We clearly weren't getting very far on the topic of pets, so I decided to switch to another topic, which often elicits some enthusiasm from young people. "It's not long since Christmas," I said. "What did you get for Christmas?"
"Your parents must have given you something. What did they give you?"
"A gun?" I repeated stupidly.
"What kind of gun?" I asked slowly.
"A twenty-two pistol?"
"No, a twenty-two rifle."
There was a long moment of silence. I felt as if I had lost my bearings. I wanted to stop the interview. I wanted to go home. Finally I pushed myself to say what had to be said. "I understand that it was with a twenty-two rifle that your brother killed himself."
"Was that what you asked for for Christmas?"
"What did you ask for?"
"A tennis racket."
"But you got the gun instead?"
"How did you feel, getting the same kind of gun that your brother had?"
"It wasn't the same kind of gun."
I began to feel better. Maybe I was just confused. "I'm sorry," I said. "I thought they were the same kind of gun."
"It wasn't the same kind of gun" Bobby replied. "It was the gun."
"You mean, it was your brother's gun?" I wanted to go home very badly now.
"You mean your parents gave you your brother's gun for Christmas, the one he shot himself with?"
"How did it make you feel getting your brother's gun for Christmas?" I asked.
"I don't know."
I almost regretted the question. How could he know? How could he answer such a thing? I looked at him. There had been no change in his appearance as we had talked about the gun. He had continued to pick away at his sores. Otherwise it was if he were already dead -- dull-eyed, listless, apathetic to the point of lifelessness, beyond terror.
"Look, Doctor," the father interjected, "I don't know what you're insinuating. You're asking all these questions like you were a policeman or something. We haven't done anything wrong. You don't have any right to take a boy from his parents, if that's what you're thinking of. We've worked hard for that boy. We've been good parents."
My stomach was feeling queasier moment by moment. "I'm concerned about the Christmas present you gave Bobby," I said.
"Christmas present?" The parents seems confused.
"Yes. I understand you gave him a gun."
"Was that what he asked for?"
"How should I know what he asked for?" the father demanded belligerently. Then immediately his manner turned plaintive. "I can't remember what he asked for. A lot's happened to us, you know. This has been a difficult year for us."
"I can believe it has been," I said, "but why did you give him a gun?"
"Why? Why not? It's a good present for a boy his age. Most boys his age would give their eyeteeth for a gun."
"I should think," I said slowly, "that since your only other child has killed himself with a gun that you wouldn't feel so kindly toward guns."
"You're one of these antigun people, are you?" the father asked me, faintly belligerent again. "Well, that's all right. You can be that way. I'm no gun nut myself, but it does seem to me that guns aren't the problem; it's the people who use them."
"To an extent, I agree with you," I said. "Stuart didn't kill himself simply because he had a gun. There must have been some other reason more important. Do you know what that reason might have been?"
"No. We've already told you we didn't even know that Stuart was depressed."
"That's right. Stuart was depressed. People don't commit suicide unless they're depressed. Since you didn't know Stuart was depressed, there was perhaps no reason for you to worry about him having a gun. But you did know Bobby was depressed. You knew he was depressed well before Christmas, well before you gave him the gun."
"Please, Doctor, you don't seem to understand," the mother said ingratiatingly, taking over from her husband. "We really didn't know it was this serious. We just thought he was upset over his brother."
"So you gave him his brother's suicide weapon. Not any gun. That particular gun."
The father took the lead again. "We couldn't afford to get him a new gun. I don't know why you're picking on us. We gave him the best present we could. Money doesn't grow on trees, you know. We're just ordinary working people. We could have sold the gun and made money. But we didn't. We kept it so we could give Bobby a good present."
"Did you think how that present might seem to Bobby?" I asked.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that giving him his brother's suicide weapon was like telling him to walk in his brother's shoes, like telling him to go out and kill himself too."
"We didn't tell him anything of the sort."
"Of course not. But did you think that it might possibly seem that way to Bobby?"
"No, we didn't think about that. We're not educated people like you. We haven't been to college and learned all kinds of fancy ways of thinking. We're just simple working people. We can't be expected to think of all these things."
"Perhaps not," I said. "But that's what worries me. Because these things need to be thought of."
We stared at each other for a long moment. How did they feel, I wondered. Certainly they didn't seem to feel guilty. Angry? Frightened? Victimized? I didn't know. I didn't feel any empathy for them. I only knew how I felt. I felt repelled by them. And I felt very tired.
M. Scott Peck
People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil