Thursday, April 19, 2007

Can I get a witness? (Please?)

As the week's gone on, it's become clearer and clearer to me that this horrible event at VA Tech that I can hardly name more specifically is not a thing I'll get over very soon. On Monday, I was in shock; Tuesday a little sad; Wednesday choking-back-tears sad and today I was choking back tears for the half-day that I was at work until I bailed and cried on the drive home. Finally.

And I know now that I won't be over this for a while, maybe quite a while. Because what happened isn't just sad, it's horrifying. And though I'm sure that I haven't really figured it all--or any of it--out, I have figured out that this is a thing that I have to handle, to deal with, to heal from--all the while feeling self-indulgent and guilty for having such a strong reaction. You see, I haven't lived there since 1996.

But it was a very important part of my life. I lived there for four years and loved it and love it still and everyone I talk to who went there is feeling similarly wrecked and surprised at their own shatter. People can't stop crying, people can't talk about it, people can't stop talking about it, people can't get enough of the coverage, people can't wait til we're back to Britney.

And I'd give myself a harder time for taking it all so hard if I thought any part of my reaction were controllable. But it's not. I can't not feel this sad. I can't not be totally normal and laughing one second and on the verge of tears the next, the lump in my throat swelling for the millionth time in a day. I can't not veer from sad to livid and--so help me and I do feel bad--but I couldn't not flick off the guy in traffic today who honked at me for no reason. I was pissed.

I can't not not do laundry. I can't not not wash the dishes. I can't not not talk in too many negatives.

I can't do anything but as little as possible. I did, however, make it to yoga this evening. With the teacher's permission, I made an announcement after class asking people to consider wearing orange and maroon tomorrow and to join Tech alumni at the north side of the Santa Monica Pier tomorrow at 7 pm for a candlelight vigil. No reaction. From anyone.

Then my teacher made her announcement and chuckled to ask if anyone else had any announcements. She's one of my favorite yoga teachers and still, at that minute, I thought a little less of her. And might for awhile.

No one came up to me after class. I wasn't really announcing the vigil or our colors for attention for myself--it really was for all of us Hokies here in LA--but I suppose I was expecting and hoping for a little sympathy.

But this is Southern California and the people who live here live 3,000 miles away from my old home, Blacksburg. They don't get it, they aren't affected, and you can't fake not being affected. So I made the announcement and then we all left.

I couldn't not feel a little disappointed, a little isolated, and very very far from home.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Open letter to Cho Seung Hui

Attention, Cho Seung Hui :

I think making fun of someone when you yourself feel insecure is repugnant. To KILL dozens of innocent people because of your own shit? That’s a whole different story.

You shamed yourself but I don’t really care about that.

I care that you shamed Blacksburg and that you shamed Virginia Tech. You shamed Virginia. You shamed South Korea and you shamed your home country, the US. Growing up watching Pearl Jam’s Jeremy video and news coverage of the shootings in Columbine just like all of your classmates, did you look at it all differently? Did you look with envy, with satisfaction, with resolve?

I understand why you did it: you’re crazy. That very rare kind of very dangerous crazy.

But here’s what I don’t understand:

How could you have lived so miserably for so long? I just don’t get it.

Maybe you didn’t have that thing that so many of us have—that thing that makes us work to extract unhappiness from our lives, or that other thing that makes us look to others for comfort and love and support. The world knows you didn’t have the latter for sure.

You were a loner.

Your roommate couldn’t pronounce your name. He and your suite mates thought the reason you didn’t talk much was because you couldn’t really speak English. They didn’t know that you moved here when you were eight years old, that you not only spoke English, but that your major was English.

Maybe you lacked lots of the things that most of us have and take for granted. Maybe you knew that and that’s why you were so pissed off: you just couldn’t get it right. No matter what you did you got it all wrong. Probably from very, very young. Not your fault, kid, you weren’t born with all the ingredients. But, guess what? Drug companies make ingredients—and have since you were very, very young.

