Thursday, August 9, 2012

How Did I Get Here?

I'm feeling sympathy for the shooter.

There.  I said it.  I wrote it out and it will exist as a fact, a public statement that I have lost my mind.

This person killed six people.  This person plotted and executed a detailed plan which destroyed the lives of the families and friends of people who had the audacity to spend a sunny Saturday morning with their Congresswoman.  Sons and daughters and mothers and fathers were slaughtered; how can the perpetrator be sympathetic to me?

It was much easier when I hated him. In person, he's not a scary guy at all. He's small and pale and had I been paying attention to him instead of to Gabby I bet that Christina-Taylor and I could've decked him ourselves.  Puny.... weak.... pipsqueak.... it was easy to talk about him that way.  It reminded me that I didn't need to be frightened, that I could defend myself, that I was not vulnerable.

Ridiculous, now, looking back.  Of course I was vulnerable... am vulnerable.... as we all are vulnerable.  I met a young cancer survivor last Sunday at the Dallas-Ft. Worth airport. We wished each other well and acknowledged that we were part of an elite group - those who really and truly know that tomorrow is not promised.  The world is an altogether scary place when you look at life that way.  It makes it easier to imagine the enemy as less than he is.  It makes going outside something to do.... not something to fear.

The fear was rational, I suppose.  When Miss Marjorie took me out to lunch and I quailed at the sight of a young, white man in a hoodie crossing in front of us, we agreed that it was not that much of an over-reaction.  After all, my last encounter with a similar human being resulted in death and destruction.  Letting down my guard seemed like ignoring the biggest lesson life had taught me thus far.

The shooter did nothing to diminish my disgust for him.  He wore a smirk that needed to be shaken off his face by a woman of a certain age who had a thing or two to tell him.... to ask him... to scream at him loudly with spittle flying.  He was disrespectful and penitent within a ten minute span.  He was crazy as a loon, he was shackled, there were US Marshals lining the walls of the courtroom - he was the other and I was fine with that.

He killed my little friend.  That was all I needed to know.  My hip aches and I still can't really hike and it's all his fault.  That was enough for me.  As long as he was locked up and unable to hurt me again, I could refuse to have him in my brain. Somehow, that felt as if I were taking the high road.

His first competency hearing provided insights into painful uses for plastic utensils, the flinging of bodily fluids, and a refusal to acknowledge that he had failed in his mission. "No one could have survived that close a shot," was one of the few coherent utterances the psychologist referenced that day.  Crazy, self-injurious, oblivious to the facts..... he was dismissable.  Certainly, there was no reason to find room for him in my heart.

The next hearing was delayed, and delayed, and then delayed once again.  By the time 11am rolled around on Tuesday morning, we were sitting in Judge Burns's courtroom, anxious for it all to be over.  The prosecutors had briefed us on the plea agreement and the reasoning behind their decision not to seek the death penalty and there were no demurrals from the crowd.  We, the survivors and victims and and our families were okay with the deal.  There was no bloodlust in that room.  There was only sadness and a sense of loss. 

I looked around at this part of my extended family, created in chaos but evolved into warmth and love and gratitude and support.  We each are needy at different times; some one of us is always ready to lend an ear.  We can be dark and foolish and ornery with one another, and the nuance, the back story, the why is understood.  We had been hounded by the press, clamoring for our reaction to the news which had been leaked but was not then a fact, all weekend long.  We'd had plenty of time to think about where we were and what was going to happen.

A 23 year old was going to admit that he did it.... he was going to accept his punishment.... there would be no need to relive it all through a trial and appeals and parole hearings which would last through all of our natural lives.... we did not have to be connected to the judicially sanctioned execution of a human being... it was certain.

It is also very very sad.  Dr. Pietz is a talented woman; she has created the outlines of a human being where once there was only the physical manifestation of mental illness.  This was a different person sitting at the defense table, surrounded by his attorneys and one guard, a few feet back from his chair. The first time we saw him, there were five guards with guns at the ready surrounding him at all times. 

