Please excuse this excessively personal, raw, unpolished, post.
When events like the tragedy in Colorado occur, I find myself thinking about what, but for an inexplicable interruption, would have been my fate and the fate of anyone who had crossed my path on the day I went to my high school to kill.
It’s not possible to jump headlong into large scale violence. To get yourself to that point, you have to practice at it. Because I had practiced at it, had amped myself up to the point where I was ready to indiscriminately kill, I have a visceral sense of what the experience would be like. Going into a violent situation is a thrill. Adrenaline heightens your senses and lets you, paradoxically, fall into a steely inner calmness, a focus, that certainly at the time was as calm and focused as I was capable of.
My first targets were to be the guidance counselors and the school administration, and so I planned to enter the school from the side entrance nearest the offices.
This meant I had the shop classes to my left, and I would be briefly exposed to anyone coming and going from the Superintendent’s office to my right, people who would have known I wasn’t allowed on campus due to an indefinite suspension. There was a pretty good chance, and I knew it, that I would be stopped from either direction. I wasn’t worried about the administration. Anyone who tried to stop me from that direction would become my first victim.The shop, which would be behind me and to my left, was more of a problem. I had to put enough distance between myself and the shop entrance as I could as quickly as I could.
In my mind’s eye, on the day that never happened, the assistant superintendent tried to stop me, and when he did so I pointed the gun that I had curled a posterboard around for concealment, and I shot.
And from that point, it was a blur, because it was a fight. Fights are always blurs where action happens even faster than adrenaline-infused senses can process. Because fights are blurs, I was rehearsing each step and every option in my mind on the night my life turned in another direction.
In my minds eye, the noise from shooting the assistant superintendent, and firing a few shots at whoever comes out of the shop to investigate, alerts the guidance and discipline offices, who lock their doors. I shoot out the glass-walled offices of the superintendent, shoot several students in the smoking lounge, and walk a short distance down the main hallway of the school, finding locked doors. So I turn around to go to where most of my victims will be found: the gym where a half dozen or more classes were being held, separated only by partitions.
It’s there, while shooting students and teachers at random, that my plan truly breaks down. Because adrenaline only lasts so long, and no matter how explosive my mix of self-pity and rage may have been, the horror of what I am doing begins to edge under my barriers and float over my walls and drip through my filters. To proceed I had to maintain my steely focus, my plan, my cold detachment from the mayhem I was causing. I was losing it.
In my mind’s eye, the end came when one of the girls in the gym, instead of running or hiding or pleading for her life, approached me, asked me what was wrong, and said I was better than this. And so I shot her, viciously, two or three times to try to destroy that tiny sliver of humanity she had injected into my thoughts, and then I shot myself. Because in that moment I knew I was not better than any of this. I was worse. I was the very worst human on earth at that moment, and what’s more I was weak and I couldn’t tough it out anymore and I deserved to die, and so in my self pity and self hatred and guilt and victimhood (because yes, I would have seen myself as the victim of these events, however distorted a point of view that may be) I pulled the trigger, on the day that never happened. Instead of Götterdämmerung, the tragic-heroic ride into the flames of my dreams, I self-exterminate a cockroach.
For years, there would be speculation as to why I ended it then, when I still had ammunition, just as people speculate about why the Columbine killers stopped with ammunition to spare.
But that wasn’t the end of the day that never happened. It would never end. Families would mourn their dead, and collapse under the strain. The nation would first experience shock and fear, then morbid curiosity, then several go-rounds of looking for scapegoats and blaming the victims, each time hoping to regain a sense of security which would never be restored, finally capping the dysfunction with any one of a number of invasive and arbitrary restrictions, thinking that if only they could get more control, there would be no more shootings.
But the killings came anyway. In a little while, there would be a half-dozen copycat killings, copied by people who knew my rage and my self-pity, who envied my fame, but who did not understand, until the bitter end, my final hellish self-loathing. And then there were those who copied the copycats, and so on and so forth, until generations knew the suffering I had unleashed.
Every time a human engages in a powerful act, even powerfully evil, it makes it easier for others to follow.
I don’t know why that day never happened. I don’t know why I was spared. I have no explanation for what happened to me at the window that evening. I cannot discern anything that made me different from, say, James Holmes, or Dylan and Kleibold. I simply know what happened.
The girl who brought me to a halt in the what if? She is a genuine person. She would have been in the gym at the time I planned to do my killing. Instead, when I was allowed to return to school, I was placed in the same geometry class as her. I remember her trying to strike up a conversation with me about my reading matter a few times, but since my bullies, too, pretended as if they were friendly, I didn’t trust her. I didn’t really get to know Nancy until an incident about two weeks after I had been allowed to return to school.
The night at the window wasn’t a moment where I had become a different person. It was merely the night when I was handed a set of directions and a tiny glimmer of hope. Perhaps the only difference that could be discerned at that point was that for the first time in two years, I wasn’t carrying a weapon. I had gotten into an altercation with a teacher (I tended to interpret almost anything as an insult. Nay, I lived for the pretext of a personal insult). I had thrown a trash can at him, and then ran off to the gym where I barricaded myself into one of the partitioned classrooms a short distance from my math class and waited, with a pile of dictionaries as improvised weapons, for security to arrive (lets just say I knew the routine by then).
Nancy saw me barricaded in that classroom, armed with a pile of dictionaries, putting on my best dangerous maniac act. She pushed a few desks out of the way, walked into the room, and asked me with disarming sincerity (literally) what was wrong, and if there was anything she could do to help. By the time security arrived, she had talked me into peaceful surrender.
I’ve asked her on a few occasions why she did this. Her answer has been that she knew I wouldn’t hurt her. She then knew something I sure didn’t know at the beginning of the incident.
After an astonishingly mild two week suspension (I was expecting much worse) I was back in class, and Nancy was reeling me into her circle of friends. Whatever was happening baffled me for months, simply didn’t fit into my scheme of things, although it seemed to be a good thing. Somehow we independently ended up in a band together over the summer, and the baffling things continued to happen. Nancy liked my paintings. Nancy liked to talk philosophy and was impressed, rather than wierded out by my reading list (most 14 year olds don’t read Kierkegaard). Nancy’s friends were nice to me, and they didn’t suddenly turn around and become mean. It made no sense.
Finally, about two months after the incident, I was painting an unusual landscape. Instead of green foliage and blue sky, the colors were inverted. It was because the world appeared to be upside down, I told myself. If everything that was happening was as it seemed to be happening then the world was truly upside down. It was upside down because –
And then I stopped painting, because the world really was upside down. Nancy was my friend. A real friend. What I felt was love. What I felt in return was also love. And I cried.
That’s the story of the way it actually happened.
Ever since then I’ve had an item on my bucket list. It isn’t to visit Paris, or go deep sea fishing, or anything like that. It’s to be like Nancy for someone else.
Because every time a human engages in a powerful act, even powerfully good, it makes it easier for others to follow.