The time I almost was one. A childhood that lead to homicidal ideation.

“silhouette of half human face” by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Warning: This was REAL.

The early 1960's in the USA were scary, bomb drills (“In case of a nuclear attack get under your desk and cover your head.”), the Vietnam “police action” was ramping up, the Cuba Missile Crisis put the country at the edge of another conflict… Safety, on a national level, was tentative.

This is a very personal story. I have never told it before. I will be as honest as possible.

In the home that I grew up in:

We were the poor people in the neighborhood.

My mother was a worrier, which led to nervousness, which led to what then was called “nervous breakdowns”. The symptoms, from a child's viewpoint, included her isolating in her bedroom, occasionally blowing up at small things and sometimes for no apparent reason, and sometimes wandering through the house crying, wailing, and talking to herself in the middle of the night. She was not always like this, but my brother, sister, and I were never sure what was going to be happening when we came home. We “walked on egg shells” as they say. She could “put on a happy face” for the neighbors and, if one of the neighbor wives showed up at the wrong time, she would talk and cry and all of her problems would be laid on us kids and my father. Sometimes her doctor, a GP, would be called and come over to give her sedatives and evaluate her condition. (Mental health was just beginning to be a national conversation.)

Sadly, my mother was not available, emotionally, to her children. I think she wanted to be, but she had not grown up in the best conditions either.

My best friend, having slept over one night during one of my mothers’ episodes, told me his mother didn’t want him coming to our house anymore. I never asked anyone over after that.

And my father? He was a very complex man. I will try to be objective. I identified with Dad. My younger brother and sister tended to identify more with Mom.

My father was kind, sometimes angry, intelligent (MENSA member), frightened by parenthood, a philosopher, socially adept, alcoholic (self medicating), liberal, probably a womanizer, an unsuccessful writer, adventurous, outspoken, nature loving, unable to stay in one job for long, sometimes suicidal, smoked a corncob pipe, and was loved by many.

When I was about seven years old, my father took me aside and told me (This was during my mother's first major breakdown.) that he needed me to “kind of watch over my brother and sister, to try to help them and not to make my mother too upset because she was having a hard time and he wouldn't be around much for awhile”. After that, he didn’t come home often, except when his parents came to town, at which point everyone seemed happier.

Normally, when dad came home there was tense silence until mom started yelling, which didn’t stop until dad left. Then, for hours or days, she was emotionally volatile. And, I failed at the task he had given me.

So, all of this is background for my teenage years. I was angry and depressed, my grades and schoolwork were on a mighty rollercoaster, and my hormones were raging.

I don’t know when the dreams/daydreams started, but it seems they lasted for a very long time. The compulsion of this thought was palpable.

I was in the hills between Albuquerque and Santa Fe looking down on the road, at all the normal families driving on their happy way. I had a big hunting rifle and was stripped naked. Hiding behind pinions and junipers, I took careful aim at those nice cars and normal people and fired and fired, taking out all those symbols of what I hated.

This was a persistent, dangerous, thrilling and self-consuming idea. I hated it and yet, it promised a momentary power that was beyond my reality. The fact that I would end up dead, in prison, or in a mental institution was only mildly worrisome. But, I held back long enough for the fear and rage (The Demons of Hatred) to subside.

(A side note: I picked up my Dads’ copy of “Leaves of Grass” toward the end of this period, which spoke to me of real freedom and power.)

I write about this here because:

  1. Hidden “wounds” don’t heal well. Many writers, including myself, on this platform have found that exposing their wounds, disabilities and/or flaws here is comforting and healing.
  2. Guns at that time were available but much more respected. Not loved as they are today.
  3. Young people need adults who are safe to be around. Not formal, judgemental, or agendized adults, but open-hearted, understanding humans with authority and authenticity and autonomy.
  4. If a young person should read this, they can know that others have their demons too. And, if they do, they should talk about it, write about it, scream, dance, cry until another human listens. The demons loose power when others see them and can help you fight them.

I know that my life, my story, is not so bad compared to others. This is not a competition of terribleness. But, damage breeds compassion and empathy if viewed in full light, and knowing that others are there, I hope, helps us all.

Poet. Philosopher. A sense of Humor. 60 years ago I rode the winds at the top of a tall cottonwood. Buy me a coffee @ https://ko-fi.com/danasanford

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