I’m the daughter of a mass shooter. Or, why I haven’t slept much since Jared Loughner snapped.

So. Yeah.

My mom met the man who contributed fifty percent of my genetic material some time in 1974.  She was a single mom of 2, supporting herself and my older siblings working as a waitress at a bar that has always struck me as the Southern California desert small town equivalent of Merlotte’s on the HBO vampire series True Blood.  My father was a frequent patron, but as it was The Place To Be in town, hanging out at a bar every night didn’t seem to reflect on his suitability as a source of romance.  He presented himself as a single father raising his daughter alone and looking for a woman who would be a good mother figure for her.  They started dating and it wasn’t long before my mom was pregnant.  They married in December of 1974.  My mother soon discovered that he wasn’t the man she thought/hoped he was.  He wouldn’t hold a job (my birth certificate, laughably, lists him as a seasonal worker), spent his days and nights drunk, and his daughter spent most of her time living with her grandmother.  When my mother was 7 months pregnant, the twins she was carrying were stillborn.  When my mother talks about this period of her life, she talks about what a great source of support my then 9 year old older brother was.  While she was bed bound in physical pain and immeasurable grief, he cared for my sister and my mother by cooking and cleaning.  My mom doesn’t mention my father, her husband, at all.  I suspect he wasn’t around much or wasn’t pleasant to be around and certainly didn’t do much to help her through what must have been crushing heartache.  Or maybe it was a pure hell that she just can’t talk about.  In any case, it wasn’t much later that she found herself pregnant again – this time with me.  Getting pregnant again was enough to make her get herself together, take her kids, and leave.

Although he didn’t contribute financially, my father did see me for the first couple of years of my life.  I have no pictures of us together, but I do have a very clear memory of seeing his reflection in the side mirror of a car in a parking lot while perched on my mother’s hip.  I’ve always assumed this was the last time I saw him, maybe as my mom was packing the U-haul that she used to move us to San Diego in 1978.

It wasn’t long after the move that my mom got the disturbing phone call from my grandmother – my father, never terribly stable, had gone completely off the deep end.  He snapped.  He walked into a bar, saw his girlfriend chatting with another man, and started shooting.  Two people died that day.  I’ve always avoided hearing the details, so I don’t know if there were other injuries, but it’s likely.  He didn’t have an automatic weapon, so he couldn’t do the kind of damage that Jared Loughner did. My mom, still legally married to him, had to talk to police officers and lawyers galore.  I’m sure she was both horrified with what he had done, and boundlessly thankful that she left when she did.

My mom always answered my questions about my father as honestly as she could.  I don’t remember not knowing the kind of man my father was.  He was convicted of two counts of 2nd degree murder.  Until I was about 9 years old, I received frequent cards from him.  My first name was always misspelled, and they were always signed “Daddy Loves U” with X’s and O’s added for emphasis.  He tried to contact me again when I was 16 via a family member, but I refused contact.  I have no idea if he is still serving time or if he has been released.  I have no desire to meet with him or discuss things with him or to hear that “Daddy loves” me. I have two pictures of him that he sent me during the time he was writing to me.  I’ve saved them, though I rarely look at them.  Looking at him in those pictures is like coming face to face with my own evil.  It’s hard to see the ways I resemble him.

Sometimes when rage bubbles up in me over something small, I wonder if I have inherited that switch – the one that suddenly flips and turns an otherwise normal human being into a monster.  When someone cuts me off and I feel a momentary urge to ram my van into the back end of their car, I wonder if the anger I’m feeling is normal.  I’m infinitely grateful to my parent friends who are open with me about the bouts of rage they suppress daily when their kids infuriate them – I might otherwise wonder if there’s something wrong with me on those days that every parent has (when the kids are fighting/disobeying/deconstructing the house faster than you can put it back together/the chaos refuses to be tamed/etc), when I have to do something like hide in the bathroom and silently (or not so silently) scream to avoid hurting someone or seriously consider (for a few minutes anyway) getting in my van and driving away as fast as I can and as far as my tank of gas will take me.

