The story is by now old news. Time doesn’t make it any easier to compass.
Ten years ago today, two high school students named Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, produced weapons, and began shooting. They killed, I think, 13 people, and wounded 23 more, before turning their weapons on themselves as a favor to the taxpayers of Colorado who therefore would not be responsible for paying for their trial and perpetual incarceration.
I recall that I was home when I heard about Columbine–I suppose I was taking a sick day, vacation day, or hangover day. No matter. The crappy TV I owned happened to be on and there was the news: over and over and over again. It was ghastly and frightening. One of my kids was still in high school, albeit in New Jersey. But who’s to say who would not go murderous.
I sent email to my kids, spontaneously expressing my gratitude they were both alive. It really was a form of prayer for their well-being and safety. The idea of losing a child to a random murder is a bit hard to imagine much less withstand.
But there was something else going on.
I just read a column by someone on the Miami Herald who proclaims that Harris and Klebold were not bullied and molested or otherwise disturbed. For that was the common wisdom for the longest time. Instead, these two kids were just Evil Personified. I doubt the veracity of this claim. From Day One of this tragedy, Harris and Klebold were reported as having a history of being victimized by the usual school bullies, i.e., jocks. They were nerds who finally snapped. I do not know whether they knew each other for long before they teamed up on rain Hell on their school, but the point is they found each other anyway.
The mythologies of Columbine abound. The entire Cassie Bernall Believe-in-God story was recently and sadly exposed as a hoax in Salon magazine. Perhaps Klebold and Harris were similarly mispresented?
I don’t think so.
In Junior High School I was the victim of jocks, soi disant tough guys and “rocks,” and semi-organized troupes of people who took advantage of my own character flaws and legitimate weaknesses to torture me. And here is the point:
I would gladly have killed them all. But I was a Nice Jewish Boy who would not play with guns, I couldn’t even imagine where to get one, and besides, I was alone.
Suppose, however, I’d found a companion in misery? a fellow sufferer? someone who wanted revenge as badly as I did?
I don’t know what would have happened. I think I’m afraid to follow the logic.
Harris and Klebold, if they were intent on taking out the school jocks, screwed everything up. Revenge is questionable even when the target is identified and dealt with; when it’s misfocused, it’s catastrophic and fiendish. Cassie Bernall, whether or not she said she believed in God, was not a jock: she was a kid sitting in the library.
These kids haunt me to this day. Mainly because I wasn’t them, mainly because no child of mine was touched by a monstrous pair like those two kids. But in my imagination, Eric and Dylan remain alive and speaking in these weird Cherman akzents. I appropriated them from the old time comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids, by way of the brilliant Art Spiegelman.
Katzenjammer Kolumbine: The Kidz Escape to Coconino County Where They Hit Passers-By With Bricks and Bullets
(for Eric Harris & Dylan Klebold)
Maybe, Eric, wir lighten das Fuses,
blow der C4 unter der Schoolhaus,
ja, ja! EWIGE VERNICHTUNG, woo-hoo!
Sterben alles, sterben glücklich!
[Das Lied von Eric und Dylan]
Wir sind das jungen Katzenjammer,
wir gecroaken der Kapitan
(er ist unser Vater NICHT, der grosse Schwein!)
und die Frau Mama.
Und die Kinder
und die Teachers.
Das ist ein Cartoon,
aber wir slashen und burnen,
leave not a rack behind!
Wir morder alles, alles!
Ach! das Katzenjammers, kleine Ungeheuren
sure as Hoell: aber ein Candle
nicht holden zu Dylan und Eric,
going nach Valhalla,
Die Gotterdämmerung of Littleton,
auf der School Library.
Himmel, diese kinder aus Hans und Fritz!
[Das Lied von Eric und Dylan, II, translated into English]
Once too often, tough guys,
we carried the burden for every kid
every victim of the school bully,
we are the secret saints of the insulted,
the injured, the high school kid who
shits himself in fear on the school bus.
Our mistake was shooting the wrong ones,
but no! no wrong ones, even Cassie Bernall
she was a Gospel bully, die all die merrily
or not, just die!
Our revels now are ended.
We invented Zero Tolerance.
We had none.
We are not America, not 1999
not now, we are forest-bound beasts,
Georg Buchner walken und sprechen,
die Wasser is Blut, Blut,
good night, Herrgott Teufel, now
turn up the goddamn heat!