by Alex Ranieri

There is something that all people, as they pass through childhood into youth and eventual maturity, strive to repress. We all have individual memories and humiliations we would rather forget, but this particular blank stretches across the collective consciousness. Most of us are successful in our attempts to remember selectively, and so we look back on our childhood selves with a mixture of nostalgia and amusement. Young children are to us, with rare exception, naive, gentle creatures as yet untarnished by our concept of sin. They are incapable of inappropriate feelings or violent tendencies, and those of them that do behave shockingly are abnormal. The average child, we believe, wants nothing more than to eat, play, and sleep.

At my elementary school, children were taught to this belief. It isn’t that we were discouraged from certain thoughts or actions; we were not introduced to them at all. Our education concerning Christopher Columbus didn’t include the factoid that he used hungry dogs to rip apart the wounded Lacoyans in battle. Mentions of violence in any capacity were avoided as much as possible. When avoidance was not possible, the violence and its effects were played down and trivialized. In regards to violence, we children were kept in ignorance.

I am sorry to say that this created in us an unchecked bloodlust. Uneducated as to the consequences of violence, we glorified it in our recess games and pursued stories about it relentlessly in our free time. And eventually, one of us succeeded in finding a story about our very school.

I can’t remember who first talked about the incident, who first discovered it. Like many childhood memories, it seems to me that one moment it was not there and the next it was. It was a tragic incident in our school’s recent history; a mentally unstable substitute teacher had shown up to class with a gun and killed a child.

It took hold of our entire class; to us it was not the murder of a child but a reminder of our own mortality and a ghost story. Someone found out the bullet hole was still somewhere in the school. It became a quest for us, a hunt for proof of violence in our own quarter. One impostor after another was tested and discarded. We met as a group on the playground during recess for weeks to find it. In the end it never was found. Gradually we became bored with searching, and we made up other gruesome stories to satiate ourselves.

The truth is that most children are more like Peter Pan than Christopher Robin. As yet unchecked by society, they feast unashamedly on things we find abhorrent, violence in particular. Avoidance of the subject only increases their thirst for it.

As my class grew up, we all began to realize the true face of murder. We read news about the Iraq War and found books that addressed the violence in history our teachers avoided. As this education replaced the one we had received we gave up our childhood war games and quests for proof of violence. As predators and hunters, humans will always have a fascination with violence; our media, saturated by images of blood and death and hardly undesired by the public, proves as much. But it is important to see its true and ugly face, rather than the manicured one provided to us by society.

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