A Thin Line Between Life And Death
I thought all of the cool kids were obnoxious jerks, but I tried as best as I could to hide my disgust and appear “cool” to them. They were obnoxious jerks, and yet somehow it was these boys who all of the girls flocked to. This showed me that the world was a brutal place, and human beings were nothing more than savage animals. . . .
One friend who I met through a chat room suddenly emailed me pictures of beautiful naked girls, telling me to “check this out”. When I looked at the pictures, I was shocked beyond words. I had never seen what beautiful girls looked like naked, and the sight filled me with strong and overwhelming emotions. I didn’t know what was happening to me. Was it the first inkling of sexual desire in my body? I was traumatized. My childhood was fading away. Ominous fear swept over me, and I stopped talking to that person.
This was among the very first glimpses I had of sex. Finding out about sex is one of the things that truly destroyed my entire life. Sex… the very word fills me with hate. Once I hit puberty, I would always want it, like any other boy. I would always hunger for it, I would always covet it, I would always fantasize about it. But I would never get it. Not getting any sex is what will shape the very foundation ofmy miserable youth. This was a very dark day
This was the point when my social life ended completely. I would never have a satisfying social life ever again. It was the beginning of a very lonely period of my life, in which my only social interactions would be online through video games, with the sole exception being my friendship with James. The ability to play video games with people online temporarily filled in the social void. I got caught up in it, and I was too young and naïve to realize the severity of how far I had fallen. I was too scared to accept it. This loss of a social life, coupled with the advent of puberty, caused me to die a little inside. It was too much for me to handle, and I stopped caring about my life and my future. I even stopped caring about what people thought of me. I hid myself away in the online World of Warcraft, a place where I felt comfortable and secure.
Females truly have something mentally wrong with them. Their minds are flawed, and at this point in my life I was beginning to see it. The more I explored my college town of Isla Vista, the more ridiculousness I witnessed. All of the hot, beautiful girls walked around with obnoxious, tough jock-type men who partied all the time and acted crazy. They should be going for intelligent gentlemen such as myself. Women are sexually attracted to the wrong type of man. This is a major flaw in the very foundation of humanity. It is completely and utterly wrong, in every sense of the word. As these truths fully dawned on me, I became deeply disturbed by them. Deeply disturbed, offended, and traumatized. I had nothing left to live for but revenge. Women must be punished for their crimes of rejecting such a magnificent gentleman as myself. All of those popular boys must be punished for enjoying heavenly lives and having sex with all the girls while I had to suffer in lonely virginity. It was already June, and I had been living in Santa Barbara for two years. Two whole years. I lived in a college town full of young, attractive students who partied and had sex all the time, and I didn’t get to experience any of it. No one invited me to any parties, and in all the times I went out by myself to Isla Vista, none of the beautiful blonde girls showed any interest in having sex with me. Not one girl. These are crimes than cannot go unpunished. The more I thought about all these injustices that were dealt to me, the more eager I became for revenge. It’s all I had left. I didn’t want to die, but I knew that I had to kill myself after I exacted my revenge to avoid getting captured and imprisoned.- Elliot Rodger, "My Twisted Life"
A couple weeks ago, I received a private message on Facebook from someone with whom I’d grown up. I can’t even think what might have prompted the message, but this person apologized to me for picking on me in school. I read the message a couple, three times and realized I needed to respond. I just wasn’t sure how. Part of what I wrote follows:
That’s very sweet of you, but you have nothing to apologize for! Sheesh, we were kids, and to be honest, I think all of us were pretty horrible to and about one another.
And I think that’s true. As much as it would be convenient, perhaps even beneficial, for me to play the victim card, I was no better than anyone else when it came to teasing outsiders or those who were different. Having reached middle age has also given me a whole different perspective on these matters that I might not have had when I was, say, 20. Part of the perspective is simple: the passage of time. In the thirty-plus years since I graduated from high school, my life has been a good one. I found a group of friends I consider the greatest group of people it’s been my privilege to know. I met the woman who became my wife and with whom I share a wonderful, happy life. I have good friends, who care about me, and about whom I care deeply. I feel like I have received so much from life that any childhood unhappiness or teasing is as meaningless as the Treaty of Ghent.
