I was haunted seeing Cho Hseung-hui’s fuming face on the news all day while he read his twisted manifesto into his own video camera, probably during a break in his record breaking killing spree. For a moment it was as if I was looking into my own tortured face more than 35 years ago. Of course I wasn’t the murderous freak that this character was, but I had my own teenage bout with anti-social self-hatred.
I remember many times looking in the bathroom mirror and being so filled with disgust that I felt like hurting myself; and actually, once, during a particularly low time, I exploded in rage and punched myself repeatedly full on the face. Inexplicably, not only did I hate myself but I hated practically everyone else in the world too. I saw the same self-loathing and spitting hatred for the entire world today on the TV in this Korean fella’s face.
It wasn’t just the tortured look on his face; Cho’s tirade against his fellow students also struck a chord. He ranted against their hedonism and wealthy trappings. Eerily, I distinctly recall feeling the same way watching other kids “strutting around” school showing off fancy clothes and cars while dabbling with new romance. I wanted nothing to do with any of that “normal” teenage stuff. To this day I’m not totally sure why I felt that way, but I think part of it was a visceral reaction against materialism and hypocrisy. I can remember feeling pretty strongly about some of that stuff, but perhaps it was more to do with some quirk in my developing personality that took some time to work through.
Even so, I managed to do well in school and even interacted with classmates and teachers; but I shunned parties and never attended a single school dance, not even the prom. I thought, ‘why should I, no one likes me anyway.’ Sound familiar? Cho's vitriol was also similarly laced with whining and self-pity.
I don’t think I was ever in danger of killing anyone or even ending my own life, but for several years I was a very miserable fellow indeed. As best I could, I tried to keep my torment hidden. Only my mother sensed that there might be a problem behind the sullen silence. I can laugh about it now, but several times back then she tried to tell me about “girls” and that they could be “fun.” Man! What awkward moments those were, but God bless her for trying. I think my mom was THE one person I NEVER hated.
Two things saved me and slowly brought me back into the world of “the normal.” The first was knowing that there were people who cared about me (especially my mom), and the second was endorphins.
One evening, I found a torn and faded Playboy Magazine along the railroad tracks while walking home after delivering newspapers in town. After checking out the naked ladies for awhile I read an interview piece with a marathon runner. Back then running wasn’t popular yet, and reading about what this guy put himself through for no real good reason to train for a torturous race that hardly anyone cared about intrigued me. It was then that I decided to try my hand at distance running.
I got up early one morning and gave it a try. Jogging shoes back then were heavy and ill-fitting and within a mile I had two very chafed and bleeding feet, nonetheless I was hooked. I discovered that I could “punish myself” physically and feel “noble” all at the same time. That magazine may well have saved my life, because I ran pretty much everyday from that time on for the next 30 years. In effect, I became addicted to endorphins, our bodies’ natural psychotropics released into the brain during heavy exercise; and whenever I started to get “the bad feeling” I would go out and run away from my demons. It always worked.
“Lost boys,” that’s the only way to describe us, especially Cho, this extra-special Lost Boy. And as I think about it, I’m convinced that in the
To angry young men like I once was, the world seems VERY dark and hopeless; and truthfully, most of it has to do with sex, or the lack of it. Yes, sex! If I would have found a girl, or if one would have taken an interest in me, perhaps I would have felt valued, and probably, I would have been less angry at the world and at myself.
From what I’ve read of the dysfunctional culture that these young Muslim men are recruited from, they too have problems with relationships with women, or more correctly, the lack of any such relationships. Whereas the angst that I and Cho experienced was pretty much self-induced, these suicide/homicide bombers come from a society that forbids boy/girl relationships. I can speak from experience that it’s unnatural; it twists the mind, soul and guts, and ultimately causes hatred to bubble and seethe in the soul. I don’t know; sounds like an Islamist Cho to me.
I’m sure that Cho Hseung-hui’s problems were a heck of a lot more complicated and deep-seated than mine were. From what I’ve read on the Net his grandmother says that even as a boy he was withdrawn and unresponsive. From that, I’m not so sure that this guy was salvageable. From the day he was born it seems that someday something bad was bound to happen.
Still, I wonder how close I might have been to reaching the kind of psychopathic anger that causes young men to go into a killing rage. I think it must be like a slippery slope that once started down there’s no climbing back up from. In my case, I WANTED to end the inner anguish and I actively looked for ways to cope with it.
Cho seemed intent on just the opposite. He WANTED to end his pain all right, but only though dramatic self-immolation, and only AFTER first taking a whole bunch of other people with him. He was actually quite savvy in knowing that if he had died quietly by himself that no one would have taken any notice. I only hope that others don’t catch on and seek their own end in the same kind of “blaze of gory.” With 24-hour news the way it is, I’m afraid that’s exactly what WILL happen.
And finally, I hope that we learn something from this. Cho had been flagged as dangerously mentally ill and yet there was nothing in “the system” to prevent him from buying deadly semi-automatic weapons because of confidentiality laws—even though to all intents and purposes, he was a little WMD just waiting to go off.