We Will Turn Them Into Monsters

Texas Shooting

I had this friend in the first grade named Benjamin. We called him Ben for short even though he was a tall, ambling tree trunk of a kid whose mop of red hair was in constant flux. His nose was always running and his shoelaces were always in a perpetual state of transit with the ground. Ben stuttered, sometimes worse than other times. It took me awhile to understand how his brain worked and what to do when his words started speeding off before he could harness them. It was simple really. I just listened. No attempts to correct him, no finishing his thoughts, no shuffling around impatiently. I simply focused my attention on what he was trying to say, and I listened.

There was no scientific application being used here, and the results were usually far from perfect. But even so, it did work. And as time went on, Ben became more outgoing. His quick temper, it became less quick. He became one of the kids, rather than that kid.

Admittedly, I wasn’t being stoic when I reached out to help a classmate. First graders ain’t much for Senaca, not usually. You see, I had this crush on an adorable Indian girl who sat next to me in class. She would throw these deep brown eyes in my direction, releasing a million butterflies into my stomach, every time. And so it was that we would sneak off into this little nook during library time, and kiss.

Ben was my first wing man. He knew the deal, and so he would be the lookout for us puppy lovebirds. Whenever a teacher approached, Ben would run over and let us know. I thought him a mensch before I knew what the word meant. He gained my favor, so I figured it was only right to return it in kind. And so it was that whenever Ben would stutter, I would simply listen. It’s funny how the simplified logic of childhood can gain the heart of most matters.

I sometimes wonder where he got in this world. If I were basing it on the literal translation of first grade life, then he’s providing security detail for some important peeps. But to wonder further, it’s where things get prickly in their real life complications.

He had some issues. Behaviorally, he was a tempest for teachers whose rules were still very much stuck to corporal punishment techniques rather than genuine understanding and compassion. I never understood why they would shout at him or put him in a corner, or in some cases hit him when he had an episode. It made no sense to me, to punish him further when his brain was already doing a job of it. Most teachers and faculty acted as if they had no time to listen. Which is exactly what Ben needed . . . he needed someone to listen.

Ben was pulled out of school sometime in the middle of the year. It had something to do with behaviors. Perhaps all the progress I made with him in our simple little moments really didn’t accomplish much of anything when it comes down to it. All I know is that I remember his name to this day, and yet, I can’t for the life of me remember that cute little Indian girl’s name. I’ve no doubt she grew up to be a stunner who probably married a doctor and had beautiful kids in the suburbs. As for Ben, I hope like hell he got somewhere better than what first grade detention had to offer. I hope he found people who got through to that really good kid I found whenever I took the time to listen.

It’s easy to forget that the kids who commit these horrible atrocities, they are kids. This is in no way to excuse the laundry list of transgressions they owned in the time leading up to their crimes. And it sure as hell isn’t to say that they deserve mercy now. Because now? Is too late. Because it was back there . . . when all manner of shit was happening, that’s when something needed to be done. That’s when someone, anyone . . needed to listen.

Now is always a too late proposition. Now is when families plan for funerals rather than graduations. Now is when we ask the same tired questions to the answers gone missing. And now is when we turn these kids who commit these unspeakable acts into monsters.

And it ain’t doing any of us a damn bit of good to keep going about it the same way, time after time. Taking sides, ignoring the long histories of most of these kids; histories that were screaming for us to pay attention long before the sum of all those hushed up fears ever came to fruition.

So here we are, inside the latest now. And there’s little doubt we will be besieged with more stories about the concerns surrounding the latest shooter in the days and weeks and months and years leading up to last Friday morning in Santa Fe. And the talking heads will have some mighty sounding rhetoric that only serves to widen the breach. And social media will blow up in feeding frenzies that chum both sides of a narrow aisle. And the rest of us will have our own somethings to say about this latest tragedy inside the now. And all of it, every single bit of it, will have been too late to bring back a day that will forever after be an anniversary that scores of families and friends will never be able to let go of.

There will be stories about how one of the kids became relegated to that kid. And it’s what made me think of Ben, who was fighting something all by his lonesome way back then, inside another lifetime when I was busy thinking that sneaking kisses and extra credit were life’s big scores.

I had no idea what any of this meant back then. It’s only now that I get it. Now, when it’s too late. It seems that I was so much smarter then, because while I most certainly didn’t know what mattered most of all, I was able to do what mattered most of all. What we all need to be doing more and more of.


49 thoughts on “We Will Turn Them Into Monsters

  1. Marco,

    These are your best posts. Instead of letting loose the vitriol that these heinous acts spawn, you focus on the real issue at hand. One would think that in this day and age of quickly diagnosing kids with ADD, ADHD, Autism and whatnot, the powers that be would also understand the importance of listening. Sadly, they are more quick to provide a pill that will shut down the child, rather than truly nurture him and help him find solutions to dealing with his brain’s exceptional functions.

