“When I grow up, I want to be a mass murderer,” wrote Brian McGuigan in his second-grade journal. Abandoned by his father, he was an angry child who was “hated” by classmates.
The entry was a story about me as a grown-up, an emerging mass murderer with a Frankenstein combination shotgun and machine gun mounted to my arm. I was probably playing too much “Contra” then. I used the gun to shoot anyone who messed with me, not an indiscriminate killing spree but a revenge fantasy against nameless, faceless bodies, all of whom may or may not have been my father. . . . the police never caught me because a hockey mask concealed my face, like Jason’s.
His teacher called his mother, not the police. After a conference, he began weekly appointments with a therapist.
Ms. Ashley talked animated and slowly like a Teddy Ruxpin doll. We chatted about school, my mom, Nintendo, and since I had trouble sitting still, she let me play with the toys. My favorite were the cars. I could pretend I was driving anywhere. Miss Ashley asked me lots of questions — “What’s your favorite subject in school?”; “Are you a Mets fan or Yankees”?; “Do you like pizza?” but never “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Sometimes my answers were one word, and other times I’d speak at length, spinning stories around her like a tether ball, some of which probably weren’t true at all because I lied often, not out of malice but boredom.
He also started taking Ritalin, which made it possible for him to sit still and focus in class.
As my energy decreased, my motivation did, too. I spent most weekends zoned out playing Zelda for hours, basking in the fuzzed glow of the television. My mother told me to go out and play, but I just wanted to stay inside and play video games, relaxed and focused on the task, and not bounce around the neighborhood causing trouble.
By high school, “a class clown occasionally but no longer by trade,” he was an honor roll student. When he was caught smoking pot, his mother showed him the second-grade journal entry.
I wondered where I would be if not for my mother, Mrs. McKierney and Miss Ashley, if I would have ended up like Jason, minus the succession of campy sequels.
It sounds like the Ritalin helped too.
McGuigan lives in Seattle where he is the program director at Richard Hugo House, a community writing center.
In Los Angeles, mental health workers work with schools and law enforcement to help troubled students who might turn to violence, reports the New York Times.
Each day, several dozen calls come in to the program’s dispatch center from principals, counselors, school security officers or parents worried about students who have talked about suicide, exhibited bizarre behavior or made outright threats.
Mental health workers try to convince principals not to expel students who’ve made threats. “Doing so only pushes the problem onto another school or leaves a child at home with free time to surf the Internet and nurse a grudge against the school.”