Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Killer Next Door

I've been out of pocket all week, and since it's been dissected over and over again in my absence, I don't pretend to have anything substantive to add to the Virginia Tech conversation. I will however note the scary feeling that came over me as I've heard and read more extensive reports about the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui .

A loner. Erratic behavior. Antisocial. Eerily quiet.

It's all quite scary because I feel like I've known people like him at various points in my life, and wonder what has, or will come of those people.

In college, I had a couple of roommates who fit the description above to a tee. In both cases, the relationship with the guys started off fine. They were quiet and tended to stick to the room, while I was much more outgoing and usually on the yard. They eventually grew to hate me, as well as everyone else on the hall. And I have no idea where either of them are right now, but it wouldn't shock me for one moment if I heard they'd done something irrational.

The first roomie, I'll call hiw Dwayne, hung mostly around a collection of fellow students from his hometown who were equally geeky and introverted. I'd come in the room sometimes, and all 4 or 5 of them would just be sitting there saying nothing. It was some strange 'ish to say the least. He'd literally sit in the room for hours, no radio, no TV, no studying. Just sitting there on his bed staring at the ceiling. When he did speak, which happened with increasing rarity as my Sophomore year droned on, it was about some girl one campus whom he wanted to hook up with once he left weight. He'd spend a hour or so before going to bed doing pushups and situps, then slathering his face with cocoa butter to improve his complexion. One day in the cafeteria, he pointed her out to me. She wasn't the most attractive girl, which is what made the fact that he had never even spoken with her even odder. Looking back, there was probably some unhealthy obsession lurking below the surface.

Somewhere along the way, Dwayne had a falling out with me. His friends would give me odd looks when I saw them on the yard, and eventually he didn't speak with me anymore at all. This could have been because I played my music, or kept the TV on late, or hell, anything, but clearly dude wasn't my biggest fan anymore, and didn't care enough to tell me why. When the year ended, he quietly moved out after exams without even saying so much as good bye. I never saw Dwayne after that.

My Junior year, I briefly had a roomie whom I'll refer to as James. He was a Freshman, which made his space in the upperclass dorm odd. He was just as strange as Dwayne, quiet one moment, chatty the next. We'd talk about how much we liked Sade one day, then the next he'd be sitting on his bed staring blankly at me when I walked into the room. Everyone else on the hall treated him like a leper, avoiding any and all contact with him, but I would at least make an effort to talk since we shared rooms. James was ultra religious, voicing his concerns about the verbal content of my Tribe Called Quest CD's and my proclivity to watch In Living Color.

I wondered what was up with this guy, an overgrown mama's boy who looked and dressed like an undertaker, and had just as much of an engaging personality. So, it was a huge relief when I returned from class midway through the semester to find that James had requested a new room, and had moved to a separate dorm. I thought something was maybe wrong with me, but this concern quickly dissipated when I realized I had a room, and suddenly had inherited a Queen sized bed, since I could easily push our two twins together. The dorm director told me that James disagreed with my lifestyle, and that he was moving elsewhere. I never saw him again either.

This week, I wondered what had come of Dwayne and James. What, if anything, could I have done to make them feel more accepted, less ostracized, less alienated on a college campus that didn't seem to care otherwise? What prevented them from becoming Cho Seung-Hui's on some scale?

Did the same culture of adolescent bullying, friendlessness, and feelings of inadequacy that caused Cho to snap make them the way they were? And if so, where does this leave James and Dwayne, and the millions of other kids like them?

Va. Tech shooter was laughed at

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