Friday, April 24, 2009

Me and Columbine

It's very hard to write about things that are so personal--the mere scratching of the itch to discuss them, tears huge pieces off my hide.

So, I speak in a roundabout way, and hope you will all forgive me for being so imprecise with the details. I invite you to read between the lines. At this point, my vivid, emotional memories overlap another person's very intense memories, and her account of these events will be radically different. (How to honor both of our accounts? Is it possible?)

I remember the date of Columbine very well, because it was on the second anniversary of Columbine, that my own teenage daughter ran away from home. (It was 2001, the year so much else happened to rock our universe.)

And already, she would phrase it differently. She would say she didn't "run away"--she needed space, she needed a breather from her parents; she needed to be somewhere else for awhile, blah blah blah. But of course, the disconcerting fact is that she decided this for herself, for the first time in her life. It was a decision that did not include us, the people who had been making all of her decisions up until that point. It was her decision as a separate, sentient human being. An adult decision, by one not yet legally an adult, but physically an adult, who will do as she pleases. As I did. As we all did, at some point, unless we were exceptionally-obedient teenagers, and I certainly was not.

In my child, I deliberately inculcated the desire to question, to think, to consider the deeper concepts and major ideas... and then I was furious when I was the first person she questioned, that she applied these values I taught her to ME, the one who taught them.

Of course, that is always how it is.

But my sense of failure as a mother, my feeling of abandonment, was overwhelming, all-encompassing, smothering and seriously disabling. I lost friends. I took anti-depressants for several weeks and then stopped. I starved myself intermittently. I also lost a job during this extended debacle. I lapsed into almost-delirious magical thinking. I began friendships with people who claimed to have seen the Blessed Mother in person; I venerated relics of saints, and had novenas going to virtually every saint in Butler's, even the obscure saints of the Middle Ages that nobody ever heard of. (The magical thinking wears ever on, as I remain extremely fond of the saints I believe listened and responded; I never lost this deep attachment to saints that I formed during this critical time. Without them, I believe I might have gone stark-raving insane.)

And I thought about those other parents. The parents of Eric and Dylan.

Why didn't they know?--the accusatory questions for the Harrises and the Klebolds came fast and furious, and have never really abated. The contempt for these "clueless" parents was legion.

And so: The two-year-anniversary of Columbine was under discussion and the yearly parental inquisition and finger-pointing was under way on Fox News, exactly when I got the phone call that would change my life, alter my thinking, forever making me unwillingly sympathetic with the bad parents of the world.

In a daze, I saw the TV, seeing but not really seeing. Eric and Dylan. Thus, their photos will always mean something very personal to me, but probably not what they mean to you.

They represent that which we have brought into this world, but can no longer control. "Your children are not your children, they are the sons and daughters of life's longing for itself," wrote Kahlil Gibran. They will do what they think is necessary. Not what we think is necessary.

If we have taught them to think for themselves, they will come to different conclusions. It has been ever thus.

And they do. They will. They may decided to run away from home, or they may decide to shoot up a school. But that is nothing we wanted for them.

That is not our fault.

I crossed a line, that day. I was one of the parents who cried, who shakes their head, who doesn't understand what has happened. I was the woman in the Beatles song "She's leaving home"--I just plain didn't get it. Because it was another person's decision, what she should do with her life. It was not mine.

It was not the decision of the Harrises and the Klebolds, either. They did not make the decision that day. Eric and Dylan did. And that day, eight years ago, while the anniversaries played out on TV, my heart inexplicably pounded, as I knew I could never, ever judge their parents. Not now. Not ever again.

On the two-year anniversary of the Columbine massacre, I wept for the dead and injured of Columbine... and even more, even though I did not want to, I wept for the parents of the boys who went their own way. Who decided on their own, what they would do. The boys who did not stop to ask what mom and dad would think; and would not have cared anyway. The parents left holding the bag, shaking their heads, not understanding.


My family situation, over eight years, has worked itself out. There were several years that it looked dicey, but maturity and intelligence eventually manifested in my daughter's life, as she began to make the right decisions. Unfortunately, this cannot happen in Eric and Dylan's lives, which they decided to cut short. Their parents' suffering is ongoing, it will not pass, as mine has.

And on the ten-year anniversary, a few days ago, I wept again.

I pray always for those people forgotten in the carnage, the people who are hated and reviled for bringing these two lost souls into the world. I will pray for you always, Wayne Harris, Katherine Ann Poole, Thomas Klebold, Susan Yassenoff and the unique and unending pain you have endured. That day, I felt the connection with you, and I felt your consciousness merge with my own, as clearly as if you were standing right in my own kitchen.

And I am so, so sorry.


She's Leaving Home - The Beatles


Gone, when you wake in the morning
Gone, when you find that there's no one sleeping
Gone, pretty Penny was her name
She was loved and we all will miss her

Pretty Penny - Stone Temple Pilots