by Clifton Smith
Children always think that (1) They are invincible and (2) It won’t happen to me. They also always tend to believe that their parents are over protective, outdated, or simply do not know what they are speaking of. So fathers, take this as an intelligence report from a comrade in arms, from the front lines of where your daughter will be living, studying, shopping and partying.
My darling daughter, I love you more than you could possibly ever know. For the last eighteen years, whether you realize it or not, you have been the apple of my eye. You have been my princess, and I your knight. Though I always argue with your mother to the contrary, you have held my heart in your hands since the day I laid my eyes upon you in the hospital delivery room. I know that I have been a thorn in your side as you were trying to spread your wings, but only because I knew what is best for you, and more importantly, I know what most guys are thinking. We can laugh about that now, and for that I am glad. But sweetheart, this is an important conversation. Perhaps the most important one we may ever have had until now. You see darling, you are about to go away to school. Am I excited? You bet! I cannot wait to see what you will become in the next few years. I know that you are not only excited about pursuing your field of study, but about spreading your wings as well. I know this, it is to be expected. But honey, I love you and I know you. You will think what I am about to say is silly. You will assume the same thing that every teenager has thought since time immemorial: “It won’t happen to me” or “I’m invincible.” How do I know this sugar? Because I thought the same thing. The vibrant power of youth gives you this. But darling, listen to me. I was told by a dad who has lived there all his life, you must beware.
You see my daughter, you will be going to this quaint little town, the home of Thomas Jefferson and the Cavaliers. Coming from the large metropolitan area where you have lived all your life, this place will seem like a throwback to another time and place. It may feel like you are walking the streets of Mayberry, and indeed, may find yourself looking around for Sheriff Taylor or his son Opie. All the citizens there may seem as if they are there for no other reason but to make your stay at UVa as enjoyable as it can be. Sweetheart while this may be true, you need to know and be aware of the fact that this little provincial community so rich in history, also has another, darker side embedded in its history as well. Sweetie, while most of those people you will encounter in the town you are headed to are indeed nice and honorable, there are those who are just like the criminals I have tried to protect you from here. So darling, having listened to my fellow father from Charlottesville I trust him and I believe him because he has lived there all his life. So here is what I want you to remember.
This new community is just as much into the 21st century as any other place in America. It may look small; it still has its issues. Recognizing this, daughter, when you go out, you will probably drink. I wish it were not so, but statistics show otherwise. Having said that, I want you to think like a chess player. Knowing what you are planning. Understand that if you choose to drink, you are making yourself vulnerable. With each swallow you take, you are lowering the deflector shields your brain employs to keep you safe. You will forget what I’ve tried to tell you, and you will render yourself to the mercy of others.
So what am I saying? Ultimately, you, and you alone, can protect yourself. The police at the University cannot protect you. The police in the city of Charlottesville cannot protect you. Why? Because they are not omnipotent. They cannot be everywhere all the time. So that leaves you to act for yourself. How do you do this?
- Do not travel alone on the streets of Charlottesville. Why? Because if you are alone and under the influence, you are vulnerable to those who live there, who know the back streets and hiding holes and places within the underbelly of the city. An underbelly that exists in every city or town. The underbelly that I have kept you out of here at home.
- Know that you are sharing the streets with predators. My friend had me search the Virginia State Police Sex Offender Registry, and sweetie, he is right. There are quite a few registered sex offenders in the area.
- Know that the transient nature of the community means there are a lot of people who come and go, which means that you must never assume that all non UVa people are long-time residents of Mayberry. Know that when you take the free trolley to downtown, there may be men on board whose sole purpose is to scope out fresh victims for an unwanted sexual encounter.
- As raging as your hormones may be, there are a significant number of boys who are now possessed with the testosterone-poisoned body of a man, who fueled by alcohol and other substances, are out for one thing, and one thing alone: to quench the need to breed. I know this is hard to hear, but it is true. If you don’t believe me, then my friend from Charlottesville would ask you to Google Yeardley Love. She was murdered in her apartment on 14th street by an ex-boyfriend in an alcohol-induced stupor. If that does not convince you, then Google Liz Seccuro, who was drugged and raped in her first year at the University in 1984. Still unsure as to the warning I am giving you? Google Morgan Harrington, who disappeared from a Metallica Concert in October of 2009. She was abducted, raped and murdered. Her body left in an empty farm field, covered in snow for weeks, and left to be picked apart by the wildlife, lastly, just look at the news today, reporting the disappearance of Hannah Graham, whose whereabouts are currently unknown.
- I hope you make two or three good personal friends. Friends whom you can completely trust. Going to a party? Go in groups, and have one designated person remain sober and on watch. Stay together, and be ready to make a call to 911 for any suspicious activity. Do not wait for a situation to escalate.
- Keep someone informed. I know you don’t want me in your business. I get that, but have somebody you can trust who knows where you are going and when you’ll be back. This way, if God forbid, something does go awry, it won’t take twelve or twenty four hours to realize it.
Finally, it is my fervent hope that your life may intersect with the life of a young man, a real young man. Though you may not want to date him, at least find one to befriend. Why? Because believe it or not sweetie, real men can easily discern the unseen unscrupulous and slimy characteristics of other boys in men’s bodies. A man who looks out for your best interest, even when you’ve done something seemingly stupid.
You see daughter, though I know you’ll make mistakes, I don’t think you should die for them. So just know my precious daughter, where you are headed is just as full of evil as any other place in the world. Indeed, judging by the reports, perhaps more so. As friendly as those folks in Charlottesville may be, where the rubber meets the road, they are either absent, or unwilling or unable to step in where it counts. Do I want to scare you? Well, if this is what it takes to make you think every time you step off that campus and onto the streets of Charlottesville, then HELL YES!, I want to scare you. Because you should be scared.
I love you and I want to laugh about this in a few years, but most of all, as you walk the streets in the company of wolves, I want you to survive. Because sweetheart, if something like what happened to Yeardley Love, Morgan Harrington, Liz Seccuro, or Hannah Graham happens to you, I do not know what will become of your mother and me. So be aware, be smart, and be safe. Ultimately, it is all up to you!