Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, April 19, 2009


On a clear and windy day last fall, I took a break from writing at the Columbine Public Library and ambled out into neighboring Clement Park. I was eating a packed lunch when the wind blew my sandwich back across the lawn. I chased it down and found myself staring at the entrance of the Columbine Memorial. I had never visited it.

There was a logical reason for my neglect: we had been living out of state when it opened, and had only recently moved back. On any of our numerous family trips to our favorite park, I had been aware of the memorial's presence, but hadn't yet made the effort to enter. The kids are with us was a convenient excuse. Or the timing wasn't right. Or I wanted to be able to give it more time.

But truthfully, I had been avoiding it. I was afraid the only thing I would find there would be pain, reminders of death and senseless evil.

It was ten years ago today when I had just finished one of my final final exams at BYU and walked into my off-campus house. I would be graduating within the week, and I was relieved. But my roommate was glued to the TV.

"Dude," he said, "Have you seen what's going on in Colorado? You're from Littleton, right?"

I couldn't believe what I saw. CNN kept flashing the same images and trying to make real time sense of the carnage, but all that was conveyed was fear and chaos. Two (or more) gunmen had assaulted Columbine High School, and there were twenty, thirty, fifty dead. Nobody knew.

I watched, first stunned, then disbelieving, then intensely angry. I was also scared. I called home. Two of my brothers were in a lock-downs at schools just a few miles away. Was this something that could spill over into other schools? It was so surreal. Here was my community, my home flashing across the screen: blue and red emergency lights, pools of blood on the concrete, kids falling from windows, hysterical parents.

I remember pacing the floor, cursing that the monstrous, unknown killers had ever been born, punching our refrigerator and scattering magnets and tupperware across our kitchen. Eventually, I called Elizabeth, who had been back from her mission for only a month, to commiserate, but it was no use. Words couldn't convey my anger, my disbelief, my fear, my sorrow.

This was Columbine, the high school I loved to hate in a friendly way. They were our arch rivals, the only team to beat us my senior year in basketball. In their gym. The same gym that was now a war zone, a killing field.

And now this is ten years later. Littleton is an idyllic place, an island of comfortable suburbia with sublime weather, mature neighborhoods, good schools, the last place in the world you would imagine could be home to one of the most horrific, jarring, senseless atrocities in our nation's history. It was no different ten years ago, only more innocent.

I didn't go to the memorial service tonight. I figured it would be a zoo. But I've been thinking about it all day. Today was a gorgeous spring day in Littleton, with a warm spring sun melting off the last of the weekend's slushy white snows. Suddenly, everyone's grass looks green and lush, reborn after the brown and gray of winter.

I'm glad I went to the Memorial last fall. I was alone on that day. I paced the beautifully understated circles for an hour, read the stone-etched quotes from parents and survivors who were shredded with grief and anger or resolute with faith and purpose. I meditated, remembered, acknowledged, grieved. I wept quietly, bitterly, poignantly, heavily.

Tonight, I tried to explain in careful tones to my children what all of the recent commotion has been about. But how do you explain the inexplicable? They were visibly shaken. I tried to reassure them, but how can you sugarcoat such a thing? How could something like that happen? they asked. Why didn't somebody stop them? Why didn't their parents protect them? Why did the killers do it?

I didn't have an answer. There isn't one.


Goose said...

I remember that day like it was yesterday. I was at Deer Creek and as I entered tech-ed class our teacher turned the TV on and we all just watched. I remember classmates breaking out into tears and others just sitting in silence. It is crazy that was 10 years ago.

Many people here, in in fact most people I interact with, didn't even think about wjat April 20th is, but I spent a good hour reading and remembering the feelings and trying to find an explanation for why it happened. It is hard to explain, so I now exactly how you feel Mark.

I haven't been to the memorial but I would like to go when we get back.

Tankfos said...

I remember sitting in Mr. Anderson's geometry class next to Danny Oker (I don't remember how to spell his last name) and the principle came onto the intercom and said that there had been a shooting at Columbine and that they were locking down Chatfield to protect us. I went to my next class and we just watched on the news. I remember being really scared because they were talking about the Trench-coat mafia and there were several kids in our school that regularly wore trench-coats.

All in all I remember it being a very surreal feeling. This could not be happening to us, was the general feeling I had.

I had a test last Friday morning and it didn't hit me until I wrote down 4/20 on scantron. I went home and looked on CNN and spent a good 45 minutes reading a few articles and remember that day.