Columbine and the struggle for perspective ten years later

Columbine, the new book by Colorado journalist Dave Cullen, has been garnering excellent notices -- this sizable spread in the current Time magazine is a case in point. And Cullen, who's an acquaintance of mine, was kind enough to provide me with a prepublication copy of the project he's spent much of the past decade assembling. Somehow, though, I haven't been able to make myself sit down and read the work he'll be sharing at a Tattered Cover LoDo event taking place at 7:30 p.m. tonight.

My reasons are personal, not professional -- and I suspect that plenty of other folks have the same trepidations about the Columbine anniversary that I do, for reasons of their own.

The shootings almost ten years ago struck close to home for me. I live in the Ken-Caryl Ranch area, within a block or two of Chatifield High School, where Columbine students finished classes for the year. When photos of the shooters surfaced, my wife recognized Dylan Klebold; he'd delivered pizzas to our house. And after word of the massacre got out, my kids' respective schools were locked down. My twin daughters, who were attending kindergarten at Ute Meadows Elementary at the time, remember the day vividly for reasons I couldn't have guessed at the time. When I got home after picking them up, I told them to play in the backyard because I thought television coverage of the tragedy, which I needed to watch as part of my job, would prove traumatic for them. But they understood more of what was going on than I'd realized, and were thoroughly unsettled by having to stay outside with the sound of nearby TV-news helicopters filling the air.

In the weeks and months that followed, a lingering gloom seemed to hang over the entire area. Southwest Plaza, the nearest mall, was festooned with tributes to the fallen. Trips to Clement Park, which had long been one of our regular hang-out spots, were freighted with new and unpleasant meaning. Then-vice president Al Gore delivered a speech about the victims on the steps at Bowles Crossing, our neighborhood movie theater. And so on, and so on.

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Slowly, ever so slowly, something akin to normalcy returned. But with every event and anniversary, those same disturbing emotions resurfaced. Perhaps reading Cullen's book will help me put them into perspective in important ways. Doing so would probably be good for me. Still, stirring up all those memories again remains an unpleasant prospect -- and if I'm reacting that way, I can only imagine the anguish those who lost friends and loved ones are feeling these days.

I don't remember exactly what I told my daughters, who are now Chatfield students, before I sent them off to school prior to April 1999 -- but ever since, I've bid them farewell using the same four phrases:

"Have fun" -- because I want them to look forward to school, rather than dreading it.

"Be safe" -- because anything can happen on any day, at any time, and I want them to be ready to protect themselves.

"See you soon" -- because I hope more than anything else that I will.

And "I love you" -- because I do.

That's yet another legacy of Columbine.

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