Auntie SparkNotes: Am I Becoming Evil?
I am a fifteen-year-old girl who will be a sophomore next year. I am a huge nerd. I read Japanese anime, I enjoy my own company, I prefer witty graphic tees to tank tops, people tell me I am mature beyond my years, and my favorite shows include MythBusters, Futurama, South Park, and Wild Kratts. (Don't judge me!)
When I woke up on July 13th and saw what happened in Aurora, I felt like somebody gave me a knuckle sandwich in the stomach.
I couldn't believe somebody could do something so horrible and evil and twisted. Later, the news revealed that the shooter was a 24-year-old college student who was going to be a neurosurgeon and had a scholarship to a big university. They said he was also a loner.
And that sounds like me.
Ever since freshman year, my mother was worried about why I didn't seem to socialize with the other kids. She also fretted over why I never wore makeup (I like my face the way it is) and why I wasn't attracted to any of the boys (I'm never getting married), and the violence in my new anime series (okay, I understand this one, but the worse injury there was a giant claw mark over somebody's eye because one of my villains is a cat girl.)
At first, I thought she was overreacting. Now I'm starting to think she may be right. Sometimes, I really do tend to be antisocial. My teachers say I'm a green personality, but what if it's something more? And I do enjoy South Park. And my favorite horror movie is Black Swan. And my new anime does sound kinda violent. And later in the day, I started thinking: what if something like this became an evil type of flash mob? What if somebody with a bow and arrow came in during Brave? What if some guy came in with a liquid nitrogen gun during Ice Age 4?
I always considered myself to be kind and compassionate. I do my chores without being asked. Every Halloween, I do Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. I pray to the Virgin Mary every day. I'm pro-LGBT. I cuddle my dog every day. I love my family. I never had evil thoughts before. But what if there is something wrong with me?
You're going to wonder why I'm telling you this, but I promise, I have a point.
When I was 21, at my very first job out of college, one of the women in my department took a Friday off to have a minor, minimally-invasive surgical procedure. It was no big deal, and we all expected to see her back on Monday. But that morning, as I walked past her empty office, I suddenly thought, "Hey, Nancy is probably having her surgery right now. What if something went wrong and she died?"
Which was a pretty dark thing to be thinking, but also one I didn't pay much attention to, because I know by now that that's just how I'm wired; I have a taste for the macabre and an overactive imagination, and my train of thought makes arbitrary stops at Death Station a hundred times a week. And the moment passed, and I drank some coffee, and I didn't think of it again.
That is, until the news came in that in fact, something did go wrong, and Nancy had died that morning on the operating table—at which point I thought about it a lot, particularly in a shadowed, guilty part of my mind that kept insisting that by entertaining the possibility of her death, I had somehow endorsed it... and maybe even nudged the universe into making it a reality.
Except, of course, that that was ridiculous. Which brings me back to your question: is something wrong with you for having "evil" thoughts in the aftermath of the Aurora shooting?
Of course not, sweetheart.
Because being able to fathom the possibility of a terrible thing does not mean you want that thing to happen. And the fact that you imagined a chain reaction of cinematic violence in response to what happened in Aurora doesn't mean you'd like to see more people gunned down in more movie theaters, any more than the fact that I imagined my co-worker slipping away during her surgery meant that I wanted her to die. The truth is, there are many people in this world who can—and do—entertain ideas of tragedy and terror. Some channel those visions creatively, writing stories or making movies; some do it defensively, using their insights to protect the world from what they know too well could come to pass; some do it recreationally, slipping into first-person shooter games that let them briefly indulge their dark side. But what they don't do, by and large, is act out those horrors in real life. Why?
Because they don't want to.
You can be the smartest, strangest, most macabre-obsessed introvert creepster there is, and still not want to kill people. You can be unhinged by mental illness (as it's likely that the Aurora shooter was) and still not want to kill people. You can be a psychopath who's incapable of empathy or human connection (as many serial killers are) and still not want to kill people. You can even, as we all know, have a Voldemort horcrux buried in your forehead and still not want to kill people.
So when you ask whether something might be wrong with you—in the same way that James Holmes has something wrong with him—the answer is: not unless, in addition to being a smartypants introvert with a penchant for psychological horror, you also want to kill people.
And you don't, right?
Meanwhile, the fact that you uncovered some surface-level similarities between yourself and the shooter is not a bad thing, or even a surprising one. Human brains are hard-wired to seek connections and patterns and commonalities, and finding them often helps us to understand the world when it lies outside the bounds of our own experiences. But with your mother's (misplaced) concerns about your outside-the-mainstream personality having already planted what-if-I'm-a-freak seeds of self-doubt deep in your mind, it's also no surprise that you found yourself noticing that you're different in some of the same ways as this one awful person... and then wondering if you might be awful, too.
But you're not. You might be an odd duck in the narrow confines of teenage girl-world, but you're not alone in your tastes, your fascinations, or your preference for your own company. You're not destined to do evil things, any more than the millions of other people out there who are kind and decent, but also brainy, introverted, eccentric, geeky loners. And you're not the first person to be gifted with an active, flexible imagination that makes you capable of conjuring true horrors in the fertile darkness of your mind... and then leaving them there, untouched.
Now go cuddle your dog, okay? Okay.
Did the Aurora shootings throw you for a loop? Have you ever been freaked out by your own thoughts? Tell us in the comments. And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.