People who are never completely forgotten, never completely
~ Ashleigh Brilliant
Breakfast: Cereal with
IN THE SHADOW OF COLUMBINE
21 April 2004
Its all over the news today. You cant turn on a news program or a talk show without hearing about the memories of Columbine.
I empathize with the families for whom this is a painful day, made even more painful by the endless replaying of scenes of the horror, videos of the murderers in the months prior to the attack on the school, the reporters camped out in their town interviewing people 5 years later. Our countrys fascination with tragedy and our need to revisit it regularly, dredging up all the emotions, the horror, the pain.
We have a different connection with April 20, 1999 and the tragedy happening in Littleton, Colorado that day.
When the phone call from the police came: "Your son has committed suicide" the questions began to come--Why? Why now? Why when things seemed to be so much better than they had been since Davids death? Why when Paul admitted to being happy for the first time in a long time? Why had he killed himself?
As we sat in the emergency room with Audra, his wife, waiting for the doctors to come in and tell us that they were not able to revive him, we grasped at straws. Something had happened months before--I dont even remember what national tragedy it had been now, but it was something that caused senseless death. Paul had been upset by that event. The scale of Columbine was so much grander. I dont remember exactly now, but I think he had called me that morning to tell me about the news of the shootings at Columbine. It was his habit to call me several times in the day, whenever something hit him that he wanted to share (if he wrote e-mail, he probably would have been sending me e-mails instead).
So as we sat around in a daze trying to think of anything that might have driven him over the edge, driven him to hang himself, an emotional overreaction to Columbine was the only possible straw that we could catch.
Later, in a daze, when the reporter called to interview me, I mentioned it and it became the main thing that the coroner used to determine that this was, indeed a suicide, despite what had become, for most people who knew him, all evidence to the contrary.
Paul and Audra lived in a two-story apartment, with an open upstairs. For years he had practiced the art of making hangmans nooses and when I had been there to see their new apartment, I had seen a heavy rope with a hangmans noose in the upstairs bedroom. So when Audra told me hed hung himself, I envisioned him hanging from the ceiling by that heavy rope.
But as we learned the details, it became blatantly obvious that hed been drinking too much, that hed sat down in a chair to rehearse the bit he told someone he was going to do at his next show, having a noose hanging on stage and doing a segment of his show about the stupidity of suicide with his head in the noose. The doctor hinted that the rope (a thin clothes-line type rope, not the heavy rope that he had upstairs) might have cut off the blood supply to his carotid artery, causing him to loose consciousness, and, with no one there to revive him, he would have remained unconscious until he slowly choked to death.
But the Columbine idea I handed the newspapers in my desperate attempt to understand why my son, who had that very morning arranged a loan so he and his wife could make an offer on a home of their own and called his band to arrange a recording session the following week end, had decided to kill himself, was an idea that stuck.
The coroner came in with only one idea in mind--Paul had killed himself and it was his (the coroners) job to pick and choose from among the many pieces and build a case that would substantiate that decision. He discarded anything which hinted that this might have been a stupid accident, not a deliberate suicide.
Five years later, it makes no difference whether he killed himself deliberately or stupidly, but every time the anniversary of Columbine rolls around, we are yanked back to the questions of whether or not Columbine played any role in Pauls mental state that day. Every time I see one of these retrospectives, I wonder if I had kept my mouth shut and not speculated at all about the effect of Columbine on Pauls emotions if the coroner would have been willing to look at the possibility of stupid accident and not insisted that it be listed as a suicide.
But five years later, it doesnt matter. Hes still dead and next year there will be a "six years after" retrospective on Columbine and Ill be sitting here feeling all these feelings once again.
My heart goes out to the survivors of Columbine. Whether they know it or not, we are linked in our grief forever.
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