Some Things Never Leave Us

classroom

As with every generation, there are a few monumental moments that become shared experiences among the members of that demographic—those days we all remember where we were, and what the event meant to us. For my grandparents, the crash of 1929 and Pearl Harbor; for my parents, the moon landing, Nixon’s resignation. For my generation, the “somewhere in between Gen X and Millennial”, there’s the obvious of 9/11. But not too long before that, there was something that hit even closer to home—the Columbine school shootings.

I was a junior in high school the year Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 15 of their classmates. I remember sitting in my co-curricular class, which combined English and History, when there was a special announcement at school. Thinking back on it now, I find it odd there would be an announcement about it. Nowadays I suppose kids would have read about it via Twitter or Facebook, but in 1999 the majority of us didn’t have cell phones. I recall whoever read the announcement mentioning counselors were available if any students wanted to talk about the events, but not much else.

I went home, and promptly took to Google (which I had only just heard of four months earlier), reading what I could about the event. There was a lot of discussion about the school and the community that surrounded it. I remember people saying it was such an odd place for a shooting—an upper middle class neighborhood with a low crime rate. I remember people saying it resembled my community, my school.

Unlike 9/11, Columbine isn’t something I regularly discuss with my peers. Every once in a while, we’ll chat about where we were when the towers fell, but rarely (if ever), do we share how Columbine affected our teenage lives. But it did. Before Columbine, there were no school assemblies about bullying, or mental illness among students. Zero tolerance polices only started popping up after Columbine. Being different, or being goth, wasn’t something to be feared. Just like 9/11, the year after Columbine brought a great deal of small, but significant changes into my life.

Though I’ve read several books on Columbine since, it wasn’t until today that I really had an opportunity to reflect and explore the events of that day.

This afternoon, I attended the Oregon Children’s Theatre’s performance of “Columbinus“, a play exploring the issues of alienation, hostility and social pressure in high schools through the events at Columbine. First of all, I’d like to commend the theatre on the grace with which they are handling this sensitive subject. The play is quite racy, quoting excerpts from Klebold’s and Harris’ writings, as well as playing an actual 9-1-1 call received from a teacher as the shooting was happening. It’s also not easy to watch teenagers shout profanities, racial slurs, and make explicit sexual comments (though I’m sure this happens every day in schools). The theatre is quite aware of this, and provides a warning on their website, resources for grief and trauma counseling, and has the assistant stage manager lead an interactive exercise about the play’s content and themes, inviting the audience to submit questions, at the end of the show. Lastly, I received the following email, inviting me to even more outlets where I could talk about the play’s impact.

Columbinus email

I love that they are inviting a conversation because, let me tell you, you feel it. 16 years later, my heart still raced as the actors packed backpacks with fake pipe bombs. I cringed every time the actors banged on a box to represent a gun shot. I nodded my head as the actors portraying Klebold and Harris ranted about how the media would try to blame it on violent video games and movies, without acknowledging the painful reality high school can be for some kids. It was a bit surreal how the play intertwined past and present together, allowing hindsight to mix with pre-Columbine innocence. The strangest part, however, was to sit in a theater with a whole bunch of high schoolers where shootings are now just the reality of life. Columbine was not the first school shooting, but it’s the one that launched the modern day debate over the conditions in schools. It’s the one that dramatically increased school security policies. And it’s the one that launched a culture of being different becoming a reason to be suspected.

There are now more years between me and high school than there are between my being born and freshmen year, so some things are starting to get hazy. But Columbine will always stay with me, and I’m glad this play may help future generations deal with the tough questions the aftermath of that event continues to pose.

Image Credit: Dystopos via Flickr

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