by Megan Wildhood
*******It’s been a generation already:
home for the first time since the permanent memorial was built
(sixteen years), sweat cooling the back of my neck
as I read the stones flinging sun back at itself
the blurred-by-tears names of the twelve kids famous for dying
at their high school before that was really a thing*****
in what should have been a one-off shooting
(though it wasn’t “supposed” to be a shooting;
it was “supposed” to be a bombing*)
but ended up being a watershed
of the bloodshed of decoys for girls who said no,
boys who bullied, peers who outcasted
are no longer recognized on random streets**
so, in a way, they are right where they’d likely be
if they had lived in terms of being well known.
**We are reaching the point in history now
where “Littleton” only gets vague flickers
of recognition when I tell people where
my whole entire childhood was.***
Yet, the singularity****** of Columbine (which most people
still don’t know was first the name of a flower),
despite the myriad copycats in the two-plus decades,
despite other**** mass shootings supplanting it in terms
of body count, persists.
**Translation: the attack on Columbine was clearly
not about recognition. Nor solely about bad gun laws;
Timothy McVeigh was the shooters’ forefather, not Kip Kinkel.*
What value would being well-known by people
be to someone who wanted all people dead?
This is why it doesn’t help to tell wannabe
Eric Harrises (is that still a household name?**)
to seek help: does no one outside the crucible
that Littleton, Colorado, became after April 20th, 1999,
know that the main architect of the Columbine massacre
thought the only thing that would “help”
be to “kill all mankind ”(a direct quote from his journal***)?
Do other shooters want to not want to kill?
***I know shit like this because I grew up within range
of the high school, going to the park near it often
with my sister and grandmother.
I didn’t talk to any adult******** about Columbine
until I was an adult (so, at least seven anniversaries later,
and when I no longer lived in Colorado),
but that was all that was on the news
(and the news was all my parents had on)
for the next year. Neither killer had been
diagnosed with mental-health issues******
and they wrote more about how they were
going to Oklahoma City* their high school
than why.*** (So much for needing a strong answer
to the “what’s your why?” question.)
****Columbine is no longer considered a modern shooting;
it’s still the only one with two shooters.******
We pretend to ask what******** triggers mass shootings
(while flinging accusations—violent video games,
bad parenting, violent movies, peers not reporting
suspicious behavior—like bullets basically
at random) but I’ve never******* heard anyone ask:
had Dylan sought help******** instead of agreeing to the murder plot,
would Eric have acted* alone********?
***I was in lockdown before they really did lockdowns
for nine hours in a nearby middle school that day.
I thought the country was at war:
the Russians were coming for Norad.
(The Russians because my parents grew up in the Cold War?
I had no idea what Norad was as a 7th grader.)
No one told us what was going on (not even that
we were in lockdown) because no one knew
what was going on until well into the next day.
(This was before Facebook, the proliferation
of cell phones, 24/7 connectedness.*****)
When I learned what happened,
I was with my best friend, another 7th-grader.********
I wasn’t afraid, though, because
surely the adults would never let this happen again.
(Plus, shootings “only” happened in high schools,
and I wasn’t in high school yet—a year was plenty
of time for the adults to figure it out.)
Columbine didn’t make me afraid of guns—
I was already afraid of guns;
Columbine made me afraid of people.
I thought I was just socially anxious; it took
me 23 years******* to realize that what I had concluded
from Columbine and the lack of any safe adult to talk to about it
was that anyone could be plotting to kill me at any every moment.
********When a hitlist with if you thought Columbine was bad,
just you wait scrawled on the top was found at my school
the start of my eight-grade year, which was three months
after Columbine, the principal called a school assembly.
“Thank you to the student who turned this in,” he said.
“If the perpetrator’s peers had just reported suspicious behavior,
what happened at Columbine could have been averted.”
I believed for the next 20 years that it was my job
to stop school shootings. Until I learned that a
perpetrators’ peer did report suspicious behavior:
a search warrant was issued for Eric’s home,
the adults didn’t follow up. If they had,
they would have found the cache of supplies
used at Columbine. My question
rings through the decades*******:
where were all the adults?********
*****What did we do before the internet?
You could argue that we didn’t get lost so much,
but I felt far less lost before 1999, when every kid
was considered a gift from God to be molded
by loving parents’ hands in concert with the Lord,
than I have since 1999, when any kid could be a terrorist.*
One thing I clearly remember before technology
cannibalizing everything was not hearing
about mass shootings every five minutes.
Translation: having normal hopes and dreams
for the future instead of wondering if I’d get one.
But it’s been a generation already.
Megan Wildhood is a neurodiverse writer, editor and writing coach who thrives helping entrepreneurs and small business owners create authentic copy to reach the people they feel called to serve. She helps her readers feel seen in her poetry chapbook Long Division (Finishing Line Press, 2017) as well as Yes! Magazine, Mad in America, The Sun and elsewhere. You can learn more about her writing and working with her at meganwildhood.com.