In Jodi Picoult’s novel “19 Minutes,” school shooter Peter Houghton gets a letter from one of his victims while he is in jail during his trial. A girl from his school writes that she has had to move far away from the town and how the nightmares about what happened that day will never go away. She also mentions the operations she had for the gun shot wounds she received from Peter. However, the most striking aspect of her letter was that she ended it with “I would have liked to have been your friend. I always thought you were mysterious.”
A similar occurrence happens in “He Was Weird” (although I insist I did not copy from the above.) After Mark shoots up his school, the family of a girl who died at his hands tells a reporter that their daughter would not have bullied Mark but would have been his friend.
Of course, in both instances, the reader can’t help but to feel sympathy for these two girls and their families. They were both innocent victims of a boy who had enough and was intent on ending the lives of as many people as possible. I am certain that if both Mark and Peter were able to, they would have regretted shooting those two girls. But saying they could have been their friends needs to be looked at.
First, in the case of Peter, if this girl would have liked to have been his friend, why didn’t she attempt to initiate a friendship? It was obvious that Peter was extremely vulnerable so an offer of friendship would have been a major boost for him and he could take comfort in the fact that not everybody was against him. It may have even prevented him in carrying out the dastardly deed. While there is no shred of evidence that this girl participated in or even condoned the bullying Peter was suffering, it is clear that she, like no one else, did nothing to stop it either. I can only speculate why the girl never offered her hand in friendship. My best hypothesis is that due to the fact that Peter was such an outcast, any visible friendship with him would be social suicide within the halls of the high school. Regardless, her non action in not befriending Peter played a part in her eventually getting shot by him.
As for Mark, his situation was a little different. He and the girl he shot never had any acknowledgement of the other’s existence. We can’t say that she would have been his friend nor does the story ever reveal her presence during many of the bullying instances he suffers. We do know that Mark never deliberately targets her. However, in the story there are a few people who do show sympathy towards him. There are a few girls and a couple of friends who do stick up for him even though they are powerless to stop the bullying. The fact that they stick up for him is enough to make Mark acknowledge the positive role they play in his life and is why when he plans his massacre, he makes sure they are all well out of the way. Even the one who is present on that fateful day, he openly declares that he isn’t going to shoot her.
If by some chance I ever get to again meet the people who made my life such a misery forty years ago and gave me the basis for writing the book, I am willing to bet that some of them will claim that they were my friend or wanted to be it. Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe they would have but like the girl with Peter, they rarely did any act worthy of being a friend. True, there were a good number who never openly bullied me but they were there and not only did nothing to stop it, but thought my torture was humorous. I know they did because I can still envision their smothered snickers and cheesy grins. So excuse me if I remain sceptical when you declare your after the fact friendship for me.
I guess the moral of the story is that actions speak louder than words, they always do. Because I have been that person no one wants to be friends with, I try to extend the hand of friendship to everyone even though I know that there are a good many who won’t take it. If they don’t it’s their loss.
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