I didn’t realize until I read someone else’s blog this morning that it was the 12 year anniversary of Columbine today. This day/week in history for me has had several deeply life-changing events attached to it. That particular year it was the week that my best friend’s father passed away, the Columbine shootings happened, our teachers fell victim to mass hysteria, and my friends and I were betrayed by people we had always been taught to trust.
It might not surprise you to hear that I was an odd kid. In high school and middle school I dyed my hair bright colors, got parts of my face pierced, did (relatively soft) drugs, and skipped pep-rallies. I wasn’t a great kid, but I wasn’t bad. I didn’t hurt anyone, and I didn’t want to hurt anyone.
In middle school though, all I did was dress funny, make interesting art, and write humorous essays in study hall. In middle school, when I was 13-going-on-14, I was already of the “freak” crowd. But in middle school, that was still okay- people hadn’t yet decided that we were “bad.” Freaks mingled. My friends and I weren’t haters, and people didn’t hate us, yet.
Yes, this is me. Age 14.
Then Columbine happened- a tragedy that changed our nation forever. And that same week, my best friend’s father was hospitalized in a self-induced coma caused by alcohol poisoning. He had Alzheimer’s disease, and in a rare moment of lucidity he tried to take his own life. And then later that week, at school, our beloved social studies teacher singled myself and my closest friends out in front of each and every class he taught and told them explicitly to “not be like them,” with our sometimes colored hair, our clothes that weren’t bought at the mall, our embrace of our own creativity, and refusal to conform.
I remember sitting in that classroom, dumbfounded at first. I remember cold, cold realization: This was my favorite teacher. He was funny and reasonable and smart. He sang lessons to us, let us watch movies on Fridays, made us interested in parts of history that were more dull than others. And he was standing at the front of the classroom telling my peers that my friends and I were “the next Columbine.”
Thankfully, though this was a time where figures we’d been taught to trust decided to betray us out of their own fear, it was also a time when our parents were actually and immediately there for us. Usually in cases of school versus student, parents side with the school. But in the years since Columbine, public schools have lost a lot of… well, sanity, at least when it comes to trusting their students. Our parents came to our defense immediately and called out our teacher’s behavior before the principal. A public apology was ordered.
Unfortunately, my friends and I never got to hear it because my best friend’s father passed away the night before. She was out of school all week, and we spent all day in the guidance counselor’s office the day our teacher apologized to us before our entire class in the school auditorium.
Did it help? Yeah. I mean, people didn’t (for the most part) bully us or tease us for the rest of high school. But they didn’t go out of their way to be friendly to us, either. I think in their minds we were segregated forever, even if it was no longer for a negative reason.
Ultimately, I can pinpoint this event as what caused me to become a highly cynical person in regards to any kind of authority. The way our teachers handled Columbine, and continued to handle it in high school, was ludicrous and irrational. The lack of trust in students caused them to treat us so poorly, with such mistrust… how in the world could we, who already had a pesky tendency to think for ourselves, ever learn to respect these people?
Columbine was a tragedy. There’s no question about it. What was also tragic was the way it was handled by the rest of the country. No one listened to the shooters before that day came, and no one listened to the students of our nation after. They plugged their ears and tuned it out, looked at us with suspicion, and showed us what it was to be cowards in the face of adversity.
Cynical, I know. But that was my experience.
On a positive side, I can also say that my disrespect for authority has made me more self-empowered than your average bear. I could even say it ultimately helped me to decide to self-publish. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves- we haven’t seen if that was actually a good decision, yet ;)