In 1963 John Kennedy had been shot. I wasn’t at the scene, and I was half an hour too late when Bryan Douglas took his rifle and made his toe pull the trigger.
I was the college nurse, and they called me from the dean’s office to say I had to hurry up to Shepherd Hall. There had been an accident.
“What kind of an accident?” I inquired.
“A shooting, a fellow shot himself.”
“Shot himself. Shot himself.” The words rang in my ears as I hurried up to the dormitory, where I was met by the sheriff and a young officer. They were shaken; the younger man looked as if he was going to be sick.
I was escorted up to room 204 on the second floor, Bryan Douglas’s room. It was a single room with bookshelves on all four walls where books, records, model miniature cars and sheets of music were arranged very orderly. The only thing out of place was Bryan Douglas, ashen colored, lying in a pool of blood, the rifle by his feet.
“There’s nothing we can do here,” I told the police. “I’ll go to the dean’s office. He’ll decide what has to be done.”
So many shots had been fired in America in a short span of time. What makes young men take their own lives in this country which is supposed to have everything?
A few years earlier, when Jim and I were head residents in a dormitory at Redlands University in California, another young student had taken his life. David, a student in our residence hall, intentionally drove his pickup over the ridge of one of the mountains in the canyon.
It was a few days before Mother’s Day. Among his belongings we found a gift for his mother. We also found several of his pencil drawings, which had become increasingly morbid. David was very talented, but his parents, according to his roommate, had told him that being an artist would not place food on the table. They wanted him to become a doctor.
We didn’t know David but for the shy fleeting smile he sent us when we met occasionally in the hallway. He never caused us any problems; there were enough students who did. We were more than happy with the quiet ones.
Ah, but that was also Bryan Douglas, wasn’t it? I sat in the dean’s office, leafing through Bryan’s admission papers.
“No, he has never seen me in the nurse’s office,” I said. “Yes, he was a transfer student coming from a college which didn’t challenge him. “Yes, he was an A student who didn’t participate in sports or in fraternities.”
“But,” the dean interrupted, “Bryan had just returned from Fort Lauderdale. Some of the students had talked him into joining them for the Spring Break. He should have been happy after frolicking on the beaches.”
“Where have you been?” I thought. “Don’t you know that you can go to Fort Lauderdale, drink yourself into euphoria, return home with a hangover and a painful sunburn. Meanwhile, the girl of your dreams is already on her way to her next conquest.” Dean Philips had a degree in psychology; he didn’t consider, however, that the trip to Florida had been Bryan’s last try to fit into a carefree, and at times careless, society.
What about David? He didn’t fit in either. He might have if his parents had encouraged his talents. They only thought of the material poverty they would bring him.
“Bryan, I didn’t know you. You never came to see me in my office,” I whispered to myself. “I should have known, however, to look up students I didn’t hear. Students who walk quietly around in a search for meaning in life are easily lost in the corridors of institutions.”