#63. “Jeremy” — Pearl Jam
Jumping ahead slightly from where I left off, in the late summer of 1992, MTV began airing a video that kind of made all of us in the Yuba City area shift uncomfortably whenever it came on — it served as a reminder of the events of early May. Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was the last narrative (non-performance) video Pearl Jam would make for the better part of the decade. It depicts the violent suicide of a misfit child in front of his classmates. Thanks to some oblique editing, the video can also be interpreted as the “Jeremy” character shooting those classmates, which is the scenario that played out at Lindhurst High School on May 1, 1992.
Eric Houston did not have the fortitude to off himself, despite being a self-confessed miserable piece of shit. Instead he came to Lindhurst High School, about nine miles away from where I sat in Creative Writing at Yuba City High School, and began shooting. He killed three students and a teacher, and held eighty-five more as hostages late into the night, before being led meekly away in handcuffs.
It was the third day of the L.A. riots in the wake of the Rodney King verdict, so when an announcement came over the YCHS public address speaker stating that all students should go “straight home” after 6th period, I assumed that it had something to do with the tension and unrest that had been all over the media, and humming through the school, for the past couple of days. It had been a year of student protests and sit-ins for a variety of (mostly petty) causes — the infamous “Codom Man” incident was still fresh in everyone’s minds — so I genuinely believed that the YCHS administration was trying to defuse some kind of uprising by a group of mostly middle-class high school students acting in solidarity with disenfranchised inner-city African-Americans 400 miles away. As it turned out, it was the deadly situation rapidly unfolding at LHS to which they were reacting.
So I followed instructions and went straight home — which I would have done anyway. I was no longer gainfully employed by my father, who was in the process of shutting down his struggling body shop and going back to work for The Man. Afternoons were now filled with MTV, my stereo, and maybe a little homework. (What wasn’t filled? My wallet. I was back on a mow-the-lawn-do-your-chores allowance, which barely covered the Mattmobile’s enormous appetite for gas.) As soon as I flicked on the TV and saw the aerial shot of Lindhurst on the news, I understood why all of us were sent straight home.
I was surprised, then, when Emily showed up at my door hours before our usual late-evening hanging-out time. She was very upset. Her cousin was believed to be one of the hostages. She asked me to come back to the house to be with her.
And, as the horrible evening unfolded, we discovered that her cousin was one of the four fatalities.
I was a relatively new addition to Emily’s family scene, so I could do nothing except sit mutely at her house among all her relatives (including her uncle who had just lost his teenage daughter) and watch the grieving process unfold from initial shock to waves of anguish. I offered what comfort I could, later, to Emily, but I am a poor comforter. I don’t know if I’ve gotten any better since, but I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to be. I hated being there, and I hated myself for selfishly hating being there. Through luck and maneuver, I’ve never been around anything as terrible since then. But someday, I know I will have to be, since no one can duck dealing with tragedy his or her entire life.
The Lindhurst High School incident stands as the first on-campus shooting of students by another student (or rather, former student — Houston had dropped out) in anyone’s memory. It was overshadowed by the Columbine shooting seven years later, and has gradually faded from general awareness, but it certainly was on the minds of everyone I knew for a long time. And of course, there are four people who are no longer here — social studies teacher Robert Brens, and students Judy Davis, Beamon Hill, and Jason H. White were forcibly ejected from this world on a sunny spring day eighteen years ago.
I’m afraid I don’t really have a profound point to make here, but omitting this from my look back at my memories of the 90’s, or worse, briefly alluding to it in passing would do a greater disservice than including it. I guess what little point I have to make here, other than to give a brief remembrance of those who died, is to say that in spite of all this nostalgia I shovel out, I’m really not bitter about growing old because some people don’t get the privilege…