What happened at Columbine High School in Colorado was a fucking disgrace. You all probably know the details by now... anti-social kids, fell in with wrong crowd, murder-suicide climax, blah blah blah, so I won't get into that.
Furthermore, I'm not gonna get into how the more conservative elements of our society are placing the blame on violent movies, TV shows, video games and music. What I do want to touch base on is the more complex mental issues that drive some kids to tune out of their socio-academic world. I, by the way, happened to be one of them.
Many people out there can relate to what I've been through. From kindergarten on, my feelings got hurt too easily; thus, I was an easy target for ridicule and taunting during my earlier school years, something I do not look back fondly on at all. And I saw enough school-life movies to know that shit would only get worse in high school.
Gym class, especially, would be paralyzing for me, since I knew how guys would get in the locker room with the practical jokes and taunts aimed at my inferior body. And I'd have to get naked and shower with them, too. Fortunately, where I lived, there was a way out of that: the local community college offered high school P.E. credit for enrolling in summer joint-credit courses. So instead of sharing a locker room with high-school dickheads, I learned weight training and racquetball with mature adults. That's right... racquetball. Did I mention this was 1987, by the way? But I digress.
I was terrified of ending up like the hapless dork who always got beat up or kicked around. I sure as hell didn't want to be remembered for that. So I partially withdrew from the social environment. I was scared to death of getting embarrassed or humiliated again. I still suck at carrying on a conversation. At times I can't think of the words to say. It's not shyness... it's worse. Fear. Fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear of sounding like an incoherent dickweed. Fear that bad rumors will start spreading about me again because of something I said.
Basically, I was a fucked-up kid.
Now, when the inevitable reunion comes along, people there won't have many memories of Thomas Overbeck. Maybe the weirdo in 8th grade who thought up a few raps or dressed in loud clothing (I still have one of those fat 1985 shoelaces colored black and day-glo yellow in a checkerboard pattern). Maybe the guy who liked to draw, and drew cartoons for many people. But mostly, someone that didn't participate a lot, that despite near-perfect attendance, didn't show up that much at school. The way I chose to live my life from 1983 to 1990 is something I have to live with now. And old habits die hard.
Sometimes I wonder what would have happened to me if I had easy access to a gun back then. In my early teenage years, thoughts have flashed in my mind of me shooting or otherwise injuring my parents and running away from home. Or going on a rampage through my school and wasting all the teachers that got me in trouble with Mom and Dad throughout my life. Or showing up at my prom, alone and dejected, going to the middle of the dance floor and putting a bullet in my brain, just to show what happens when you make someone's life miserable by screwing up their once-in-a-lifetime chance to have fond memories of high school.
Fortunately, I grew up with a high value of life and a fear of eternal damnation for breaking God's Top Ten List. And so to this day, I wouldn't even think of putting those evil thoughts I once had into action. I was also determined to live to see the 21st century, effectively wiping out any serious thoughts of suicide. And, for a while anyway, I had a loving wife to share my life with, giving me a better outlook on things. That fell apart too soon, but instead of taking my wrath out on my beloved, I'm rebuilding my life and searching for new love in new surroundings.
While I in no way condone the awful killing spree that went on at Columbine High, I can relate to how Dylan and Eric may have felt. Abused, dejected, rejected, getting in with the wrong clique in a desperate hunger for acceptance and encouragement. Unfortunately, the angst ran too deep, and they crossed that line, killing those who gave them grief, wasting unknown innocent onlookers as well, and finally taking their own lives.
Where were the restrictions on those things that warped their impressionable minds, those on one side ask. Where were the counselors and shrinks to rescue their sanity in the first place, those on another side ask. Why the fuck is everyone staring at US, the NRA asks. No, there are no simple answers to what drives young people to nihilism. But it's no secret that when puberty sets in, so do a landslide of newfound emotions that your average child has no experience in handling.
People can go through pure hell during their teenage years. And many parents seem to forget this. By the time their kids reach that magic age, it seems that all their parents remember of their own teenage years was perfect harmony with Mom and Dad, always obedient and compliant, always putting schoolwork first, never arguing with them or going against their wishes. And now they see their kids as still kids, not taking their emotions or concerns seriously enough. How much of that is actually true is certainly up for debate, but that's just the pattern I'm seeing.
The parents HAVE to remember peer pressure... how they were promised they would be "cool" if they guzzled a beer, smoked a cigarette or joint, or stole candy from a 7-Eleven or spraypainted "FUCK YOU" on the tennis court without getting caught. Girls especially feel pressured, by the trend-dictating media as well as their peers, to stay wafer-thin to the point of dangerous eating (or should I say NON-eating) disorders. It's hard to not think about how flabby you might be when it seems the only clothes in style are those that bare lots of skin. Boys worry about their figures, too, but in their case, they might turn to dangerous steroids for help pumping themselves up.
And love... that's a whole 'nother shit mountain. You know, there used to be a time when it was a very common occurence for people as young as 16 years old to get married and stay happily married for decades until death truly did them part. They just happen to get lucky enough to find their lifelong soulmate at such an early age. Now, when two teenage kids fall deeply in love with each other, to the point where they could even resolve huge arguments like committed adults, their parents are more likely to do the parting. You should focus more on a successful career, they say. You should stay single for a while. This love you feel is only fleeting. Again, some parents don't seem to take their kids' feelings seriously.
It's this way of thinking that caused a tragedy in real life. Andrea Garrett and Jeff Miller were two teenagers in Georgia that fell deeply in love with each other. They could probably see kids, even grandkids, in their future. But the parents got worried and upset. The usual restrictions were placed. Ultimately, the girl's family was going to move far away. Fraught with agony and outrage, the two lovebirds kill themselves. By the way, no one on the right-wing side blamed "Romeo and Juliet" like they singled out Oliver Stone, Marilyn Manson and KMFDM in the Columbine tragedy.
The bottom line is this. The teenage years are not the innocent, simplistic rites of passage they once were. The youth are more intelligent, more sophisticated, more world-weary, and they do have a lot of sincere opinions and feelings. So it's about time we all really, truly, LISTEN to them. And if they're not willing to share their true feelings with you, find someone who they can trust with how they feel. I for one am going to take every precaution to avoid turning into the naive parent who thinks his 16-year-old son or daughter is "just going through a phase". And if PyThomas Jr. and his girlfriend wants to get married at 17, if they're both serious about marriage and commitment, then good for them. They'll get a stable marriage out of it, and I may get grandkids in the future.
I apologize if you think I've said too much, if I've been too candid with my past. But I feel that people should hear about the anti-social tendencies of teens from someone who's been there. We're on the threshold of the 21st century, so let's catch up to the sensibility and intelligence that's supposed to come with the Information Age. Our more computer-savvy youth are well ahead of us, more or less. While we may question the maturity of teenagers' actions sometimes (and many will still do stupid things from time to time), we should always listen to and respect what they may have to say. All of us were their age once, you know.
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originally posted: 07/08/99 13:56:03
last updated: 07/09/99 12:16:07