He had heard the word on the playground—along with several others—and instead of bringing the words home and asking for clarification opted to hurl them himself in a moment of the poor judgment that often keeps company with nine-year-olds.
Consequences at school descended upon him—and rightfully so; but I knew he had no idea what he was saying, couldn’t even begin to contemplate the full impact of the word.
I sent him to his room and tried to breathe then went upstairs.
I sat directly across from him, looked into his weary eyes and asked him what he thought “rape” meant. He told me and was, of course, so very far off the mark. His definition was innocuous. He had no idea.
And me? I had to tell him.
I had to tell him what human beings are capable of doing, of the violence they are capable of inflicting on one another.
And as the words came out, I watched a tear fall from his right eye and on to the knee of his jeans.
I have always been of the belief that we must live in this world and not in spite of it, and I don’t aspire to hide the ugly truths from my children. But if you had asked me to name the “right age” to explain “rape” and other words with horrific connotations and histories to my child, I don’t think I would have chosen nine.
But I have learned this week I don’t get to choose. At nine my son is wide awake, ears attuned and eyes open. The best I can hope for is that he will come to us—while we still have his attention—and ask when he doesn’t understand, avoid acting before he has all the facts, to think for himself.
The world is coming . . . for him, yes, but also at him—as it did for and at us all. And since stopping it is not an option, explaining it is the best I can do.
Explaining rape to a nine-year-old is, sadly, the best I can do.