Thursday, 19 April 2007

Virginia Tech - Old Thoughts Remembered

I am uneasy posting on this subject for two reasons: firstly at a time when our thoughts should be with the friends and families of those who died some may find it inappropriate for me to talk about my experiences and secondly, I have to reveal much more of myself than I would like. At least, my pseudonym masks my true identity. Despite these misgivings I think my views are relevant to the debate which surrounds this tragedy and other similar examples.

Each time there is a tragedy of the sort seen at Virginia Tech I find myself transported back to the late 1980s where I am at dinner in a small Bed and Breakfast on Skye. For some reason the Hungerford massacre became a topic of conversation. My fellow diners could not understand how Michael Ryan could kill 16 people including his mother before killing himself. Unlike them, I could imagine one being so empty; having a life so worthless; knowing that one’s life had achieved nothing; knowing that one’s life would not be remembered by anyone, that killing others would yield a transformation. Now, this life would be remembered albeit through notoriety and hatred. My God, would it be remembered!

Of course, I had no knowledge or insight into the mind of Michael Ryan but I knew how I felt at that time: despair, emptiness, worthlessness and a life too easily forgotten.

My wife, her parents and I had gone to Skye for a weekend break but, unfortunately, in the weeks leading up to this break I realised that my young marriage was over. I was being discarded, not for another, but discarded all the same. I had spoken to no-one. I wanted desperately to tell my mother-in-law – a wonderful lady – but I couldn’t expose my terror. I wouldn’t have been able to hold myself together. I had never felt so empty. That is how I could imagine life being taken in such an appalling way: an easily forgotten life now forever etched in the psyche of the nation.

I don’t know how I got through that weekend but I did and our separation, when it came, was as trouble-free and amicable as is possible. Then, once alone in our my isolated house I discovered that I hadn’t dealt with the raw emotions of marriage break-up. I was a victim. I bore no responsibility for the marriage break-up. Someone had to pay for this. The bastards had to pay!

For weeks I used to lie alone in bed at night developing a thought experiment - a fantasy - in which I would enter my ex-wife’s workplace at a time when I knew that she and many of her colleagues were in a meeting. I, armed to the teeth, would enter the meeting room and proceed to kill everyone before escaping.

In this fantasy, every minute detail was planned and mentally rehearsed except in one crucial area: I had no guns and had no idea how to how to obtain them. The fantasy could not proceed. There could be no transformation from thought experiment to reality.

Perhaps my thought experiment is common. I don’t know.

Perhaps the fantasy was my weird way of dealing with my anger and hurt but I can never know.

Perhaps I was mentally ill but I’ll never know. Certainly I appeared normal to everyone. None could have guessed my fantasy.

Perhaps, even had guns been available, I would have done no more than fantasise but I can never know.

I do know that over time my fantasy became less and less important until eventually I could fall asleep peacefully without first playing out my dream.

As I look back now the frightening aspect is that I can never know what I might have done had guns been readily available. Imagine I had bought guns. Immediately, my thought experiment has moved into reality: I would have the physical reality of cold metal - guns and bullets. Would the fantasy have moved onto completion? Would I have joined the list of those reviled for massacring innocents? I can never know. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that whilst the massacres are remembered - for example, Hungerford, Dunblane, Columbine – the killers are largely forgotten. Their attempts to be remembered, if that were their aims, have failed. The horror of their actions is remembered but not them.

That guns were not available legally was crucial in my fantasy. Without guns, there was nowhere for it to go. The fantasy, not people, was fated to die.

Thank God, that our laws made gun ownership so difficult. This may have saved me and others from death.


  1. CalumCarr, I don't find this mawkish at all. In fact, I found myself in a similar place after my divorce. I was working with an employee assistance counselor at that time who was also a friend. I was having one really empty, lonely, angry night and paged him. I told him that night if I'd had a gun I'd have used it. I don't know either if I really would have had the guts to go through with it or not. I'd failed at a suicide attempt as a teenager because I realized in the middle that there were things in this world I wanted to see and I couldn't do that dead. Given that I was already working with someone I trusted and had experience with this kind of pain, and rather reach for a bottle of pain killers and vodka, I reached out for my friend. But what if I didn't have those resources available to me? I can't say what I would done then. The sad thing is that there are many more people out there who don't have access to the resources they need than there are that do and that can afford it.

  2. Like your writing, but guns or lack thereof are not really what stopped you.

    ANYONE can get a gun, even in England. I don't think you would have done it if you had a gun at your house. Otherwise you (probably) would have already taken more steps to make your plan a reality than a fantasy.

    People blame bad things on objects and I hate that, but sometimes people blame good things on objects also, as I think you are doing, and that is (in its way) even worse. You (unable or unwilling) to admit that you are simply 'too good/decent' of a person to follow through with your fantasy instead place the blame on an object.

    Objects are simply objects. Not good or bad, people make them so. You made the decision to continue being you, the object did not make it for you.

  3. Lord Nazh

    You may be right that guns, or lack of, had no part to play in my fantasy not moving forward to reality. I think most of my blog makes the point that I am unsure about the reasons. That there are so many "perhaps" indicates that doubt.

    However, I admit that towards the end of the post that I tend to strengthen the link to guns. That is my mistake.

    I don't know why I couldn't go through with the fantasy. I don't think it had anything to do with being too decent. My best guess is that the fantasy was a healing process in that I could discharge my anger and hurt mentally rather than physically. I do know that I did not make any rational decision not to move the fantasy forward.

  4. I'm an American, like LN, and as such gun ownership is considered one of our basic rights.

    I don't own a gun and I never intend to, but I could never advocate banning guns entirely. However, I am probably more moderate than LN in that I think regulations that make it more difficult to obtain guns are a very good thing. There are certainly people who should not be allowed to own guns: children, for example, or parolees, or the mentally ill. Guns require a certain amount of expertise to operate and own safely, so it would be the purest folly to make them freely available to anyone.

    I'm glad you healed and that you no longer think of that fantasy. I hope forgiveness came with healing, I find that fantasizing about hurting people makes it all the more difficult to fully heal from a hurt and move on, whereas forgiveness does just the opposite. (Of course that's easier said than done!)

  5. Hi Ruthie


    I'm long past the fantasy, the anger and the hurt. The more I think about that situation, and blogging about it has forced me to think more deeply, the more I believe that the fantasy was part of the healing process in which I perpetrated violence mentally rather than physically. Then as the anger abated, rationality returned and I coud look at the situation as it really was.

    As for forgiveness and healing I understand, and agree with, your point intellectually but I have no recollection of forgiveness and healing at the time.

    Again thanks for posting.

  6. Ruthie :)

    "There are certainly people who should not be allowed to own guns: children, for example, or parolees, or the mentally ill."

    There are already laws against these people owning a weapon. The criminals and parolees usually get theirs illegally, kids get them illegally or from parents and the mentally ill get them because of the patient confidentiality of doctors not reporting them as mentally ill ...

    There's nothing wrong with what laws we have on gun control, the biggest problem is that the criminals (and would be criminals) do not follow them.