laughing too loudly, my stomach knotted into a pit of nausea and anxiety.

I felt the fear they wanted me to feel. And then my heart broke, because that feeling was new to me. But there are too many parents who feel that fear every day, who hold their children close, hearts stuck somewhere in their throats, and wonder how they will keep them safe.

I am a mother.


I live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

On Friday night they paraded across campus, surrounding a brave, unarmed group of students. They shouted at those students, pressed in close, attacked them with lit torches before the police arrived.

And those students faced them down. I look at the photos from that night and I see children standing strong against angry men. I think of the parents of those children, feel my heart stuck somewhere in my throat.

I am a mother.


I am a mother.

On Saturday we left, packed the car and headed to my in-laws’ home, chased by relief and a feeling of shame that we were going, that we had the privilege of leaving and taking our son somewhere safe.

I watched the field across the street from us as we drove away, empty and quiet as it never is on a weekend, no children running and playing.

I watched the news as it poured in that day, stories of violence and anger and hatred, watched as men fueled by privilege and fear did exactly what they had promised.

I watched as a car drove down the street where I live into a crowd of innocent people. I watched as a woman was killed just a few yards from my apartment, on the sidewalk where I stroll with my baby every morning.

I live in Charlottesville, Virginia.


I held my baby close last night, and I thought of other parents holding their sons and daughters.

I thought of the Black parents who send their children out into the world, knowing that one wrong word, one fearful stranger, might mean they never come back.

I thought of Jewish parents less than a century ago, their children ripped from their arms and shoved into cattle cars, never to be seen again. I thought of Jewish parents less than a year ago, wondering if it was safe to send their children to the community center after another bomb threat.

I thought of immigrant parents heading to work, wondering if they will end their day at home making dinner for their children or detained in a cell awaiting deportation.

I thought of the parents in my neighborhood, the ones unable to leave, who had to tell their children to stay home, to leave that field empty and play indoors where it was safe.

I thought of parents with children old enough to ask what happened today? who must somehow find the words to explain things like hatred and fear and evil.

I thought of the parents of those angry men, those men who were once babies held in someone’s arms, knowing nothing of hatred or fear or evil.

I thought of the parents of a young woman in Charlottesville, Virginia, whose daughter was hit by a car and is never coming home again.

I held my baby close and felt my heart stuck somewhere in my throat. I cried, and I prayed for the bravery and compassion to somehow make this world better for him.


I am a mother, and I live in Charlottesville, Virginia.

These were two unrelated facts, and yet, there is now no way for me to untangle them from each other.

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  • Reply Courtney A. Casto August 14, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    Katharine, this is so sad but beautifully written. There is so much to process after this weekend and it’s not all thoughts of hate and racism that are swirling around in my head. It’s things like you have written here. These men were all once babies, just like yours. Where did they learn this hate? What has happened to them to make them like this? What can we do?

    Thank you for writing this and sharing your perspective as both a mother and a woman who calls this quaint and otherwise lovely city home. Thank you for writing this.

    • Reply Katharine August 15, 2017 at 9:07 am

      Thank you, Courtney, and than you for sharing. It was hard to find our hope this weekend, but the outpouring of love from around the country is worth more than I can say.

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