15 Jan




My teenaged daughter had a writing assignment in English. She was asked to pick a topic that was “gothic” in nature which in my interpretation refers to going into the “darkside” of our nature. A place that the subject of her essay most likely visited often, and somewhere many of us don’t want to go.  Most of us, especially Americans like to focus on the bright side of things, even when it comes to the horrors we witness. There are numerous examples in our history which support this notion of self-inflicted denial. A few come to mind. For example, referring to the corpses of our fallen troops as our “national treasure” a term that conjures up the exact opposite image of the war torn bodies in those flag draped coffins we so much want to hide from public view.


My daughter chose another event in our recent history that we would like to forget. You, or I, may or may not agree with how she contrasts events or some of her interpretations, but I for one agree that she and maybe others in the next generation  are waking up to the idea that if change is to come about it is “we” who must change. And, without further ado, here’s what she wrote;



‘What brings people to the edge?


To hurt others, sometimes even themselves? When nothing seems worth it anymore, too many things have gone wrong, or perhaps the moment when you realize you no longer can take what someone or something’s done to you, that one person or thing you feel you cannot escape, no matter how hard you try – maybe that’s what brings us to that point. But how does one know when the time has come? 

How did Thích Quảng Đức; , know it was time to light the match, to stand up for what he believed was a wrongdoing, to what he believed, to put a stop to, he needed to sacrifice everything he knew as an individual, to represent a whole?

How did Eric Harris; ,decide he’d had enough of people, so much so, that he’d mustered up enough of that hatred to walk into his own high school, his friend at his side, with the intention of putting an end to innocent lives, along with his own? 

These are some of the things people tend not to ask when they really should. What led to Thích Quảng Đức’s self-immolation, to bring about awareness, it was because of man’s brutality against his own kind, man. What led Eric Harris and and Dylan Klebold to begin discussing their feelings, their misanthropic thoughts, between each other, only to formulate a plan to put a stop to things, was because, again, of man’s brutality against man. The examples of someone led to hurt, to fume, and to resent as much as these people, to the point they did something such as Thích Quảng Đức did, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, by society and the way it functions, are endless – they happen everyday, in every state; ,and in every country; .


Listlessly, I press my fingertip over the last key, letting out a shaky, almost unwanted breath as I stare at my computer screen. 


“You run into a problem?” Liz questions me, setting down her magazine over the side of my desk, turning slightly to read what I’ve written so far from over my shoulder, my chest burning.

“It’s too harsh, isn’t it?” I mumble breathily, barely audible over the pitter patter of the rain cascading across my window, my fingers stiff from the cold, even if we turned on the heater early in the morning to avoid it.

“Hmm… I wouldn’t say harsh -” She begins, but I let out a sigh, closing my eyes as I shake my head, tempted to rub my temples, just to rid myself of the feelings I deem gruesome. 

“It is… I mean, honestly, how do you think people would react? It’s supposed to be a speech for comfort, not to point out what they’ve tried so hard to remain ignorant of.” I explain, voice hoarse as I open my eyes again to gaze at her expectantly, though she just seems taken aback. 

“Yeah, but they chose to take the risk when they asked you to write it of all people, Nora.” She counters, blinking, just to look back at the computer screen, her blonde hair falling over her shoulder, frizzy at the very tips. 


“I guess they just assumed I’d be the one to feel the least when writing it, but still would have a great deal of ‘detail’ to put out there… That’s all they want.” I murmur, back stiff as I go to get up, sighing, and she turns towards me once more, resentful.

“So don’t sugarcoat it. They gave you the choice concerning how to write it and look at it… So, write it how you see it.” She tries, and I pause for a moment, putting my hands over the small of my back as I gaze at her, silent, though, after what feels like a few seconds, her image just blurs in with the grey outside my bedroom window, the color itself bringing back things I have yet to bury deep, to never bring light to again. “So, Nora… What do you really have to say?” 