    That you remember Ben, his issues, his difficulties, with such kindness is a testament to the type of man (and child, at the time) you are. I wonder how many children can see as you did that there is more to a “wild” or “different” child than disruption? Not me. I was too busy participating in sports and activities to pay attention to “those” kids. Not because I was mean, I don’t think I was, but I was just not as sensitive or in tune. Or maybe, I allowed myself to be influenced by others in not paying attention. I can’t say. I have this bizarre lack of memory for so many things, whereas I can remember an odd spelling of a person’s name.

    Beautifully done, my friend.

    Peace, understanding and love


    Liked by 1 person

    • Q,

      Well, you know that your praise is always sugar to my senses. And thank you for it, always.
      And yes, we are quite adept at running diagnostics on a kid . . slapping a label on a kid . . filling ’em up with a medicine cabinet’s worth of ‘solutions’ . But as far as that listening thing is concerned, we too often don’t.
      And I think the compassion I had was the result of being in so much pain myself. Being close to others helped me immensely. Seeing other kids who were in pain as well, it allowed me to see that I wasn’t alone. Ben was treated quite abysmally. He was ostracized by adults, made fun of by them, which is reprehensible. When you give a kid nowhere to turn, that’s when worst case scenarios tend to happen. That’s when we end up turning them into monsters.

      Peace and good people

      Liked by 1 person

      • B,

        I figured that was why you were so in tune. Without sounding trite, it is often how it does work, isn’t it? I have a nephew who is on the Autism spectrum so now I am more aware and understanding when a child has episodes. It is so bloody easy to judge when you are on the sidelines.
        That adults can’t understand and show the children how to behave towards others is a tragedy in itself.

        Love, compassion and understanding

        Liked by 1 person

        • Q,

          So true! See, when you have discussions like this, people immediately might label US as liberal progressives who believe in pampering and participation trophies. Incorrect!
          No, every child needs to be guided. Firmly, and with consistency. Some simply need guidance in a different direction. When a child is a different learner, it’s because we ALL are, so we shouldn’t look down on them or snicker and say they are simply getting preferential treatment.
          I worked with a fellow who had a son on the spectrum and this dude put it best when he said, “Imagine you have a thousand channels going on at the same time . . that’s how his brain works”.
          We need to be mindful, we need to be human. We would want it to be so if we were in those shoes, after all.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Exactly, B.
            When I think of some of the kids I went to school with, they had no resources whatsoever. How they managed to not only move forward, but excel, is almost a miracle in itself.
            The brain is still a mystery…

            Liked by 1 person

          • This isn’t to say that teachers ain’t getting it done, because the vast majority of teachers in this day and age are going above and beyond in their great good work. They are committed to these kids in such a way that they would put the ancient stoics to shame.
            Unfortunately, in many instances their hands are tied Be it the administration, or in most cases the families of these kids, they hit road blocks constantly.
            And yes . . the brain is SUCH a mystery. We can travel into space, and yet . . .

            Liked by 1 person

          • Boy do they have their work cut out for them! They do go above and beyond. They are truly passionate about their work because frankly, on their salary…
            Right? Only a small fraction has been discovered…

            Liked by 1 person

          • And they deal, oftentimes, with administrators who don’t give a fig about these kids since most are former educators who forget about the day to day struggles. And parents who behave like lawyers for their kids behaviors rather than as parents.

            Liked by 1 person

        • And this isn’t to mean that the latest shooter was on the spectrum. But you know what? I can almost guarantee there were moments that certain people are going to look back on now and be like “Oh shit, we should’ve addressed that,” . . .

          Liked by 1 person

  2. As late as the early 70’s educators did not take the time to try and understand problem children. My son was such a child and was tied to a chair by a teacher in the first grade. He was afflicted with ADD and I went to the feds and had no more trouble. Title seven of the educational rights code put a hammerlock on the teacher and the school. There were no more threats of expulsion or corporal punishment since to do so would have meant a civil suit brought by Uncle Sam. Yeah, I was hated but my kid had an excellent educational experience from then on. By the way, I found most teachers to be sincerely concerned about the kids under their wing. Parents need to be involved in all aspects of their children’s life. Not as friends but as role models. The sad thing is the shooter in Santa Fe used his dad’s weapons.

    Liked by 2 people

    • This is why I call you Boss. Because you are one. Life is very much like social media, in that there are certain people you will always follow. To anywhere. You happen to be one of those peeps.
      I was talking to Q about you tonight, and about how amazingly powerful this comment was to me. It not only affirmed my belief in you, it made ME feel better about my own judgment, and the association I always want to have with you.
      I think so very much of you John. And when I think to myself that I couldn’t possibly think more of you, this comment happens. And I am proven wrong.
      Wonderfully so.

