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.