((BIG BOLD DISCLAIMER – This post has NOTHING to do with minimalism, the storage unit, or anything else I’ve previously written about. I’ve got this blog and my new one about occuPIE and I just decided to put it here. If you’re tired of reading about Connecticut and everything else related to it, I apologize. Don’t read this post and come back when I post something about de-cluttering again.))
I Could Have Murdered People (A response to “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”)
I remember my years in the public school system in a spectrum from barely tolerable to rage-inducing. I was, as I remain, weird. I was the lone Jew, a big nosed, scrawny, pale girl in a sea of cherubic-featured Protestant and Catholic children. I was Gifted, a label I’m convinced was more curse than blessing to 80’s and 90’s children like me. And starting in 8th grade, I was a “freak,” a catch-all term applied to anyone who wore black eyeliner or a trench coat or had the soundtrack to The Crow blaring from a set of headphones in an attempt to drown out the mockery, taunts and threats that filled the hallways.
On top of the already potent mixture of outsider religious status, physical features, intellectual “potential” and style of dress, I was, as I remain, mentally ill. Starting at the age of 6, I began seeing a counselor to deal with my melodramatic tendencies to burst into tears when bullied. I drifted in and out of therapy for years but it became a more prominent component of my life after my parents’ divorce and after an incident in high school in which I flipped over a table and told my vice-principle to get ready for “another Columbine.” This was April or May of 2000.
I got medicated, which I hated. To this day, I don’t even know if the medication did anything for me. Between my total disregard for my needs for adequate sleep or nutrition, and my growing comfort with my identity as a depressed, misunderstood total outcast, those little pills never stood a chance. I dumped them in a park pond after 2 months.
Meanwhile, in between the sprinting practice I got from the popular guy who kept trying to run me over with his S-10 and the accusations that I was sacrificing babies to Satan in my spare time, I day-dreamed. Mostly I fantasized about running away to San Francisco, a magical place at the end of the highway where punks and goths frolicked on the piers and street corners, listening to great music and getting drunk. This was a vision planted in my head by an ex-boyfriend, a charming boy 3 years older than me, also mentally ill. He had been expelled from 4 high schools and talked about the Columbine shooters like they were close personal friends. Of course, living states away in the early days of the internet, they had never met. But that ex-boyfriend considered them his ideological brethren.
I thought about that option. And looking back on it, that option was so close. Not only did my father keep guns, legally bought, in the house, but for three years, we had a drug-dealing lodger under our roof. The drug dealer was actually the son of a family friend and my father wanted to take him in, in an incredibly misguided Batman-and-Robin sort of way. My father saw himself as a mentor. The young man, about 10 years older than me, saw an opportunity to get out of one city and state where he already had a record, and build something better and more profitable while mooching off of my father.
The drug-dealing lodger was motivated by money and the possibility of getting laid. If I had ever asked him if he knew how to get more guns, bigger guns, he would not have said, “Hey kid, I know this is a tough time for you, but you can’t use guns to solve your problems.” He would have said, “Sure, I know a guy. How much money do you have left from your Bat Mitzvah?”
I never took that option, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because my day-dreams were stronger than my revenge fantasies. Maybe it was because, on some level, I was holding out hope for my Cinderella-like transformation – you know, where the geeky girl takes off her glasses and shakes out her ponytail, and then the quarterback asks her to Prom.
Years have gone by since then. I graduated high school and started having adventures. I became a circus performer, a stripper, a Sunday school teacher. I dropped in and out of 4 colleges. I got married and divorced. I became friends with some of the popular kids from my high school, although not with the one who tried to run me over. Most importantly, I got a handle on my god-damned brain.
It’s still a struggle some days. Yesterday I got frustrated while trying to peel a hard-boiled egg. I ended up throwing the pitted, mauled little morsel in the trash with all the force of a football player slamming the ball into the endzone. Then I stewed at my desk, angry that I wouldn’t get to eat that egg.
But that’s all. I didn’t flip the desk over. I didn’t try to slit my wrists. I didn’t swallow a handful of pills. And I didn’t take my rage out on those around me, as I so often have in the past. The secrets to my success shouldn’t be secrets. I have a supportive family, a stable romantic relationship, cheap bi-weekly appointments with a fantastic counselor, and and what feels like nearly god-like powers over my own environment and schedule. If something stresses me out, I find ways to avoid it or make it less bad. Grocery shopping for example – at 7 pm, it’s panic-inducing. At 3 am, it’s serene.
I’m 27 now, and I’ve never been happier or healthier. I think back to the angry, bitter girl I was at 15 and I scarcely recognize her. And then I think of some of the shooters from recent years – Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Jared Loughner, James Holmes, and now Adam Lanza, and I think, that could have been me. I’ve felt disgusted with the world I lived in, disillusioned, nihilistic. I’ve hated myself and so many people around me that sometimes a bomb or a gun seemed like a good idea. I’ve wished for death and disaster, I’ve just never taken the task upon myself.
I don’t know what stayed my hand. It was probably a combination of factors – a tiny sliver of hope here, a kind word from an old man shoveling his driveway there, a long weekend away from school, a slice of my mother’s homemade Texas sheet cake. Underneath it all was a support system I just had to ask to use, but I wasn’t ready to ask until I was 25.
If you’re reading the news, reading the names of the shooters and thinking, as I once did, that fear is the next best thing to respect, I urge you to re-consider. For as much as it sounds like a cliché now, it gets better. It really does. With time comes greater freedom, more self-awareness, better coping strategies, and experiences so outside your current conception, not only can you not imagine them, you can’t imagine how happy you’ll be when you get to them. If someone had told 15 year old me that 27 year old me would be climbing rock walls and going camping in the Upper Peninsula and giving pie to homeless people, I would have never believed them.
And if instead you’re wondering if it’s safe to go outside, if you can send your kids to school or go to a movie or go to the mall, if you yourself are scared to return to your job or your campus, I beg of you – be bold, and be kind. Of course, I’m not suggesting that it’s your responsibility to prevent a mass attack, but what if you could? What if we could look back in a time line and see that if someone had paid for Seung-Hui Cho’s Starbucks order on April 15, 2007, he would have lingered for a while in the coffee shop and totally changed the direction of his life, and by virtue of the ripple effect, the lives of everyone around him? Who knows where I would be without the thousands of anonymous benevolent actions that strangers have bestowed on me?
That’s it. That’s all I have. If you’re angry, be kind to yourself, and it will help you be kind to those around you. If you’re scared, be kind to others and watch the kindness ripple out and come back to you.
In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”