Wednesday, February 29, 2012
How Do You Know When Someone is Dangerous?
If you want the answer to the question I posed as the title for my post, you've come to the wrong place. I actually wanted to tell you a story from when I was a high school kid. I hope you'll bear with me. I wasn't a shrink then, and these weren't my patients, they were my friends, so there is no promise of confidentiality and the story is true. For my own comfort level, I'm changing the names, but if you went to high school with me, you know the characters.
When I was in high school, Jose sat next to me in Latin class. I wasn't very interested in Latin, but I was there, in the back row, sitting with Jose. Mrs. Massa was a most enthusiastic teacher. Jose and I would talk, and one day he started telling me that he wanted to kill Sam and he had a plan. Sam sat in the front of the room, he was silly, he made a lot of noise, and our Latin class had been together for years. We'd started in 8th grade and Mrs. Massa spent part of her day in the junior high school and part in the high school. We'd gone to Rome and climbed Mt. Vesuvius and crawled around Etruscan tombs, there were Saturday morning ventures to different parts of the state for Junior Classical League meetings, and there was the time Sam threw grape juice on Mrs. Massa's freshly painted living room walls during a toga party and I first met baked ziti. Okay, I wasn't running on the wild side back then.
So why would anyone want to kill Sam? He was a sweet, goofy, well-liked kid who didn't really bother anyone. He smiled and laughed a lot and hung out with a few girls.
"He's the all American kid," Jose said. Well, really? Not really, but I guess I could see that. Why did Jose want to kill him? That's all he would say about why. His plan: he'd put a knife in a folder and when they were walking in a crowded hallway, he jut out the folder and the knife would fly out and stab Sam in the back. In terms of the physics, it didn't seem feasible.
Was it a joke? I didn't know. Today, we'd take this very seriously, but I really didn't know what to do. I seem to recall that I told my mother and I told a teacher, but I didn't know what to do. Mainly I worried. I don't think I worried a lot, but it was a long time ago and we didn't have memories of Columbine. I don't recall that Jose was treated badly, and he had friends, other smart kids. He was on the quiet side, but I went to a huge high school and we didn't think in terms of the details of every kids' personality. There were kids who were really weird (Jose wasn't one of them), and there were drugs everywhere, and there was a fair amount of violence. It was a large, urban high school with police in the halls. But Jose and I were in Latin class, we weren't in the stairwells smoking weed.
So we're sitting in Latin class and Jose takes out his calculus book, opens it, and there is a large butcher knife. I left the classroom, called my mother, she called the principal, and maybe the police, and Jose was removed from school. He was out for 6 weeks and I heard he'd undergone some psychological testing. We never said another word to each other (ever) and Sam is alive today. One of Jose's friends told me it was a joke, and at a high school reunion, Sam hugged me and said laughingly that I'd saved his life.
Was Jose going to kill Sam? I have no idea, still, but I never really thought so. I didn't understand why Jose was doing this or what he hoped to achieve. His plan couldn't have worked, though he was carrying a big knife, and I suppose he could have stabbed Sam. As a teenage kid, I felt badly getting Jose tossed out of school, especially if he was just trying to yank on my chain or tease me, and I worried a little that people would ridicule the fact that I'd gotten Jose in trouble. I also didn't see that I had any choice here but to tell someone that Jose was walking around with a knife talking about killing another kid. Today, I have no doubt that Jose would have been permanently expelled from high school and his life would have come undone.
So Sam, the all-American boy, became a lawyer and last I heard, he still lived in his childhood home. He never married. Jose applied to 10 colleges, he got into 5, and graced the Ivy League with his presence. He got an advanced degree in architecture and teaches college. His online resume does not include any breaks long enough to include an incarceration, so I'm assuming he went on to live life as a model citizen. I think it was a more forgiving world back then, because I'm not sure now how anyone would get around a 6 week suspension for possession of a deadly weapon and pick up with their life, much less get into one of the country's top universities. I'm very glad his life turned out okay (at least Google-okay).
Maybe Jose was joking and I caused a crinkle in his life. That is what I've assumed. It's not a story I think about very often at all. After the event, it didn't crinkle my life. Maybe he would have killed Sam and destroyed both their lives-- it would have been one of those stories where no one saw it coming. Maybe he was a troubled kid and this event got him the help he needed. Today, however, you do understand why I'm thinking about this story.