I knew him
Like most of the nation, I’ve spent the past few days trying to make sense of the horrific events that transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary. And like all of you, I can’t. It’s impossible to figure out what motivates certain people to commit unspeakable acts of terror against those they don’t even know.
Whenever one of these shooting occurs, and they seem to happen far too frequently, I think about the people in my life. Do I know anyone capable of committing such a heinous act? Could I ever find myself in a mental state where I would choose to not only take my life, but the lives of innocents around me?
Whenever I start this process, I go back to one young man who I grew up with. For the sake of his family, I will only call him “Paul”.
Paul and I grew up together. We were never friends, barely acquaintances. But we went to school and daycare together and saw one another grow up.
By the time high school arrived Paul was very physically fit and incredibly smart. He was also a social outcast. He had few, if any, friends and didn’t seem to have interest in making any. He was mean, but not in an evil way. I often found myself his target because I was short and fat. I’d fire back, laughing at his strange hair, his weird outfits, his bad skin.
One time, I think it was junior year, Paul’s parents were out of town and he let word spread that he was having a party. Hundreds of kids from our school came, most with the sole purpose of destroying Paul’s house. And they did. Glasses were smashed, picture frames were destroyed. I remember watching Paul look on with glee as a crowd knocked over his parent’s basement pantry, smashing everything on its shelves.
See, Paul got exactly what he wanted.
Later on, in senior year, Paul walked up to the front of our Physics AP class with a bag of something in his hand. He held it up and showed its contents to us all. It was his pubic hair, collected in clumps and sitting in a clear Ziploc bag. Our teacher wasn’t in the room at the time, but as soon as he found out Paul was sent to the principal’s office.
That was the last of Paul’s outbursts, until our graduation ceremony. On that day Paul wore the same school provided cap and gown as everyone else; except, unlike everyone else, he wore nothing underneath. As he walked up the aisle to collect his diploma Paul exposed himself: One final call for help from a desperate young man.
I never saw Paul after that. I was told his college acceptance was rescinded following his graduation day stunt. Soon after that, word spread that Paul killed himself.
Paul chose to end only his life. But whenever these tragic events occur I can’t help but think that I knew one of these disturbed young men. He lived right in my own backyard.
I also think about how I did nothing to help him.
All I did was laugh.