“RAHHHH! I’M A BAD GUY SHOOTING EVERYONE AT THE MOVIE THEATRE!”
While taking aim at his family with a pool noodle, the sweet, innocent 5-year-old shouted those words at his family in the grocery store and pretended to shoot them.
Mortified, his mother went to him, got down on her knees so she’d be level with his round blue eyes and whispered something like “Baby, please don’t pretend like that. Those people the bad man shot got hurt and some of them died. It wasn’t a TV show. It was real.”
The little boy’s eyes filled with fear, and he told his mommy he was sorry, and he didn’t want that bad man to shoot him or those other people.
His mother hugged him and told him it was OK, and thought about how to further explain something so horrible to her baby.
They’d already had a conversation about the bad man shooting the people in the theater when he saw his mommy’s tears from watching the news. She struggled whether to tell him what happened when he asked.
When she decided she would tell him in the simplest terms she could, his question was the same as everyone else’s: “Why did he do that?”
“He is a very bad man his brain is very sick,” was the only answer she had.
The boy hadn’t wanted to go to camp that morning. He was afraid someone would shoot him if he did. His mommy told him he would be safe there. But when she did, she wondered if she were lying to him.
Because surely all of the people who were excited to see the midnight showing of a much anticipated movie, something that was supposed to be fun and intrinsically safe, assumed they would be secure from the horrors of a madman’s scheme there.
Other conversations abruptly arose in the following weeks about the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain such that the little boy’s mommy knew that he was still thinking about it. A little boy who hasn’t even been to kindergarten yet, but with a finely-honed sense of good and evil archetypes, trying to understand something with which professionals struggle.
“How can you tell if someone has a sick brain?”
“Are those people the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain killed going to come back to life and be zombies?”
“Is the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain’s mommy really sad he hurt those people?”
The answer to the first question was obviously the hardest. Without going into unnecessary details on signs of mental health deterioration that she knew her little boy wouldn’t understand, she told him essentially you can’t usually just by looking at them. There are, of course, the 1,000-yard stare and the certain “crazy” look people with imbalanced biochemistries have that his mommy recognizes from personal and professional experience. She knew it would be impossible to explain that to a little boy though.
But when her little boy asked if she would come and get him if someone shot a gun at him, the panic that had been struggling to break free of its cage in her chest threw itself against the bars.
Would it be better to tell him to hide or to run if something like this happened around him?
She told him that if he can’t run as fast as he can away from the Bad Guy With The Sick Brain, that he should hide until the Bad Guy goes away.
And then she wrote this story quivery lips and burning eyes and wondered how to make the Bad Guys With The Sick Brains stop making their mommies so sad.