Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold. (Broadway Books)
Even now, nearly twenty years later, the name Klebold elicits a quiet, uncomfortable horror. In her book, A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy, Sue Klebold talks about how for years after her son Dylan and his friend Eric Harris carried out the Columbine massacre, she was afraid to say her name out loud in public for fear of someone’s reaction.
Columbine was a major turning point for our reality with school shootings. This isn’t a book trying to excuse what her son did, nor is she trying to shift blame from herself. The main goal of this book isn’t to chronicle the events of Columbine with an insider’s perspective (if you’re interested in a deeper examination of the event, refer to Dave Cullen’s book, Columbine). Klebold is looking at the evidence in front of her, the memories of her son and the insights professionals have provided, and through combining these elements she tries to figure out how it all happened. She spent years trying to unlock the mystery of why Dylan enacted such terror, but in recent years deftly changed the question from why to how. She came to realize that “asking ‘why’ only makes us feel hopeless. Asking ‘how’ points the way forward, and shows us what we must do.” A Mother’s Reckoning is a call to look at our lives and loved ones a little closer, and in being more aware we become more accessible for anyone who might need help.
As I’m writing this in the second month of 2018, there have been twelve school shootings. Twelve. This is a terrifying thought as the father of two kids. The scarier thought than my two sons at school during a shooting is my sons at school doing the shooting. It seems too obscure to be a reality, but Sue Klebold was in the same position before April 20th, 1999. She was blindsided; and after dissecting every moment leading up to that day, she feels that she and Dylan’s father missed important indicators. They weren’t the signs that people assume bad parents ignored, letting their spoiled terror loose into the world. He wasn’t monster and “this belief that Dylan was a monster served a deeper purpose: people needed to believe they would recognize evil in their midst.” It’s the idea that it couldn’t happen here. The Klebolds didn’t see evil in their home. They saw a moody teenager who was withdrawing, but not to the extent that seemed out of the ordinary for a seventeen-year-old. He still had friends and a social life. He didn’t seem angry or hateful; and yet, he was.
A Mother’s Reckoning is a call to look at our lives and loved ones a little closer, and in being more aware we become more accessible for anyone who might need help.
The driving factor for Columbine in Dylan Klebold was a desire to commit suicide. He didn’t want to live; and when he met Eric, a supposed psychopath who wanted to bring destruction to the school, they had a meeting of the minds. It has been thought that without the two boys working off of one another the massacre never would have happened. We don’t get much from the side of Eric Harris in the book, and while I often wondered about his parents’ perspective during the aftermath, it wasn’t Klebold’s job to dig into their lives and offer that to the reader. This is a book about her relationship with her son, and what she did and didn’t see. It was only after his death that she saw journals that revealed “a vast chasm between our perception of his reality and Dylan’s own perception of it.” Sure, she didn’t know what was going to happen and didn’t have any inkling of the devastating plan, but she still feels like she failed not only her son, but all the people he caused pain before he died. She wants us all to know she’s sorry, and since the past cannot be changed she’s doing her best to use her experience as a way to bring attention to brain illness and what we can all do to mitigate and prevent possible tragedies.
A Mother’s Reckoning is a rough book to read. It’s certainly not for everyone (on Twitter, Dave Cullen said he couldn’t make it through the book because he had a PTSD reaction). It is a brutally honest book. Sue Klebold doesn’t shy away from her love for her son, and that’s admirable. It would’ve been easy to write him off as a monster, but that’s not who he was to her. In her love, she isn’t asking anyone to forgive him for Columbine. She’s aware of the magnitude and severity of what he did. In the end, we get a portrait of a mother coming to terms with two conflicting thoughts about someone she loves very much.