There is, of course, the tragic possibility that no one tried to help you growing up—though I heard your parents were “super nice.” Even if you did have to grow up feeling isolated and lonely and angry and just plain different, your professors tried to help you once you got to Tech (as, I would bet many teachers did along the way). They begged you to go to counseling. Once, you were sent to a mental hospital: why why WHY did you not put down the pride (not missing that ingredient, to be sure) and just tell them what was going on? You don’t even have to be in touch with your feelings to say that you have no social support; no friends, no girlfriends, not even acquaintances. No buddies. Of all the times to have opened your mouth, that would have been the time. You really fucked that one up, pal.

Here’s what else you fucked up:


We all know what you fucked up. But how long did you know you were going to do it? You were there for 3 ½ years; surrounded by happy, laughing, social people whose behavior must have, however unwittingly, so mocked your inability to similarly engage that all you had were fantasies and passive-aggressively violent plays for your classmates to have to read and shudder as they mumbled “it’s good” or “nice work” or other unspecific un-trespassing remarks to avoid freaking out the freaky guy who never talks.

Your beef wasn’t really with rich people. It was with people rich with all the ingredients that people are supposed to have. You got genetically short-changed big time but by killing innocent strangers did you really get even?

I can’t help it. I feel bad for you. You must have been in a lot of pain. A lifetime of pain. I wish I could feel less bad for you. I wish I could hate you and dismiss you as some soulless devil figure in one of the stories you wrote or may have written. I read your two plays that were posted online. Aside from melodrama and poorly-described scenes (where the hell was Mr Brownstone? Just standing there?), it was obvious that you were rabidly angry. Filled with unreasonable, unbridled anger. Yeah, sure, the world fucked you alright so you fucked it right back, is that it?

I’m more than an a little angry myself: at you. You killed innocent people, you fucked up my town, my college, their good names and the good feelings people had tied to them. The Hokies’ll win it back, I know (see Columbine wasn’t on the map before those kids came along, Virginia Tech was, nice try). I’m still pretty confused by all of this and, mostly, by my feelings about you and your telltale featureless face that could only belong to a mass murderer (could the media PLEASE stop showing it?). I wish it never happened (insultingly obvious comment, I know) and I wish I never knew of you.

I wish that, wherever you are, you have no idea about all of the attention you’re getting right now. You don’t deserve it. The ones who were killed do but, again, for insultingly obvious reasons, I wish I’d never heard of them, either.

Couldn’t you have killed just yourself? That way, we would have felt 100% unmitigated bad for you. Better, we never would have heard of you. And everyone else would be alive, in class, and answering their cell phones.

Sorry for your pain (truly), but fuck you for bringing so much of it for everyone else.


Monday, April 16, 2007

Alma Mater

I went to college at a wonderful, beautiful, safe place. Now it's worse than Columbine.

At least 22 people were killed on campus--no, ON CAMPUS--this morning at Virginia Tech. I heard the first reports of it on NPR here in Southern California on my drive in to work. I called my sister who'd only heard what I had: one person shot in a dorm, another in an academic building. We recalled the shootings near campus just past August and felt bad for new students there, then got off the phone.

Still driving to work, she called back to update me: 24 were shot in various locations--all on campus--and the one dead, they believe, is the shooter.

At my office, while my computer was still booting up, she called again: 20 of those shot were dead. It's the main story on (rightfully so) and the VT home page is announcing where parents can meet their college student children, that there will be a convocation tomorrow for the VT community to begin to deal with the tragedy and that counselors are on-hand for VT staff. The campus has closed today and all are asked to go home (during the rampage, students in classes huddled in the middle of the room, in lockdown, all students were told of the event via email and informed to 'stay away from windows.'

The campus will open again tomorrow at 8 am but all classes are cancelled. This is a good decision, of course, but:

Students want to the right to get drunk and be too hungover to go to to class; they want the freedom to skip a class. But, they want the class to happen. They just want to choose to go or not go. To know they have no choice but to stay in their dorm rooms, fresh with memories of avoiding the windows by their beds? To know that there's not a normal they can partake in even if they wanted?

No one wants that kind of freedom.