Someone made the decision that he was safe enough to be handled with less scrutiny; it was the audience they worried about, it seemed.  Everyone who entered the courtroom had to pass through a metal detecting wand.  The pins in TBG's knee set off a quiet beep which startled us; the guards just smiled and passed us through.  That was the last smile of the afternoon.

The more I heard, the more I wept.  Beyond the tears when the counts were read... my name... Christina's name.... Gabe and Dory and I didn't even bother to wipe away the tears.  By sitting forward, I could watch the shooter's face.  He was hearing the charges and, without sneering or smirking or taking a nap, he was absorbing the enormity of what he'd done.

The drugs are still a work in progress; there was a flatness to his affect which may be part of his persona forever more.  But there was a person behind the I plead guilty's and the Yes, I understand's and it was unsettling, to say the least.

Suddenly, I couldn't hate him.  He was a sick kid whose issues were ignored and who did a terrible thing while under the influence of a chemical imbalance and voices in his head.  He planned it, he wrote about it, he justified it in his own mind and we will never know if his beliefs truly changed or if it was schizophrenia talking.  Whether he is the pleasant boy who played saxophone in his garage for his neighbors' enjoyment or the teenager who scared friends and teachers and classmates, the facts are the facts - he admitted to wielding a weapon and shooting us.  He has to pay.

When he's taking his medication, he's a model inmate.  He is not forcibly medicated; that would involve injecting the drugs while he was restrained.  He is also not voluntarily medicated; he does not look forward to his next dose.  He is involuntarily  medicated; he opens his mouth and swallows the pills.  He cannot be trusted to administer his own medications and keep himself behaving like a member of a civil society.  Without the drugs, he's a crazy person, a killing machine, someone who scares me more than my fingers can type.

And yet, he's younger than my kids and he's living in a box. 

How did I get here, denizens?  Am I, as Chicago Gal opined at lunch today, on my way to finding peace with this?  Is it mercy?  I know it's not forgiveness; I'm not there...... yet.......


  1. You are HeaLiNG & that is GooD. <3

  2. You have not lost your mind. Your reaction doesn't surprise me one bit. You're obviously a woman with the capacity for both logical thought and feelings of compassion. The boy is sick in his head and needed help which he didn't get. Having an understanding of that doesn't diminish, in any way, the pain his sick actions created. Or maybe it does. I hope for any lessening of pain for all of whatever degree. Personally, I'd rather hear less EMPTY talk about gun control and more talk about providing help for the mentally ill.
    The hugs keep coming.

  3. Hi AB, I think you have touched on what I was talking about yesterday in my post. I do feel sorry for him because he obviously needed a great deal of help and he didn't receive it. BUT... he did something so horrific that his actions cannot be dismissed. I hope I didn't come across that way yesterday. I think that's what makes us human--having compassion even for someone that did something so horrific. If he had been medicated and his mental illness addressed, I am almost certain he would not have done this heinous act. So in that respect, do we blame the mental illness and not necessarily the person? I don't know. But I do feel anger about what he did, but I cannot help feeling like the responsibility for his actions also lie with the people around him. They did nothing or at least didn't do enough. They are to blame. Maybe that's why we have some compassion for him? There were plenty of warning signs that he was mentally unbalanced. This is where we are failing. We are not addressing mental illness in this country. We wait until something horrific happens and then we start talking about it again. We need to address this head on and stop talking about it in hushed tones. It's not acceptable that someone who is clearly mentally ill was able to purchase a gun and then use that gun to commit an atrocity and destroy innocent people's lives.

    I truly admire you. You are one of the most lovely, compassionate people I've met (online). You have the capacity to forgive and feel compassion. This is what will help you move forward and heal.

    Sending hugs your way.

