I was born in a house on a dead-end street. We didn’t have a lot of friends, but us siblings stuck together. We raised guinea pigs and caught pollywogs in the pond behind our house. The field beyond the end of the road was our playground. It was there we would have dirt clod fights, tumbleweed races, and go on far off explorations. Every few weeks the Sheppard’s would bring their flock of sheep through to graze on the tall grass . All four of us kids would sit up on our torn up wood fence and watch as the hundreds of sheep walked by. I would always look for the lowly black sheep. There was always one somewhere lagging behind the rest. It would always be smaller and struggling to keep up with the rest. I would pick a hand full of sweet grass from the back yard and once I located it I would hop down and run over to him with his treat. I was always drawn to the black sheep. Guess I should have seen the signs.
I left that house and the school I attended just a block away. I never got along with the kids at that school. Being from a Jehovah’s witness family and having to go to most of their doors preaching with my parents on the weekends. I was often the source of ridicule. On the last day my teacher called up me to the front of the class along with this other student to announce to the class we would both be leaving. Then she let the other boy go to the toy box and pick out one toy to take with him. She told me to just sit down. That if I didn’t celebrate Christmas, or birthdays, or even salute the flag, then I shouldn’t take a prize. That would be my life. The black sheep.
I arrived in the new school half way through first grade. I thought it would be a new beginning. But it wasn’t. For some reason there was this one kid, Todd. Who took a dislike to me right away. I came from a poor family, my mother made a lot of my clothes. I wore second-hand everything. My parents were very much into raising us children with a strict religious background. But social skills were never learned. Those outside the religion were not worthy, and we had to set the example for those inside. I had no friends, and this Todd kid was dead set on making sure it stayed that way. Once we started the door to door preaching in that new neighborhood the kids only knew me as the preacher’s kid. Todd became a ring leader of sorts.
Not a day went by where he didn’t tease me or chase me home from school. It got the where I was afraid to use the rest rooms at school, which resulted in a few accidents, which as you can guess just added fuel to the ridicule. Some days I would stay in the classroom as long as I could, others I would run out before the last bell. I would not stop running until I got home. I never ate with the other kids. I never played on the play ground. I would always spend recess huddled in the corner behind the building.
One day Todd had drawn something on the chalk board while the teacher was out of the room. When she came back in and demanded to know who had been messing around, Todd quickly said it was this girl who was new to the school. I stood up and said that it was not her, but Todd. Of course the teacher didn’t believe me. Yet that day on the playground Todd and his friends found me. They circled me and Todd stood there, in front of everyone. Telling me to take a swing at him. He pushed me and called me names. I wanted to swing, but just cowered instead. A mistake I would regret for my entire life. A mistake I would be sure to never make again.
I tried telling my parents, but they would just tell me to ignore him. I tried talking to my teachers who told me to ignore him as well. It wasn’t until 5th grade that my teacher saw what was going on and would let me hang out in her classroom during recess and would even give me rides home. I would go completely around the neighborhood walking to school. It would take me over an hour but as long as I didn’t have to walk down the main road I was safe.
There was one time that I spend months working on an insect collection for the science fair. It was perfect. I was so proud. But the night before Todd and his buddies went into the gym and smashed it. To this day I don’t know what it was about me that made him hate me so much.
If I made friends, he would pick on them too until they stopped being my friend. Girls were out of the question. He had made me look so bad in front of every one of them that they wouldn’t even look at me. There was one girl who lived near me that I use to be friends with. We talked all the time. I would ride my bike over her house. She was always so nice to me. Seeing her always made my day. So it broke my heart in 8th grade when she started dating Todd. Knowing everything he had ever done to me, she still went out with him. He was popular, athletic, good-looking. He had everything. So what did he gain by ruining my life?
I jumped through a few hoops but was able to get transferred to a high school out of my district. Life for me would change a lot once I hit 9th grade. I was finally free of him. There were still one or two of his goons that also went to my school, they would tease me for a little while. But without Todd to lead them, they quickly fell. The next time someone would dare me to take a swing, I wouldn’t hesitate. It would still be years before I would develop any social skills or have the confidence to thrive in a social environment. But a lot of the kids that were scared to talk to me in grade school out of being afraid of the backlash became my friends once away from Todd and his circle of goons.
I am 47 years old now. And not a month has ever gone by that I don’t think of Todd. I regret not just taking the beating on that playground on that day. The scars would never have been as deep as they are right now. I am sure he does not even have a thought of me in his memory. But he help create whatever dysfunctions I still carry around with me. He is also the reason I write.
So here’s the point. If my parents would have owned a gun, and I had access to it. Would I have used it. Would I have one day walked into that school and shot every kid that ever laughed at me. Would I have targeted Todd and David and the teachers that let it happen. Would I have turned it on my parents for doing nothing. I mean I fantasized about it constantly. I would even plan out ways to burn the school down while trapping everyone inside. I don’t know what I would have done. I am glad I never had that choice.
I think that everyone is hurting over Sandy Hook, as well as those many other schools. So they want to take the guns out of the hands of the people. The focus needs to not be on the guns but on the children. Was I crazy, no. Was I deranged, no. Was I evil, absolutely not. But was I capable of a mass killing. Yes I was. The teachers need to be aware of bullies, they need to take it very seriously. What living in constant fear and being outcast from everyone else can delude common sense, especially in the young mind of an adolescent. They also need to look at the bully, for this as well is not a normal behavior. One day he could go to far and be just as capable grave injury.
All the money and all the effort that is going into gun law reform is ridiculous. Yes it’s a good thing my parents did not own a gun. My father suffered from depression and my mother from dementia. They should have never been able to get a permit because of their mental state. Even though it would have been easy enough for them to get one back then, and even today. We need to look at better mental health evaluations. We need to supply the schools not with armed guards but with qualified councilors and adolescent behavior specialist. We need to have zero tolerance for bullying. Trigger locks should be mandatory on every gun sale. Proper gun storage and mandatory gun safety classes should be enforced for every child under the age of 18 living in the house with the gun.
It does not take a mad man to kill. Everyone has a breaking point, everyone is capable. It’s inside all of us. We need to listen to our children, we need to listen to our students. We need a place were kids can go and feel safe and talk to someone without just being told to ignore the problem. Gun owners need to take responsibility for the storage of their weapon.
We need to pay attention, we need to care. Getting angry and loading up our magazines will not help.
But what I would give to just have one more day in that playground behind Monroe Elementary. I teach my children what is right and wrong. They know about gun safety and they know that no matter what, they can always come to me and talk to me about anything. They know that if they tell me someone is bullying them the first thing I am going to do is call the school, then I am going to call the parents of the kid, then if it continues I will pay a visit to the kid. But If I can teach them one thing that I have learned. Never hesitate to swing. You may get your butt kicked, but wounded pride never heals, bruises do. You have the right to defend yourself.
It’s the black sheep that are forced away from the flock because they are different, that have nothing to loose. As parents and teachers and productive members of society, we must all take action. We must remove the bullies from the schools and we must develop social skills and better thought patterns in the development of our children.