When there is a shooting, I don’t have any of the responses you are supposed to have. As the stories run their predictable sequence—tragedy, response, critique of response, collective scouring for hope…. I feel removed from all of it. I am not watching that story. I’ve seen it before, and I know how it ends.
I am watching for the story of the mother.
The mother’s story is different every time. Sometimes the she is absent, or deeply flawed in some way. Sometimes, she is well connected to her son in all the usual ways, and utterly stunned by what he’s done. Often, she has been elbows deep in something-is-wrong for much of her son’s life. Fighting alternately to save him, make sense of him, and contain him.
In one story, I found her in the moment of the attack, flying down the highway racing to reach her son after frantically trying to alert authorities that something terrible was going to happen. Another time I found her issuing a press release stating that she could never adequately apologize to the victim of her son’s actions. Stating in writing that seemed to be alive with gasped sobs that she did not mourn her own child, only the person he shot.
Today, I am picturing a 90 year old woman in the last years of her life, eyes filling with image after image of mangled bodies.
I imagine her entire motherhood blown away—the way she carefully towelled off his baby toes after a bath so he would be dry and comfy as he drifted off to sleep. Or maybe the way she stood in the doorway and watched him create wild and delightful worlds out of legos, silently trying to memorize the moment to keep it forever. His life, hers, and their life together all swallowed by whatever break or brainwashing or illness or addiction it was that rotted her son and made him into a killer.
I imagine her wondering wondering “what could I have done differently?”. Scouring her every decision, every missed parent teacher interview and every time she snapped at her child. The way all we imperfect and human mothers do. Except in her case, the entire nation will scour her mistakes along with her.
I want to sit with her and tell her when she finds those mistakes, she should remember that every mother has stories like that. I want to tell her she did not cause her son’s actions and should not define herself by them. I want to offer her any peace that can be had in this terrible moment.
And then, I want to raise holy hell. Because you know who will not scour their actions to hunt for where they went wrong? The people who put the gun in the hands of her child.
In a culture of millions and millions, there will always be stories of people who go indescribably violent. But how do we live in a society where it is this possible—this easy, even—for someone to get their hands on the tools to bring the carnage out of their minds and into the world around them?
Every mother who has walked into the room to find one kid hitting the other on the head with a toy knows how this works. You stop the hitting by taking the toy away and then you ask what is going on. Not the other way around.
You do not need to understand violence to disarm it.