    Megan xxx

  4. I think it's understanding that he didn't have total control over what he did that allows you to see it this way. It doesn't excuse him or our culture that there wasn't more done before he wasted all those lives and his own. Schizophrenia is a reality and the more you know about it, the more you see it as something that is not taken seriously enough as most mass murderers (not all) are schizophrenic. How could the parents have missed the signals or did they not have the kind of insurance that would have covered what he needed? Did they see it as a stigma to admit they had a mentally ill son? Who knows as they might not totally know either. I just feel as a culture we need to deal with this more effectively. It's not the whole problem as the hate that is being fueled out there is part of it also. Hate gives that kind of person a target. I just wish I thought our culture would learn from this and the other shootings but I don't see that we are. I can also see feeling sorry for him but he belongs in prison the rest of his life and that isn't changed by recognizing the waste of this all. Not all schizophrenics want to do something violent. Only 10%. They all need help but some need to be incarcerated before they kill until society can determine they are safe to be out-- which might be never.

    I hope things keep looking better for you. This was a milestone that is now behind you.
    That's the blessing of the guilty plea for all the people hurt that day and their families.

    1. Hi,

      Having experienced a very intelligent schizophrenic in my life, I'd suggest that a schizophrenic, especially ones who are more intelligent, know how to conceal thoughts from the untrained. Moreover, those who care for them see enough instances of symptoms of irrationality that they just cannot know (at least without training) when those instances signal a palpable danger to others, and are not merely the schizophrenic having a bad day. I'm glad you are interested, but hope greatly you will not learn as I have.

  5. It's the last chapter of a book I wish I'd never opened. Thanks for sharing the experience... I coudln't have done it without you.

  6. You nailed it - you are feeling mercy. What a surprise I bet, but I think it shows you moving through one more stage in the process you've been involved in for these 19 months. Some day you will also be able to forgive, which will be helpful to you. Forgiveness is a benefit more for the forgiver than the forgiven. And make no mistake, forgiving does not mean forgetting. I am glad for your extended family and the blessings that you provide to each other. I know that even though the judicial process is nearly done you will all need each other for future support. Still sending prayers, good thought snd cyber hugs your way!

  7. I can't add a lot to the thoughtful things already here. I saw the pictures in the paper today and felt sad for this mentally ill person. It doesn't take away from my horror at his actions.

    Thought of you all day and sending lots of hugs!

  8. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting...... thanks FG. I'm feeling the happy hugs, Buttercup, you cheery soul!

  9. AB, the best friend I ever had was tremendously talented - a patent lawyer at a prestigious Washington, DC, law firm located on Pennsylvania Avenue, responsible, intelligent, engaging, etc., etc., and prone to schizophrenic periods. At times it had required hospitalization. His intelligent family and I had conversed, struggling with the balance between smothering him and permitting him liberty to make his own decisions. He was, however, well smart enough to know how to disguise when he was teetering on a psychiatric event.

    Your event occurred just prior to the first anniversary of his suicide. His mental defect had overcome him strongly enough and long enough to overcome brilliance and rationality. And I have come to understand that people with these defects are far more prone to kill themselves than to kill others. As much of a law-and-order Republican as I am, I know it to be a pitiable existence whether the individual injures themselves, others, or no one at all. I also know it to be one which friends and family struggle with as well. They struggle terribly with doing enough while not overreacting to subtle indications of psychiatric struggle - I wish I had done more.

    I do not know how to tell you how to forgive. You will know you have jumped that hurdle when you become concerned for the shooter's well being as much as any one else's. But I can suggest that the more you know of what is, happily, a rare defect, the more able you will be to comprehend the idea that in some cases, people are prone to becoming overwhelmed for long enough to hurt others even if they know it is atrocious.

  10. Thanks, Arlington, for a closer perspective on what is an awful situation for the people on both sides of the equation. So sorry for the loss of your friend, and the pain you all felt while he lived with his illness.


Talk back to me! Word Verification is gone!