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Book Excerpt

ONLINE ONLY: Fury of Their Peers

From Last Day on Earth by David Vann.

How much of Steve’s [Kazmierczak's] story is about class?

He’ll joke later, “I know I put the ass in classy.” He grew up in a nice enough suburban neighborhood, but class is not only about money. It’s also about education. Steve’s parents were relatively uneducated, as were the parents of his friends.

My mother moved us to a new neighborhood at the end of my fifth-grade year, and though our new house wasn’t much more expensive, the class change was enormous, and I noticed this mostly in the kinds of friends I had and the level of education of their parents. In the previous neighborhood, in the flats closer to downtown, one of my friends was Leonard Smith. His father was a windsurfer who had basically abandoned Leonard and Leonard’s mother, so Leonard had an angry violent streak and a lot of free time on his hands. Some of his deeds were funny in retrospect, such as when he tried to smoke parsley flakes in binder paper and it flared up and burnt his eyebrows, but he didn’t have limits, and we spent our time wandering drainage ditches, tunnels, and industrial sections. In fifth grade, at age ten, we French kissed with two girls on a dusty couch in a carport, and if my mother hadn’t decided to move, my junior high and high school experiences would have headed further in that direction. Many kids in the neighborhood stole, fought, did drugs, and had sex as early as age ten.

I remember feeling as a kid that my life wasn’t really my own, that it could be shaped and sent out of control by others. Not long before my father killed himself, he asked me to come live with him up in Fairbanks, Alaska, for the next school year, and I said no. I felt tremendous guilt about this after his suicide, of course, and wondered for at least a decade whether he might not have killed himself if I’d said yes. But I was afraid of Fairbanks, because in my summers there, I could see the kids I knew falling quickly into drugs and sex and crime, and I was afraid of who I might become. I was only thirteen, in seventh grade, but that’s old enough to understand the momentum of a life, old enough to understand that we can become something we didn’t want.

I think about this for Steve because he refused drugs at first. He was cautious and scared and didn’t want to get into trouble. But three of his friends in his neighborhood became drug dealers, and it seems that almost everyone else used drugs. They became Goths without thinking about what that meant, and their parents didn’t think enough about it, either. Steve and his friends listened to Marilyn Manson, watched horror movies, smoked, stole, blew off their homework (a high percentage  of his close friends finished with a GED, even after spending an extra year in high school), and hated mainstream society just because that seemed cool. Being depressed and suicidal was also considered cool, according to [Kazmierczak’s girlfriend] Julie. Their parents, for whatever reason, didn’t intervene early enough in the process. So although Steve and his friends seemed to come from somewhat privileged backgrounds, white and suburban and attending an award-winning high school, they were actually lower class, along with most Americans. Then Steve fell even further into the company of the mentally ill, a group considered not even a part of society, an invisible class with no aspirations or promise at all, for whom the days become unnumbered.


From the book, Last Day on Earth: A Portrait of the NIU School Shooter, by David Vann. Reprinted by arrangement with the University of Georgia press. Copyright 2011.

 

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