There was a period of time between April, 1999 and September of 2001 when I was the most dangerous person on earth. I certainly didn’t intend to be. I don’t know where my powers came from or why they disappeared, but –
Let me start at the beginning. In 1999, my son was still wending his way through college at a snail’s pace. I don’t remember what he and a friend’s son, also the same age, had done, but to cheer my friend and me up I wrote my Twelve Steps for Parents of Teens and Young Adults.
Around then I also read and posted on a newsgroup devoted to anti-fandom of a well-known radio personality. I had been invited into a sort-of inner circle of posters, the existence of which was rumored to exist in the larger group. Not all rumors are untrue. Another of the members is a journalist who wrote mostly features for a newspaper out west. One day she emailed us about the troubles one of her friends was having with her teen. I sent her back a copy of my twelve steps and suggested she use her best judgement as to whether sharing them would make the woman feel better or worse.
C thought they were funny and asked my permission to use them as a sidebar to an article she was preparing on coping with teenagers. I agreed.
On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris showed up at Columbine High School with an arsenal and killed 13 people and injured 21 more before dying themselves. Columbine High School is in the vicinity of C’s newspaper.
It took me until at least the next day to get over the horror of the event enough to realize I needed to email C and suggest that my humorous take on parents’ woes with their teens was not going to be a suitable subject for the newspaper for any time soon (“soon” being a decade or so). C was ahead of me on that; she had emailed me saying basically the same thing.
A year later, I bought my beloved Ford Mustang, after the usual negotiations with sleazy car dealers, which I poked fun of in an email to friends and family in the form of a game show entitled What’s The Catch? It was a list of ten multiple choice questions such as “The reason the car’s price was discounted was that, unbeknownst to me
A) It had been used for transporting drugs across state lines.
B) It had been used for transporting toxic waste from a nuclear facility.
C) It was a dealer’s demo with 6500 miles on it.
D) All of the above."
C again wanted to use my writing as a sidebar, this time for an article on buying a car. The article never got approved, for one reason or another, but on August 9, 2000, Firestone had to recall 6.5 million SUV tires after the ones on new Ford Explorers started exploding.
Some time in early 2001 an internet friend from another email group, this one comprising women weight lifters, was looking for some guest posts for her new blog. I sent her one called Getting Dressed, a mood piece about the days after my verbally abusive ex became physically violent and I evicted him from the house. I sent the link to other family and friends, including C, who showed it to her editor. They recommended I send it to another editor for consideration for publishing in a section of the paper devoted to reader’s submissions.
My essay was accepted on September 10, 2001, for publication the next weekend. I don’t need to remind anyone what happened the next day. It was domestic, and violent.
By this time I was feeling a little queasy. I emailed my group about the series of events and said I was beginning to feel like a character in one of Ursula Le Guin’s novels. One of the group emailed back saying he was sure I hadn’t caused anything to happen, but just in case, could I write my next essay about how he won the lottery?
And I thought to myself, not said, not wrote, but thought, “You don’t understand, E, if I wrote something about how you won the lottery, the next week we’d see headlines about anthrax spores being found on lottery tickets.”
Then just like that, my mysterious ability to cause mayhem and mischief in the world just by thinking about it faded away, and not a moment too soon, in my opinion.
And yes, I know, I didn’t cause any of these horrific events. The above narrative is a product of pareidolia, selective memory, and the human desire to feel somehow magical and special, possibly even helped along by remembering events out of sequence. I know I wasn’t ever actually the most dangerous person on earth.
I do wonder, however, how the processes I listed above - pareidolia, selective memory, and the human desire to feel somehow magical and special - affect my prosaic thinking and decision making when I don’t have as strong a motivation to engage my reality testing skills as not wanting to be the most dangerous person earth. It makes me think.
I know those thoughts don’t cause bad things to happen, and that’s the important thing. Unless - oh, no! Could it be my fault that LSU lost the national championship?