“Be quiet.” They whisper between themselves, trying their very hardest to shush the sobbing first year, who only grows louder with the pressure, with the reassurance everything around her, everything that’s happening – is real. A flash illuminates the room for just a split second, followed by a roll of thunder as the rain continues to crash into the library window hard and ruthlessly, with no recognition towards the shots ringing throughout the school hallway, the dreadful sound of silence that always follows after each one. Though all of these things, I plead with, desperately, to draw out an ache in my chest, or tears in my eyes, I remain numb and stiff, the only thing I’m able to process being the ache in my knees and the top of my head as it presses to the underside of the table, where, I think I hope to find security.


‘So why do we hope for change, when it’s us that are responsible for it? Hope isn’t going to bring it, action is. If we took the time and recognized that we need to respect and at least try to understand the people around us, maybe we can strive for peace and for the small sense of safety we pray for every night before going to sleep. It isn’t because some people out there are mad, that some of us lose our humanity somewhere along the way of moving through a world filled with money, vanity, superiority, self-absorption, it’s that we all are, but some of us lack the willpower to tame it.  


I’ll say, I do not believe David Harrison was rotten on the inside in any way. I do not believe he was possessed or had any more inner demons than the ones we ourselves face on a daily basis. What I do believe is he sought comfort, only to have no one answer his pleas for help. My question is, why not?’

“You misspell something…” Liz points out, moving her fingertip over the part of the screen where the small, red squiggly line has appeared under the word ‘superiority’ which I missed an ‘i’ in. 


“Thanks.” I mumble, quickly going to fix it, just to lean back slightly, moving my hands to my lap, reading it over for the tenth time it seems like, furrowing my eyebrows.


“What’s wrong? You were going good for over ten minutes…” She says quietly, concerned, and I shake my head subtly, moving one hand up to rub at the center of my chest, willing the tightness to go away so I can finally breathe.


“It’s hard to…” I start, thoughtful, gaze refusing to drift away from the screen in front of me, so white it’s beginning to burn my eyes, contrasted against all of the things I’ve finally put down, but had thought of for longer than anyone can ever imagine. “It’s hard to think about it.” I admit, clearing my throat, nodding subtly.

“Yeah, I’d assume so.” She drawls sarcastically, letting out an incredulous huff. “But once you get that kind of stuff… y’know – out there, maybe it’ll be better? I mean, it’s been months now, and I can’t imagine how it’s all been piled up in your head and all.”


“I know…” I breathe, closing my eyes again, ears beginning to ring a little as I try my best to focus again, leaning forward, putting my hands over my keyboard.


“David, please!” One of our teachers screams, her voice strained by horror and the sobs she’d been letting out before, but instead of a response, there’s only another shot, the footsteps following after it moving closer and closer, right outside the library door. Wasn’t she my own teacher last year? For English… She always talked about how she’d gone to so many different countries before with her husband and later on her son, who was a bit younger than us… 

I squeeze my eyes shut, trembling, but I try to hold it back, sliding to the left, just enough for my side to press into the metal holding up the table.

“He’s coming, he’s coming…” They wheeze, the first year quickly growing quiet at the sound of the door creaking, pushed open, the boy’s boots squeaking against the tiled floor as he cautiously steps in, though silent otherwise. 


‘Why did no one help David Harrison? No one needed to know what was going through his head to feel the need to step up, to defend him during all those days at lunch, where he was turned away – shunned, and for what? Being different than the rest of us? Being quieter than the rest of us? Just because we never thought our words might have cut deep, that David may have been hurting because of us and our passiveness towards the abuse he was put through, does not mean he never did hurt. 


I know he did. How? Because I’ve been there. We all have. We’ve all been told something we didn’t want to hear, or something that wounds our pride. But what about going through it everyday? What about being told you’re nothing, or you dress funny, or you look ugly – every single day? 


How can anyone say it wasn’t called for, for David to feel humiliated, wounded, and even angry towards the people responsible? Towards the people who tore him apart for a laugh and some self-satisfaction? Maybe David wasn’t a bad person, maybe it all just got to the point he wanted to scream and shout, and tell everyone how much it really hurt, but couldn’t… And it angered him – it angered him that he couldn’t stand up to them, so why not bring the ones responsible down with him?


The thing is, if this is really why David did what he did… None of us can say we didn’t play a role in it. I can tell you all myself, that throughout the four years I’ve come to this school and gone to class with David, not once did anyone seem to give him even the light of day or listened to what he had to say.’


