Last month, I had the honor and privilege of hearing Sue Klebold speak at Mental Health America’s annual conference. (And if that has you now thinking “Wait, who is Sue Klebold?” don’t worry; I’ll help you out.) You see, Sue Klebold is the mother of Dylan Klebold, one of the young men who — along with Eric Harris — was responsible for the Columbine High School shooting in 1999. A shooting which took the lives of 15 individuals, including Eric and Dylan. And while many may wonder why I would refer to meeting Ms. Klebold — the mother of a seemingly cold-blooded killer — as a privilege, it is because she is a woman and a mother who has overcome incredible and devastating odds. It is because she is a woman and a mother who is using her voice to make a difference. It is because she is a woman and a mother who has become a great advocate for mental health. And it is because she is a woman and a mother who has suffered a loss few of us can imagine.
Ms. Klebold didn’t just lose her son that day in April, 17 years ago; she lost the image of a boy she thought she knew, and she lost her future.
And as Ms. Klebold spoke that night I saw her — about her son, the many victims, the state of her town and school after Columbine, murder/suicide, and mental illness — hundreds of attendees sat silent and still for 40 minutes. We were all captivated by her story, and pulled into “her world” (at least for a few moments).
But there was one thing she said in particular that struck me. One simple moment she shared that I could not shake.
If she could go back in time, Ms. Klebold said, she would read her son’s journal; because in his journal were years of entries highlighting his angst and pain. His journal was a roadmap to what was truly going on in his heart, and head. And had she known about his depression — if she had known about his suicidal thoughts and desires to die — maybe things would have ended differently. Maybe Ms. Klebold could have saved one teacher, 13 students, and Eric Harris.
Maybe Ms. Klebold could have saved her son.
And this idea lingered in my mind long after Ms. Klebold stepped offstage. This seemingly simple statement sat with me for days after the conference ended. And it still lingers. Because when my own daughter is older — when she owns a diary or journal of her own, perhaps held closed by velcro, or with a lock, and writes on the blank pages inside that little book — I will read her words. I will keep an eye on her “story.” I will read my daughter’s diary, if I have to.
I’m not ashamed to admit this, I’m not embarrassed, and while I will probably apologize to her — for “invading her privacy” or betraying her trust — more likely than not, I will do it anyway.
Because had my mother picked up my own teenaged journal, she would have seen entries similar to those Ms. Klebold described. She would have seen pages of self-loathing and hopelessness; she would have read my angsty — and angry — poetry. And she would have known I was suicidal.
She would have found my suicide note.
And while I am lucky an entire bottle of Tylenol, four Advil, and a can of Coke didn’t kill me, it could have. Had that attempt not “failed,” I wouldn’t be here today.
I wouldn’t be here, and my mother would have found pages and pages of entries which revealed the depths of my undiagnosed depression.
Make no mistake: I do intend to talk to my daughter. I plan to ask her about her thoughts, and her feelings. I want to have an “open relationship,” and I want her to be able to come to me for anything and everything. (I mean, we already talk about the “taboo:” we talk Mommy’s mental illness and why Daddy doesn’t drink.) But I know that sometimes even the best intentions can go awry. I know the teenage years may divide us, and silence her, and I don’t want to find that journal “after the fact.”
I don’t want to read her words when I can no longer hear her voice.
Is this a betrayal of her trust? Maybe, but I do not plan to open that book just for shits and giggles. I will only read her diary if something feel amiss. I will only open that damn book if my gut tells me something is wrong because at the end of the day my job — as my daughter’s guardian and mom — is to keep her fed and clothed, healthy and safe. And if I fear for her safety, if there is a conversation she cannot have with me (whether she doesn’t feel safe having it or doesn’t know how to have it) I want to find a way to initiate a dialogue. To start those uncomfortable but necessary conversations.
I want to find a way to be her cheerleader, her advocate, her mother, and her friend. And for that reason, I have no qualms about cracking open that darn book.More On