Sunday, April 23, 2006

Being There...

Did you ever have a feeling about someone...a bad feeling so strong a part of you wished you were wrong and hoped your internal wires had crossed or misfired?

So many times that feeling presented itself to me and I ignored it.  Regretfully ignored it.  Then time marched on and one day I realized for the umpteenth time that when I have those feelings and my gut speaks to me, there is a very valid reason for it.  Choosing to listen and heed the feelings is the right path to take; ignoring the feeling is not.  An internal struggle continues though, since I do want to believe people, all people, are intrinsically good.  But for some, things go wrong.  Horribly wrong.

This entry has been boiling in my mind all week, and even now I am not certain whether I want to include this story in my journal.  But it's boiling and when things boil in my mind I know there is a reason.  My hesitation comes from a concern about making this journal too heavy; I am a seeker of beauty and yet I am a realist who does not deny the ugly side of human nature exists.  A part of me feels the need to write about this, to do a mind dump but my gut is telling me to maintain distance.  All things considered, this time I'm listening to my gut.

If I am vague, I have my reasons. 

Years ago I met a young man, a very angry young man, the son of my former boss.  At the time the boy was only 12 or 13 and from the start our meeting set me on edge.  The energy I sensed around him gave me cause for alarm and got the wheels of my mind turning.  He was so young, why was he angry?  What did he have to be so angry and hateful about?

Given his age, at first I passed it off as teenage angst, ignoring the internal proddings that always made my thoughts come to a screeching and grinding halt.  Gradually over time I sensed something wasn't right about him.  The mother and father divorced when the boy was a small child and they now lived on opposite sides of North America; after the split the boy remained with his mother, who later remarried.  The split was a bitter one and my former boss spoke of it often, very often.

He was a very lonely man and viewed his staff as his family.  He told us about anything and everything that happened to him, past and present, whether we wanted to hear it or not.  His luck with love and women was sad, and we all learned his childhood relationship with his mother was probably the root cause.  My heart went out to him, but he never demonstrated any desire or motivation to improve the quality of his life; he sought out pity and sympathy in everyone, never drawing the distinction between his personal and professional life.  One day he got a telephone call from his ex-wife, which happened frequently, but this call changed everything.  When the call ended we all learned his son was coming to live with him, because the boy was out of control and the mother feared for her life.

And so the boy arrived as planned and from the start he was trouble, and much more than his father could handle.  Weekly calls to the father from school became common, but my former boss politely fielded the calls and with the hanging up of the phone the matter was forgotten.  I'd seen this behavior in him for several years; any time a problem or situation requiring his attention flared up in the office he ignored it with the hope it would just go away.  He was a hopeful man and spent his days waiting patiently for someone else to create and provide solutions for everything.  Lucky for him he had a highly skilled and talented staff who did just that; had we not, the organization would have folded years ago.  Our actions afforded him the opportunity to spend his days doing essentially nothing, except talk. God that man could talk.  During the years I worked for him, I acquired the skill of selective listening.  I had to, otherwise he'd spend hours (seriously) at my desk, talking on and on, without any clue or consideration for my time and committments.  Truth be told, most of the problems the staff was forced to deal with were caused by him and his mouth.

Back to the boy.  Within months of his arrival we soon learned both the father and son were spending time at the office during weekends.  The boy wanted to play games on a computer and the father wanted to please him.  Lacking the financial resources to purchase a computer for his son, my former boss decided to give his son full access to the office computers.  Except mine, as I had set a power-on password to the machine from the start, a precaution designed to protectthe integrity of the accounting data.  Funny that my cohorts all laughed and scoffed at the notion that it was even necessary given the small size of the office, but within the accounting arena it is expected.  When important documents started disappearing and games like Mortal Combat mysteriously showed up on their computer hard drives the sound of their laughter was soon replaced by their compelling requests to set power-on passwords on their computers.

The father and I were never on common ground, with anything, and on this ground we bumped heads over and over.  Why the fuss over a few computers?  Because those computers were paid for with grant dollars, dollars which originated from taxes; the appropriate stewardship of those funds and their use is a critical matter.  What he did was wrong, plain and simple, and I put on my fiscal/human resource manager hat to express concern and question his motivation.  But his need to please his troubled son was greater than his responsibility to his staff and my words fell on deaf ears; selective listening is a two-way street.  Power-on passwords became the norm for all desk tops, so the father packed off a lap top so he could "work from home."

