le plus loin le plus serré

le plus loin le plus serré
mourning art

in memoriam

"yet I tell you, from the sad knowledge of my older experience, that to every one of you a day will most likely come when sunshine, hope, presents and pleasure will be worth nothing to you in comparison with the unattainable gift of your mother's kiss." (Christina Rossetti, "Speaking Likenesses," 1873)

Monday, March 10, 2014


I was surprised this morning to see anything at all about Sandy Hook in the news; when I saw that the father of the shooter had done an interview with Andrew Solomon, I wanted to read it. Solomon is the author of Far From the Tree, which is an interesting if overlong look at children who are different from their parents in some substantial way. Solomon profiles autistic kids, down syndrome kids, deaf kids, severely disabled kids, transgender kids, kids who are the result of rape (possibly the most disturbing chapter, honestly), kids who commit crimes. I liked the book, and Solomon's writing and thinking, enough to want to read this interview with Peter Lanza.

The article is semi-lengthy, and I was appalled by it. And sad. Really, really sad. Because from Peter's recountings, Adam had issues for a very, very long time. Being diagnosed with Asperger's seems to have allowed his parents to pigeonhole all of his behaviors under that classification, and to ignore things that were inconsistent with "just" Asperger's.
Maybe I would have thought differently had I not read Solomon's book, but the thing that stood out the most for me in reading Peter's interview was how little he seemed to understand his son. Not even his son, post-mass murder/suicide. But his son as a kid and teenager who CLEARLY had problems beyond Asperger's or autism or any tidy diagnosis. For instance:
"According to the state’s attorney’s report, when Adam was in fifth grade he said that he “did not think highly of himself and believed that everyone else in the world deserved more than he did.”"
"He said that he hated birthdays and holidays, which he had previously loved; special occasions unsettled his increasingly sclerotic orderliness. He had “episodes,” panic attacks that necessitated his mother’s coming to school"

Peter says: "“It was crystal clear something was wrong,” Peter said. “The social awkwardness, the uncomfortable anxiety, unable to sleep, stress, unable to concentrate, having a hard time learning, the awkward walk, reduced eye contact. You could see the changes occurring.”"
"uncomfortable anxiety" seems like rather an understatement for panic attacks that sent him home from school.

"“Adam was not open to therapy,” Peter told me. “He did not want to talk about problems and didn’t even admit he had Asperger’s.”"

and this: "“If he had been a totally normal adolescent and he was well adjusted and then all of a sudden went into isolation, alarms would go off,” Peter told me. “But let’s keep in mind that you expect Adam to be weird." "

He describes his son as "weird" repeatedly.

When he was sixteen, his mother wrote: "“He had a horrible night. . . . He cried in the bathroom for 45 minutes and missed his first class.” Two weeks later, she wrote, “I am hoping that he pulls together in time for school this afternoon, but it is doubtful. He has been sitting with his head to one side for over an hour doing nothing.”"

"“He was exhausted and lethargic all day, and said he was unable to concentrate and his homework isn’t done,” she wrote. “He is on the verge of tears over not having his journal entries ready to pass in. He said he tried to concentrate and couldn’t and has been wondering why he is ‘such a loser’ and if there is anything he can do about it."

The thing that most struck me in the relation of Adam's past was this snippet:
when Nancy told Peter that Adam had been crying hysterically on the bathroom floor, Peter responded with uncharacteristic vehemence: “Adam needs to communicate the source of his sorrow. We have less than three months to help him before he is 18. I am convinced that when he turns 18 he will either try to enlist or just leave the house to become homeless.” Nancy replied, “I just spent 2 hours sitting outside his door, talking to him about why he is so upset. He failed every single test during that class, yet he thought he knew the material.”
And that....seems to be the end of the story. "communicate his sorrow"? What a peculiar and cold choice of words. A sixteen-year-old boy crying hysterically, talking about himself as a loser and pointless, locking himself into his room and refusing to eat -- and "communicate his sorrow" is what they looked for? The mom's reaction, too, is so strange: Failing a bunch of tests when you think you knew the material would definitely be upsetting. But hysterical crying? And the locking-out of his mother and not eating had been happening before this.
There's just such a fundamental misunderstanding between Adam and his parents that it's excruciating to read. Solomon focuses mainly on this history's absence of warning signs of violence, and in fact a number of doctors and other professionals who saw Adam never worried about violence.

