A Mother’s Reckoning

Did you hear the Woman’s Hour interview with Sue Klebold, the mother of Columbine killer Dylan Klebold, yesterday? She comes over – and clearly is – an intelligent, thoughtful woman, who had tried to do her best as a mother. It was very troubling, and I realised that I dearly wanted to blame her son’s crimes on her, somehow. When anyone goes astray, our instinct is to look for a reason and for someone to blame. Very, very often, that person is the mother. It’s strange that society does so much to downplay women’s worth, yet when something goes wrong we are suddenly the key to everything.

sue klebold

The fact that I couldn’t dump the whole thing at Sue Klebold’s door, that she definitely didn’t seem to be a terrible mother or have done any of the things that we comfortably assume are triggers for children going off the rails, makes the outcome so hard to make sense of. Her son, who had seemed to be a happy, reasonably well-adjusted boy until very shortly before killing 12 students, a teacher and himself, was only 17. He had a stable home, with married parents who provided a good standard of living. He had a brother, he had friends, he went to the prom.

Klebold is reduced to analysing the few clues she has, like the tone of his voice when he said his final goodbye to her as he went off to kill. She drags up a few pointers, but to me they don’t seem a million miles different from any teenager acting up. Yes, Dylan got into trouble with the law, but it was the type of trouble that could be atoned for (obviously this was in America) with counselling. He could be grumpy. Sometimes he forgot to feed the cats. If these were reliable signs of suicidal, murderous depression in teenagers, then we would all be dead.

Listening to Sue Klebold was terrifying, because it reinforced the fact that we never know what is going on in someone else’s head. Is a teenager’s eye-rolling contempt just the passing boredom we have all felt at having to deal with family? Or is it the trigger for carnage? I’m not sure I can face her book. I have read Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin which, although an uncomfortable read, has the almost cosily reassuring subtext that Kevin was a weirdo and so was his mother. I think the message I take from all this is a very simple one – just don’t let people buy guns.

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