Patrick Ireland grows frustrated by his attempts to talk again. The language centers of his brain are compromised, and he often doesn’t know what he’s saying: he will answer questions in Spanish, or respond to a question about how he is feeling by asking for a straw. One of the phrases he continues to repeat is “picture-perfect marsupials.” He attempts to write on a whiteboard in order to communicate, but can only produce scribbles.
Dave Cullen uses Patrick’s failures in communication to illustrate the severity of the violence that was perpetrated against him, and also to draw a metaphorical line between his literal inability to communicate and his inability to communicate the experience he has had as a survivor of the library massacre.
Patrick understands that he has been shot, but doesn’t yet realize “the scale of the massacre.” He does not know that his fall out the library window was televised. He clings to dreams of his athletic success and graduating high school as valedictorian. When Patrick transfers to Craig Hospital, he catches a glimpse of the news and begins to understand who the victims of the attack are, and continues struggling to bridge the “gap in the network inside his brain” that will allow him to regain movement of his legs.
Patrick slowly begins to recognize what he has been through and how difficult the road ahead will be. He is determined as ever, though, to hang onto his dreams and to not let the violence he has suffered take hold of his life. It becomes clearer that Patrick’s is an inspirational story of struggle and success, and thus a counterpoint to the many other narratives of failure in the book.
At a makeshift memorial in Clement Park, a row of fifteen crosses appear on a hill. A carpenter from Chicago had installed them there, and taped a black and white photo of the victim—or killer—to each. While many come and decorate the crosses of the victims, the killers’ crosses are defaced. Brian Rohrbough was livid about the killers’ crosses, and “affixed each one with a sign saying ‘Murderers burn in hell.’” When park officials remove the signs, Brian calls city officials and asks them to remove the crosses. The officials agree to take the crosses down the next day. Believing that the next day is not soon enough, Brian himself takes the crosses down, hacks them to pieces, and tosses the remains into a dumpster. The carpenter who had installed the crosses returns and removes the remaining thirteen. He then builds a set of new crosses, but apologizes profusely and publicly and promises not to erect them. He goes on to milk the “celebrity” the crosses earn him for years, and Brian Rohrbough denounces him publicly as an “opportunist” and a “despicable person.” Though many mourners remember the crosses, Cullen writes, most have forgotten the carpenter altogether.
Members of the Jefferson County community struggle with how to mourn the Columbine massacre. The killers are seen by some as troubled boys, and by others as Satanic murderers destined to “burn in hell.” Opportunism is at play in this passage, too, as the carpenter who made the crosses attempts to edge himself into the limelight. By highlighting the fact that though many remember the crosses, hardly anyone remembers the carpenter himself, Cullen denounces self-seeking opportunism, and displays the ways in which collective or communal grief often outweighs the desire for sensationalism and spectacle.