Okay, fine. But - this is a distraught, disturbed kid. He had been prescribed anti-depressants and experienced side effects - after just a few days he stopped taking them and never would again.

Right around here - the refusal to acknowledge the asperger's diagnosis, the refusal to take meds coupled with the hysterical crying, the apparent self-loathing, the intense intense isolation - it's right here where I think: This kid should have been taken to an inpatient facility. If he refused to accept treatment at home so vehemently, then he should have been checked in to a psychiatric center where he could be treated against his will. Normally, I don't feel good about things like "treated against his will" but he was so clearly suffering, and his parents and he were so clearly incapable of dealing with it effectively on their own. And he was still a kid, 16 years old.

To me - and obviously I am not qualified to make any determinations - it sounds like Adam was having some pretty intense depression. That plus OCD plus the rather ominous phrase "his mother warned the school that he might not stop doing something because it hurt" -- that adds up to Something Is Very Wrong With Your Child.

And his parents weirdly - didn't ignore his issues, but somehow totally misread them. It seems both parents couldn't really accept that their kid was something more than "weird" - he needed specialized help. That instruction for him to "communicate his sorrow" fails so totally to recognize anything like clinical depression, where the "sorrow" is not communicable - it is deep in your bones and not always identifiable with a cause or reason.

The "shocker" of Solomon's interview, of course, is Peter's revelation that he wishes his son had never been born. Early in the article, Solomon notes that Peter has no photos of either of his sons in evidence in his house; Peter says "You can’t mourn for the little boy he once was."
Peter describes his son - not his son's actions, but his son - as evil.

And....I don't think you arrive at that point without years of maybe even subconscious priming for dislike or rejection.  The rejection of "mourning the little boy he once was" is so cold. It is such a total rejection and denial and abnegation of Adam, and of Peter's relationship with his son. Pop psychoanalysis is tacky and bad practice, I know, but my guess is that Peter was uncomfortable with, disappointed in, frustrated by his "weird" kid in ways that were very legible to that weird kid all along.

Look: it is not Peter's or Nancy's fault that adam murdered 27 people then killed himself. That was Adam. And it is profoundly horrible. I would not ever try to argue it isn't. But that isn't the issue here. It's the curious distaste and revulsion Peter expresses for his kid.
After Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested and tried, his father wrote and spoke publicly about how difficult it was - because he loved his son but was horrified, naturally, by what he had done

Timothy McVeigh's father said, publicly, right up to (and probably after) McVeigh's execution that no matter what McVeigh had done, he was still his son, and he loved him. Even though what he did was terrible, abhorrent, ghastly beyond belief, totally at odds with everything his dad thought and felt and believed. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people, 19 of whom were children in a daycare, and injured hundreds more. He blew them up intentionally, purposely, with considerable planning beforehand. And yet his dad could still love him.

Why can't adam lanza's?

I'm not sentimental about children or parental love or any of that kind of thing. And in the end, it doesn't much matter to anyone except Peter how he feels about anything. And on the outside, even on the inner-outside as Solomon was, there's just no way of knowing what's really going on.

But to wish your child had never been born? to feel convinced that he would have killed you as well? I don't know. I don't know how you get there; I don't know how you get there in less than 15 months. I think years of failure to properly recognize and understand the profound difference between himself and Adam had a lot to do with this post-murder/suicide attitude. And I would bet money that Adam intuited, at some point, his father's dislike? discomfort? rejection? of him - and that probably added to the kid's suffering, which seems to have been considerable.
It's shocking, and depressing, how even in such a horrifyingly sad and upsetting story as the Sandy Hook murders, there's still room for one more sad story to get even sadder.

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