The room fills with silence, the rain having finally let up and Liz having gone home about thirty minutes ago, but it only brings all the more unease. Quietly, I gaze at my window, the night sky clouded, veiling the moon, leaving the street outside illuminated by a single, flickering light. 

After a short pause, I go to unplug my laptop, picking it up as I stand, moving over to my bed, lying down as I set it in my lap, though I’m still unable to relax. My limbs, despite my alertness, begin to feel heavy, and I close my eyes, taking in a deep breath.


The library falls silent, the whispering, the crying – gone. The door closes on its own, quietly clicking, and the boy that’d entered stands still for a moment, the clinking of his gun following shortly after he begins to walk down one of the aisles of books. The faint rustling of clothes and muffled breathes seem to cause the air itself to thicken, and I duck my head down, bringing my knees up silently, gritting my teeth.


The footsteps stop for a few seconds, as if he’s taking it in, processing it, before they suddenly pick up, swiftly moving to the other side of the library where I last saw my own three classmates and the first year. 


“Look, man – I never meant to -” One of them starts, his voice shaking and hoarse, but his sentence is left unfinished, a loud gunshot resonating, followed by several others, my ears ringing louder than I ever thought possible, and I shakily move my hands up to cover them, exhaling.

Though all goes quiet again after a few seconds, the piercing noises seem to stick, playing in loops, over and over, in my head, and no matter how much I will it to stop, so I can figure out if he’s leaving or not, it doesn’t. So, I wait. I count to 120 in my head, hoping it’s enough time for it to all be over, for him to walk out, to leave me behind – before I open my eyes, turning my head a fraction to see out from under the table.



‘If I can accept part of the blame, so can the rest of you. Maybe it’ll change something – or maybe it won’t. The point is, you never know exactly how someone feels – you’ll never know how much what you choose to say someone really affects them. You can’t know until they either say something, or do something to make a statement.


But why does it have to be that way? Why would anyone have to say something or do something like David did, to get his or her point across? Why can’t people wake up, realize they need to take responsibility and watch the things they say and do to each other? To me, that seems a lot better than waiting for that one moment that the person we’ve been pushing around and bullying snaps, then we all have to pay for it, even the ones that didn’t really take part, but still played a role in that they did nothing to stop it. 


What happened here isn’t, overall, call for feeling bad for ourselves, because we’ve lost something we held dear, but also a call for change, for waking up, looking around you and thinking, ‘maybe I should have been nicer’, ‘maybe I should have listened’…’


Immediately, I freeze at the sight of the boy’s boots, his pants tucked into them, a dark red splattered over the side of the left one, though it’s small – and hard to notice. My heart pounds in my chest, which tightens, knowing, this may very well be the end, that there is no difference between me and everyone else, and there’s no point in trying to justify what they did wrong towards him. But, no matter how much I expect the darkness to come that would follow the last noise I’d ever hear – that horrible noise, it doesn’t. 

Carefully, my gaze drifts upwards, until I can see the boy clearly, his bright, blue eyes on mine, his expression blank and skin a ghastly pale, as if he’s sickened – or even dead. But, beyond that, his gaze is filled with something foreign to me, something I’ve never seen before, and it brings about the most tremendous feeling in my gut that I would never be able to deny, even if I made it out of here alive. 

He blinks, his chest slowly rising an falling – the only movements he’s made since I’ve looked up at him, and, despite my denial, I take in the way his eyes are glazed over, foggier than normal, but burning with – with the type of pain, it seems like, he can’t cry over, he can only take, his lips quivering, blue.

And as it all settles in, and I grow weary, my eyebrows furrowing just slightly on their own, he lifts the gun up, the muzzle to his temple, and…


‘But… for now, after it’s all said and done, and after David made his statement, all we can do is become aware of it, to stop and think about what he might have felt and what he might have been trying to say… 

I may not know what that is. I may have been one of the many people who turned my back towards him and never tried to even help… or reassure him. But… what I do have to say – for David Harrison – at this point in time, is that he died that day… And maybe it’s best for us all to acknowledge that… I hope, more than anything, that he may rest in peace.’

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