As for this particular person, my memories are kind of limited. My strongest are of a smart, pretty young girl. As we grew older, sure, we moved in different social circles. I don’t particularly consider that a good or bad thing. It’s kind of the way of the world. I do know I could occasionally say things behind her back that were less than complimentary; I’m not proud to admit that, but, as I said, we were kids, which is more explanation than excuse. In any event, I never lost that original impression. I admired her ability to play music, her dedication to school work, and always recalled the sweet young girl I first remembered from our childhood. When she came forward and apologized, I had to search my memory for times she might have teased me, and I cannot for the life of me recall any. That she has grown to be a beautiful woman, a success at her chosen professions (yes, she has two), a fantastic mother doesn’t surprise me in the least. It is probably far more surprising that I have grown up to marry, have children, and generally not be a burden to those around me.
I came across this rather long, detailed “Manifesto” through a link at the Mother Jones article I wrote about before. It got me thinking of that Facebook message I received. It got me thinking of me diagnosis of depression. It got me thinking that the line between Elliot Rodger and me could be considered quite thin, indeed. At the same time, there are significant differences between our lives. For one thing, Elliot Rodger lived a life of privilege that I could not have imagined living. Part of his sense of sorrow and anger was the discovery that neither the world nor his peers cared all that much about who his parents were, how pampered he had been, and thus he hadn’t built up defenses against the slings and arrows of typical childhood banter. Being shy, being a depressive – it’s all there, practically in boldface – certainly didn’t help him. Combined with his anger and confusion about his peers, about sex, and about social status in general, it’s a wonder he didn’t snap earlier.
Now, his parents did have him consult therapists. As is true of addicts is also true of people living with treatable mental illnesses, including depression: The person has to recognize the illness for what it is, and has to want to heal. In Rodger’s case, however, there was only ever that rage, never far below the surface, the desire to seek retribution against a world that had, it seemed to him, provided him both with advantages and with none of the skills to use those advantages to achieve the things he wanted most, specifically to have sex with a blonde woman.
I first titled this post, “A Pampered Child Of Privileged Discovers The Real World”, and that would have been accurate but neither caring nor capturing the whole picture of what happened to Elliot Rodger. Along with social privilege came an illness that dogged him much of his life. An illness exacerbated by a natural shyness, his reticence in social situations, and a desire to achieve his goals without actually having to work for them, whether that was to win the lottery or date and sleep with a woman he considered worthy.
So is there a thin line between life and death? He and I are both depressives. He and I, perhaps, shared a history of taunting from our peers (although in my case it just hasn’t carried over in to the emotional baggage with which I live). He and I are both shy, awkward around women. I would add, as a note, my senior picture from high school below. My wife insists I look 13 or so, and I can’t say I disagree. Looking at that photo with distance and dispassion, I’m not the least surprised I wasn’t all that popular with the young ladies in my high school (although not completely unsuccessful, either). I mean, who would want to go on a date with someone who looks like they’re in Junior High?
What separates us, beyond age and experience and, perhaps, the presence of gracious, gifted, loving friends in my early adulthood, people who gave far more than I could ever repay in kindness, generosity, and simple acceptance, is this: I understood that, even as bad as teasing could be in school, it was something in which we all indulged. No one was innocent, as I noted to my childhood correspondent. Accepting that, accepting that life does indeed occasionally suck even as it is also filled with joy and beauty, things that have nothing to do with sex, is part of growing up.
Elliot Rodger never understood that. Depressed, filled with rage, unwilling to accept the fullness of life, preferring to revel in his own victimhood at the hands of women who wouldn’t give him the time of day, he preferred to respond with murderous rage. That makes me sad more than anything else. It’s sad that those around him didn’t push him harder to accept help, didn’t get him to look and see how much he had to offer, how much he could give the world. It’s sad that all those people had to die because Elliot Rodger preferred to hate rather than to love.
It’s a thin line, indeed, I think. It’s a failing we Americans have to want to save everyone. Elliot Rodger was worth saving. The thing is, he needed to understand that, and he refused to do so. And that is where the line sits: Do we take the risk of living and loving, with all the possibilities for pain that entails? Or do we surrender to our fear, our rage, and our sense of our own worthlessness, seeking only to take as many with us when we go? It’s balancing on a knife blade, and that hurts and makes our feet bleed. I’m just sorry that Elliot Rodger sought to make others bleed as well, instead of accepting healing when it was offered.
N.B.: The quotes from the Manifesto above were cut and pasted as best as I could from a .pdf document. All I can say is no matter how I played with the formatting, I ended up with the same result. You’ll just have to scroll through them to read them all, and all of them are worth reading and pertinent to the point of the post. Sorry about that. GK-S