There was another side to the boy, a good-natured side.  A co-worker with children his age welcomed him into her home and often included him in family plans; through her acceptance of him the boy's behavior settled down some.  At one point I asked my former boss if his son had always behaved the way he did.  The father recalled his son as being gentle and caring, always doting over his little sister, and showing concern for those around him.
On the days the boy visited during office hours, I tried to reach out to him by engaging him in the topic of music.  His replies were short and most times he showed up plugged into a set of earphones; clearly he wasn't interested in conversing with anyone.  Then I had an unsettling vision come to mind; I saw myself working at my desk in the back office, I saw him stride into the building toting a gun, angry and ready to express himself.  I was cornered with nowhere to go and no place to hide.  The vision came on strong and hard...repeatedly.  I never mentioned the vision to anyone, and told myself I was being over reactive.  His father possessed guns, this I knew since his work space touted that fact.  My former boss even brought a rifle into the office once, much to my dismay.  He did this just two days after an office shooting in the mid-west, and I was appalled at his complete and total disregard for common sense.  I politely but firmly asked him to take the gun outside.  He explained a staff person was interested in purchasing the gun and he was just showing it to her.  I insisted the transaction could and should take place outside, at their homes, any place but the office.  Again, I asked him to remove the rifle from the office.  He reluctantly complied.  Still, to this day I can not believe he thought he could just do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, as he pleased, without the slightest notion of how his actions would affect the staff.

To relate every complexity, every trait of this man is equal to wrangling an iceberg.  There is so much more, so much that happened during this time.  Staff came and left, because of him, but something within told me to stay.  I dug in my heels, resolved to reach a goal of making it ten years in this place.  Eventually my former boss worked his way out of his job, which I wrote about at length in 2004.  Sometimes I think about him and wonder what became of him.  He was diagnosed with cancer a year before he left and I wondered whether he beat it, if he had gone on to be a cancer survivor.  I knew some of my work associates kept in touch with him, that he left the area and returned to his home turf, but I hadn't heard any news about him or his son for a while.

Until Wednesday.

First thing Wednesday morning at work I was asked to take a telephone call; the caller wanted to speak to my current boss, but she was unavailable.  The call was about my former boss, and the caller was a journal-ist seeking information.  By the time I hung up the phone I learned the son...that angry young man...had killed two 'monsters,' and then himself, with his father's guns.

First, let me make something clear...I'm not saying games like Mortal Combat caused or incited him to cross that line.  Second, I was raised in a home with guns.  I grew up in the Los Angeles area during the 1960s and my step-father kept a pistol, a shot gun and a b-b gun in the master bedroom closet.  To this day I still remember hearing him and mom sternly explain to me and my older sister that we were never to touch those guns.  The gunswere hands off and we understood what that meant.  When I was old enough, my step-father took us out to the mountains and taught me how to handle a gun.  He'd set up aluminum cans and we'd shoot them, or try to; it took several sessions before my sister and I could actually hit the cans.  I remember attending trap shoots at a local gun club and my introduction to shooting clay pigeons with a shotgun.  The first shot almost knocked me off my feet, but I shattered the third clay target.  This I did in front of several pre-teen boys, all the while listening to them laugh at how I was a girl and girls can't hit the broad side of a barn.  After the third shot, they became remotely silent.  I once disobeyed my parents and took the b-b gun out of the closet without permission but the consequences were swift and just.  It was a stupid thing to do and after that day I never touched the guns again.

Times have changed since those days and I now live in a region where guns and hunting is a way of life.  And yes, we do have guns in the house.  When not in use the guns are kept in a locked metal gun safe which is bolted to the concrete floor and the wall.  The ownership and responsibility of these possessions is taken very seriously.  My husband is a sportsman and when we go on four-wheel rides or walks at our cabin he always packs protection, as a safety measure.  I grew up around guns and am not opposed to their existence.  I believe there is a lot of truth in the words Guns don't kill people, people kill people.  But it is a very fine line, a line I have been on the wrong side of.

So here I sit.  Recollections of the visions I once had about that angry young man playing in my mind.

After hanging up the phone, and conveying to my co-workers what I had just learned about the son of our former boss, I returned to my desk.  Stunned, and yet, not really surprised.  He was screaming out for attention, wanting someone to notice him, looking for a way to stand out in an endless crowd and now it seems he found a way.  In a raging blaze of gunfire his name became a household word.  The news hung over my head, distracting me with a million unanswered questions, begging for my attention in the myriad of duties and responsibilities.  Why?  What happened?  Echoes of long forgotten words such as "Some day that boy is gonna go over the edge." thundered in my head.  Unable to focus on the work in front of me, I telephoned my husband, needing to hear the steady sureness of his voice.  He listened and then said, "Well, that's what his father groomed him to do."

He hit the nail on the head, but based on everything I relayed here, it would be easy to blame the father.  But for all his faults and short-sighted inabilities, I can't place the blame totally on him.  Right now I wouldn't wish whatever he must be feeling on anyone.  Yes, he is the boy's father, but he wasn't the root of the problem.  The  behavior was already present when the son came to live with him.  I think something happened to his son, something terrible.  Why else would he be so angry?  Why else would the boy's mother toss him out so callously without first finding out why the behavior changed so drastically, and then make the investment to help her son?  What happened?

