Tell me there wasn't a time in your life when you didn't feel like striking back, seeking revenge — pulling the trigger, as it were. Tell me, there wasn't a moment when you felt so betrayed, so shattered, so bewildered because someone you loved hurt you, left you, fell in love with another, never called, lied to you, tricked you, or abandoned you. Tell me it didn't hurt.
Tell me there wasn't a time in your life when someone older or bigger or stronger or richer or more powerful didn't use all that to teach you a lesson, to push you around, to humiliate you, to bully you.
And tell me you didn't bite your tongue, dig your nails into yourself, force down the pain, swallow your pride and walk away. Or maybe you got lucky and found someone else to love you, or found a friend to vent with or just a simple loving hand to hold.
I remember those times when I look at the boys across America walking into their schools with guns. I remember the people who cared enough to hold my hand, to teach me a song, to introduce me to another way. I remember, because I too, was once a teenager. I too had my heart broken and felt abandoned. But I had help. I threw myself into my music. I wrote in my journals and spent hours and hours lost in thought in the art room.
I didn't have, like Charles Andy Williams, the Santana High School killer, a mother who lived 3000 miles away. I didn't live alone with a father who had guns. I didn't go to school everyday pale and thin, expecting to be bullied. I had friends, a family, teachers who cared, art as an outlet and it was still hard for me. And if I didn't have all those safety nets all around me, could I have pulled a trigger? Could you?
What happens when you come undone and all you see is a world of gold-digging reality shows brought to you by sadists and survivors? What happens when your world is one of absence — the utter, devastating absence of love?
The poet Emily Dickinson wrote a poem that defined the madness and moodiness of my teenage years. "After great pain" she wrote, "a formal feeling comes. The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs. This is the hour of lead... remembered, if outlived, as freezing persons recollect the snow, first chill, then stupor, then the letting go."
Charles Andy Williams let go. And we ask why?
In a recent interview from the South of France, actor Johnny Depp said he wouldn't raise his daughter in LA, because in LA they never talk about such things as the growing season of grapes.
No, we talk about genetically altering the grapes to squeeze a few more bucks out of them. We want a more efficient grape. Easier to pack, thicker-skinned, bruise-free, bug-proof, faster-growing grapes. We want bigger, thicker, harder, meaner grapes.
We do that now to everything and everyone, including our children. Grow up fast, deal with it, get a thick skin, hurry up. Do your homework. We're getting divorced. Deal with it. Fight about money. Deal with it. Mom is gone. Home alone. No dinner. Fast food. Shut up and eat. We have no time for growing seasons.
We miss a lot when we rush the grapes. They often lose their flavor and color. It is the same with children whose growing season in or out of childhood, in or out of heartbreak, should be honored.
Charles Williams, I suspect, and all the boys who pulled triggers, may have missed their growing seasons.
I remember a boy named Walter when I was growing up. I delivered newspapers to his house... so I knew. Even at 12 I knew. When the door opened to collect my 25 cents every Friday, I was terrified. His parents frightened me with their coldness and they never spoke to me, even though I tried, often, to politely say "hello" and "how are you?".
And I remember their dog, screaming and barking and throwing himself against the cage they put him in. I remember that dog's rage and my fear when their teenage son, Walter, shot and killed his girlfriend and himself after she'd broken up with him.
Walter didn't know where to go with his sorrow. He didn't have my Uncle Eddie or my friend Roberta, he didn't take the humanities class with Mr. Anderson, he didn't have the guides who helped me out of my own bewildering teenage years. Charles Andy Williams and Walter committed unforgivable acts and so have other boys whose hearts don't know another way.
Our job is to show young people another way. I think of my own son who called me on Valentine's Day and told me, in his own reserved 19-year-old male language that his girlfriend had broken up with him. He was very calm, but I knew he was heartbroken.
"I know I'll always be alone" he finally said.
"I remember feeling the same way when my college sweetheart ran off with the heiress and left me a note." I said, "I ran out into the snow, threw myself into it and cried nonstop for about four hours."
"In fact," I said, "I was quite sure I would die from the pain, that my heart would stop beating that day, and that if somehow I survived, I would be alone forever."
"But you are alone," he interrupted, "and I'm alone. And we're always going to be alone."
And then we talked about what it meant and how hard it is sometimes to endure the pain and heartache of our lives and I assured him that life was long, that he would go on and love again and be loved again and that for sure, he would endure more heartache. And when he got to be old and tired, like his mother, he would look back at the rich tapestry of his life and would be grateful for all the bumps and bruises that made his life and his love so much deeper.
I don't know if it helped, but it was a little hand, just talking into the night, a little voice respectful of the growing season of grapes and my own son. And then I went to work and my intern called to tell me he'd been arrested for assaulting his bully. My young and shy and hardworking intern. And when I asked him why, he told me.
"I'm very small," he said, "and I don't say very much, so I get teased a lot. There are a lot of really big kids in my school. And I don't mind being teased but they started doing it to this girl and it really bothered me so we got into a fight."
While I admired his chivalrous sentiment, I told him he needed to start writing more because the pen, I said, is mightier than the sword. And with the pen he could annihilate, in any way shape or form, the bullies who had hurt him and this girl. Tell me a story that will make me understand what it's like to be bullied and to say nothing. Write it down, share it with me and you won't feel so alone.
There is a growing season for grapes. There is a growing season for children. A growing season that we should cherish and honor and help along.