Every time someone goes on a shooting spree, it’s like they turned the knife that’s been sticking out of my chest since I was two years old.  I remember watching in horror in 1999 as students and faculty were evacuated from Columbine High School in Colorado following the shooting spree of two seniors.  As details emerged about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the shooters, the knife kept on turning.  These boys were only 5 years younger than me – I could see myself in their faces.  I had to wonder – did I have that capacity?  If high school had been just a little bit worse for me, could I have been them?  More than anything, though – I wanted to go hug their parents.  I’d send Mr. and Mrs. Loughner flowers, if I thought it would do any good.  Most people can’t even imagine being them – but I can.  I understand their grief, too.

So Jared Loughner’s rampage last Saturday has hurt me in ways that it hurt very few other people.  While the mother in me is sobbing for Christina Green, a little girl only months younger than my oldest child, and the American in me is pulling hard for Rep. Giffords to have a miraculous recovery and horrified that a public servant like Judge Roll could be taken out at the grocery store, and the human in me is grieving for the rest of the dead and cheering on those who are still recovering from their injuries – the selfish part of me wishes that I just didn’t have to be reminded of the horrors in my own history that have both so much and so little to do with who I am.  I treasure the long period of time between stories like these, not only because it means that fewer innocent people are dying in the world, but also because it grants me a precious period in which to forget, a time during which the nightmares can fade, and a space in which I can live without feeling frozen with anxiety about all the things in the world over which I have no control.

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6 Responses to I’m the daughter of a mass shooter. Or, why I haven’t slept much since Jared Loughner snapped.

  1. Kristen says:

    Oh wow, Jeri! I’m so sorry.

  2. Carol Ann Fallon says:

    I understand that there are chains of serious abuse – verbal, mental, physical that run strong in many families. Knowing this exist and seeing it also in my siblings I talked to a counselor early on when I had my children. I also have come to realize that EVERYONE has a point where they can’t help but get angry, even at their small or teenage children who they treasure and NEVER thought it possible to be mad at them in any way. I don’t know anyone from my generation or those before or after mine that aren’t shocked by their incidents of rage. Yes, especially for mothers who are the primary care takers of the kids. I know I had my moments and my kids probably could tell me about everyone of them (whether prevoked for serious reasons or not). I do know that EVERYONE has buttons that get pushed that make us into someone we don’t like and usually we wind up crying afterwards. It’s the parents or people who snap and have NO remorse and allow it to become the norm rather than isolated incidents that need to take a good look at themselves and GET HELP! When abusive behavior exist in your parents and in their parents, you (I know I did – and was told it’s normal) to hold yourself under a microscope and are the least forgiving of any anger that runs thru your veins ever. I was told that Anger is a normal reaction in many incidents that face the most normal of humans, BUT learning how to handle that Anger is important. Kids today often think parents are super humans with no feelings and no breaking points. P.S. we are ALL Human

  3. Danielle says:

    Wow, Jeri. That was a brave and powerful post! Thanks for sharing such a personal story.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Jeri, thank you for sharing this. I imagine it was hard to do so, but I truly value your insight into how tragedies have so many victims, beyond those shown on the news.

  5. Rushingham says:

    Wow, what a wonderfully thoughtful and brave post! Thank you for sharing. Miss you guys.

  6. Barnmaven says:

    Jeri, I had to mull on this one a few days before I could respond. I empathize so much with the feeling of being related to someone who has done something awful. I know you have heard the stories of my sibilings’ abuse at the hands of my birthmother, and that I’ve cut all ties with her. I look so much like her that there are times its physically uncomfortable to look in the mirror.

    I am much better than I used to be, but I think this is one of those things that will take a lifetime. Your feelings about your father and what he did are complex and deserve to be drawn out into the daylight for review. I know its painful and I’m sorry that it is. I also think that even though these reminders are unpleasant and unwelcome, they are also the things that will force you to heal. You are put in a position of having to contend with things you don’t want to think about; in the process, though, you will find new and better ways to comprehend what happened.

    I wonder how much of the anger and rage in me is somethinjg I got from my birthmom. How much of who I am is HER? Its disturbing as hell…but you know what? It also gives me an opportunity to prove that people are more than their genetics. We are more than the chromosomes and strands of DNA that our parents combined when they came together. We become ourselves, not copies of them. We don’t have to be who they are and who they are doesn’t have to define us.

    You are a unique and gifted person. Celebrate yourself and all that you have done and try to let go of the stuff that you think came from him that holds you back.

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