Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When Students Get Scary

Since the Virginia Tech massacre, several people have asked me if any of my creative writing students have ever been really creepy. Yes, some have.

4 of them have vividly stuck in my memory. All males.

One was an extremely obnoxious student named Greg. He was in my fiction writing course. At 26 he was a few years older than the other students. His demeanor in class was stunningly pompous, and every person in the room seemed to despise him. I couldn't look at any other student when he spoke, because the eye-rolling was so distracting. He, of course, never noticed it while basking in his own imagined brilliance. Occasionally he would prop his feet up on my desk, and I'd ask him to move. (This was 7 or 8 years ago. These days that behavior would never happen in my classroom.) His sickening personality wasn't the creepy part. He would come to my office hours and try to be funny, and never get to any point, although I would ask him why exactly he had come, (no answer) and then ask him to leave. He had that desperate, aren't-I-clever, toxic cloud around him that makes you wonder who did the masterful head trip: mom or dad. Greg had very recognizable handwriting. Over a year after he had graduated, I was in my office late at night, alone, cleaning off my desk for the beginning of a new semester. I moved a stack of books off a shelf and found a folded piece of notebook paper back behind them. In his writing: "You make my penis swell up like a little pig." In another context I might have laughed at such a stupid sentence. At 2 in the morning in an old campus building, in the dead quiet, I felt sick.

Another was more overt in his odd behavior. A 6' 3" or so, hugely muscled black kid named Lamar, who had a ridiculous temper, got pissed off in class one day when I said I would not accept his late paper. (I never accept those, and he knew it.) He stood up and screamed in my face, then stomped toward the door of the classroom to leave. Before he left, he jerked around and said "I think you get off on making people look like assholes!" To which I replied "You're doing that perfectly on your own." He took off in a lather of fury, fisting the wall as he disappeared around the corner. All kinds of things went through my head. Was he going to retaliate? Could I have stopped myself from snapping back at him? (Yeah. Right.) 2 minutes later he showed up again, like a beaten puppy, apologizing, near tears. None of us looked at him the same way again.

Third was a 45-year-old returning student named Michael. He wore, every single day, overalls and a straw hat. He always made sure to sit next to a girl, and every comment he made in class was slimy innuendo. About 3 class sessions into the semester, I'd had all I could take. He made an adolescent comment about "peters" and I said to him: "I've had all of you I'm fucking going to take." I had the dean remove him from my class. He so thoroughly creeped me out that I still cringe every time I see someone in overalls.

Last was a very very creative student named Kevin. He always wore a long black trenchoat, had a shaved head, tattoos, and big chunky silver rings on every finger, ornamented with things like spiders and skulls and daggers. 2 years after the Columbine school shooting, he was in my fiction writing class and wrote a long story called "Harris and Klebold Have Nothing on Me." Harris and Klebold were the Columbine shooters. The story was extremely detailed and graphic and bloody and terrifying. The "narrator" told about shooting and stabbing students at his high school and then taking great pleasure in moving their bodies around by inserting his hand into each mouth and dragging them by their teeth. This guy maybe should have scared me. But he didn't. Because he had a personality. A great sense of humor in class. Hobbies. Family he was close to. He was human and fully present. Part of his curiosity about writing was in the exploration of the perpectives of the despicable. Which is really no different than most people who are speculating about what the bloody hell was swirling around in the despised head of the V. Tech murderer.

It is comforting to find a connection point with another human you've never met. Whether it's a lame, friendly joke in an elevator or having someone let you into a long line of traffic from your hopeless spot on a side street. Tiny glimmers of humanity can keep you going on a ruthless day. The story of the killer on the Virginia campus is the scariest kind of all. No one behind the face, no warmth, no chance of making contact. I can't help but be haunted by the thought of his dorm roommate, getting into bed just feet away from that emptiness every night, pulling up the covers, and closing his eyes.


  • At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think that getting a sense of someone's connection to everyday life is a good indicator, but I would have to think that there are a lot of totally charming sociopaths out there, too.

  • At 12:11 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    True. Ted Bundy.

    You never, ever know how screwed up somebody is. It's all scary.

  • At 6:34 AM, Blogger mgm said…

    I think we've all had our share of students who make us nervous, though I can't say I've ever had any as creepy as that last one you mentioned. Really creepy, Candy, really creepy. And a chilling final sentence, too. I wonder about his suite/roommates. To live so close to such a cold blooded killer . . .

  • At 11:57 AM, Blogger Candy Rant said…

    Every time I go to a concert or play or basketball game, my poor twisted brain cannot help going to:
    I wonder if anyone in here has killed anybody.
    As though I don't have enough flotsam in my head.

  • At 8:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I must confess: I have had a really hard time with this incident. Harder than Columbine or any of the other shootings. This kid reminded me of what used to be that ONE kid per semester who sat in the back, was too quiet and too weird, and who had something unsaid and unsettling going on behind his eyes.

    This semester, there are an average of TWO of those kids in EACH of my classes. They are not in the same place the VT shooter was...yet. And that's what's bothering me. What kind of potential sits in our classrooms, and how do we avoid another massacre? Candy, you are so right on--we must attend to the human connections we all crave.


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