      Liked by 1 person

    • And yes, teachers go above and beyond. I hope this post didn’t come off as a slam against them, because that was most certainly not how I feel. In too many instances, their hands are tied by the administration and parents who refuse to acknowledge issues that must be addressed.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was being polite, waiting for Marc to respond…
      My son also has ADD. He will NEVER forget his teacher in Grade 2; her name is Anne. She was the first and only teacher that cared, as far as he is concerned, loved him for who he is. He still talks about her and he was what? 8 year old? and is now 20… Of course he was put on meds but that cut his appetite and the boy loves food. So, on his own, he decided that was it. He will learn how to deal with his “situation”. I am so very happy that he has chosen to figure out his path.
      My sister works in a school and she also has a child with dysphasia (on the autism spectrum) so we are particularly attentive about teachers and their roles or influences on children with – I hate to use the term – special needs…
      Good for you, John, for taking care of your son (still trying to wrap my head around his being tied up…)

      Liked by 2 people

  3. So true, all of it, I think. But putting aside the most serious parts, I think you were right about the stuttering. When my oldest son was in first grade, he started stuttering. He and another son would go on to take speech therapy for other reasons, but that takes some time to set up. And I wanted to break the habit before it got entrenched. Perhaps my doctor told me…I don’t recall…but I felt I had to give him my undivided attention every time he spoke. And that’s what I did. At the time, I had 2 other young children. One of them a baby. Making my attention to him my number one priority every time he spoke wasn’t easy. Mornings I would be making breakfasts, and lunches, and feeding the baby. And to stop everything and just look at him, as if I had all the time in the world, every time he spoke was difficult. But it worked. I’m like you, in that I don’t really know if my behavior was what helped. But I assume it’s what made the difference, and I’ve always considered my doing that one of my best accomplishments in life. You know, little things, big things. Funny how you remember the significance of that, from years ago. And I always remember it as significant too.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Listen … it’s another way of saying “be present.” But a thing you wrote stuck out — your description of how teachers reacted to him. And this is the thing for me, we ask a ridiculous amount of our teachers. And the more I think about this, the more I think that the solution cannot be found in our schools. It rests with each of us, whether we are parents of our own kids or examples for other people’s kids. We all need to, as you say, listen. One of the reasons this continues to happen is that we all think it’s somebody else’s responsibilities — schools and teachers, law enforcement, mental health professionals. No, it’s on all of us. On each of us. Yes. We need to start listening and paying attention and acting instead of waiting for somebody else to do it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • King,
      So very true, my friend. We ALL must be present. Not simply these teachers, who work thankless hours before and after school. But you’re right, the parents and every single other person who comes into contact with these kids All of us. Al the time.
      We need to start listening and paying attention, indeed! And acting.
      Best thought last. Well done good sir.

      Liked by 1 person

    • As I mentioned to John, my sister works in a school, plus has a child in the autism spectrum. She is actually a teacher’s aide for children with… “Issues” and as such, can see up close and personal the needs of each of these kids. She goes crazy with the amount of parents who are not present or who think it’s the teacher’s job to raise their kids and “deal” with their issues… As parents, it is our duty to our kids to be there for them and see to their needs. Not always an easy task, admittedly.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dearest Marco,

    I have been thinking about this response since yesterday. This does, oddly enough, remind me of the writers Aimé Césaire and Léopold Sédar Senghor ; their development of the négritude movement, the Présence africaine in Paris, and their collective fight against colonialism. How ? This country has developed and evolved in such a way, that is as misguided as those that believed in an ultimate conquest, for any number of reasons, which is a seperate issue. Both Plato and Aristotle argued that one should always watch out for those who mask truths with untruths. In the search for truth there is no correct answer, it is the way one goes about searching for truth that leads one to reflect and act that is both meaningful and eudaimonaic, philosophy not theology, in the search for truth.

    Your prose and thoughts are evidence of the aforementioned, thank you.

    Much Respect, kind sir. Much Love.


    Liked by 1 person

    • B,

      The search, like the writing . . IS the thing. It is what tells us who we are. It’s an abject lesson in why we must prevail on the ‘how’ rather than to get all caught up in asking ‘why’. Because the former is trans-formative while the latter is simply more of the same. And I’ve had it with more of the same.

      I believe we find the most important things not in the conquests, but in the quiet. Their lessons are abundant, if society would just stop yammering about sides and winning.

      Your comments make this blog look goooood! I’m thankful for your comments and your company.

      Peace and love


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