The local newspaper carried the story on the front page the past two days.  Someone interviewed one of the boy's local friends, and according to the friend at the age of 15 the boy expressed very strong feelings about certain predators in society, and how they are the lowest form of life.  At an age when the ego is focused on the self, and forming the identity, he was focused on the damage inflicted by these predators.  Right now investigators seem focused on the father, since the boy used his guns and his truck to commit the crimes.  But, I don't believe the father is the root of the problem; an enabler for sure, and he is guilty of being an idiot, but he is not the stressor that set the boy off.  The papers claim prior to the crime the boy was residing with his mother and step-father, again.  I suspect the stressor and the thing that set the boy on the path of being judge, jury and executioner is the step-father.  It's pure speculation I know.  But I suspect the answer to all this lies with the step-father.

A few minutes ago I was looking out the window, lost in my thoughts.  I noticed the two boys who live down the street walking through the tree farm.  These are the same two boys with whom Sam and I have become friends.  The eldest, who is maybe 12, was packing a b-b gun and the youngest, who is 7 was silently trailing his brother.  They stopped in plain view and I watched as the boy raised the gun to his face, pointed it at something toward my house and then pulled the trigger.  I heard the 'pop' and watched the youngest quickly bring both hands to his mouth in shock while his older brother took off running.  I got up from my chair as the youngest ran toward their house.  I went outside and saw two mourning doves standing in the street; my first thought was 'Oh great, he's shooting small creatures.'  I stepped onto the street and saw the youngest boy in front of his house; the moment he saw me he pointed to his brother just out of my view.  I watched the doves for a moment, but both took flight and landed on a telephone line just over head, uninjured.  I don't know what he was shooting at, but I wanted to talk to both of them.  As I approached I heard their voices, nervously sputtering away.  First both lied and said they had just thrown a rock at the trailer, but when I recounted what I saw they each hung their heads and apologized, with total remorse, for shooting at our travel trailer.  I firmly told them pointing any gun at a home, or anywhere near a home is not the thing to do and will cause trouble.  I feel for them, because their parents are having marital problems and are alcoholics.  Right now, the parents are gone, leaving the three younger children to be supervised by several older children, who really don't supervise them at all.  The three youngest (there is a girl right in the midde, aged 9) are good kids, really, and I often spend time on our front porch with them, just talking and petting the dogs. I can see they are confused and their confusion manifests in ways that concern me.  I worry about them sometimes for it seems the odds are stacked against them and I hope the friendship and comfort I offer helps to ease their little minds.  It is so easy for children to take the wrong path in life, but I hope with a positive influence they can keep their balance, stay on track, and lead happy lives.

Isn't it ironic?  That those two would choose this particular time to play with a gun in front of my home while I am sitting at my computer grappling with the story of another young man and guns.  The children in our lives are important and as adults we have a responsibility to them.  I believe one person can make a difference in another person's life.  Call it the ripple effect, or the butterfly effect, or whatever you want.   Be a positive influence in a child's life; be there as a guiding light, be there as a healthy example of how good choices can lead to good things.  Find a way to burn brighter than the light shining on many of the negative outside influences.  

Just be there.


Addendum:  After I posted this entry I went to the gym to go for a swim.  I was sitting in the hot tub, thinking.  A song by Elvis Presley kept playing over and over in my mind...He'll grow to be an angry young man some day...  Then it dawned on me; prior to hearing the news a local radio station had been playing that song several times a day.  A couple of weeks ago I sat at my desk, noting the sudden frequency of hearing that song on the radio.  I thought it was odd and wondered why.

Since taking that call on Wednesday, I hadn't heard that song played again...until this morning as I sat in that hot tub with those lyrics floating through my mind.


"A child's self-image is more like a scrapbook than a single snapshot.  As the child matures, the number and variety of images in that scrapbook may be far more important than any individual picture posted inside it."  --Lawrence Kutner


There is only one way to lead a child down the right path...that is to go that way yourself.  ~Unknown



pixiedustnme said...

wow, it is so hard to take in the entire canvas of a troubled family.  so much we will never understand.  your heart serves you well, we can only make a difference when we put ourselves out there - and sometimes that is SO hard!

karebear4x4 said...

Thanks for sharing this entry...i have no doubt you've made some small change within those boys about shooting guns   someone must step in and often it needs to be someone outside the immediate family   just one thought can make a world of difference   and yes indeed, we need to be there for our kids whether they're our blood or not   thanks for being there!~kbear

my3gifts said...

I echo Kelly's sentiments. I also think with your neighbor boys you are making a huge impact in their life.

God Bless


boiseladie said...

Wow!  An incredible story.

boiseladie said...

ps...  I'm glad you were able to talk to your neighbor boys about shooting.

nhd106 said...

What a well-written story...a story about life.   I know you're not looking for "kudos"...but your sentiments (and gut feelings) seem to be so right on.   I'm glad you've learned to listen to yours....and I'm glad you have been "being there".   We need more people to be there.

queenb8261 said...

What an entry.  I'm so glad you shared it with us . How fortunate for these children that you are available for them.  The boss's son...what a sad life he had.  It doesn't forgive what he is or what he has done.  Thanks again for sharing this incredible story.