My homage to Sandy Hook

11 Mar

I grew up in Newtown, partially. I went to elementary school there, though not in Sandy Hook. I still go to church there, every Sunday. Many of my friends there were directly affected by the attack, including one family who lost their daughter. I wrote this as I was trying to deal with what had happened. It is a series of bleak flash fiction, all based on the events of December 14, 2012.

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All is well. Jeanie just got accepted to UConn, and her father David is up for promotion. Mary is a beautiful child, with flowing honey hair and eyes bluer than her mother’s. Janet is at peace; moments ago, she drove Mary to Sandy Hook. Finally, there is silence in the ancient house. Janet sits a moment on her white leather couch and sips a glass of red wine. David always scolds her for drinking so early, but to Janet a single glass is the only thing that can ease her through the commotion of family life.

Janet closes her eyes and basks in the sound of silence. Her muscles melt into the cushions and her breathing slows her heart. A smile spreads across her careworn face and makes familiar wrinkles around her mouth. She decides to get up, but her body has yet to respond. Before it does, a crow’s call interrupts her tranquility. A black shape blurs across the window, and Janet’s eyes search for the bird to no avail. Whatever had ceased her peace has disappeared as suddenly as it came.

Janet stretches her legs and grabs the remote. She continues her morning ritual by turning on the news so she can listen as she cleans her home. The quiet house welcomes the soft noises of footsteps, of hands rifling through cupboards, of soapy cloths hugging tables. Janet stirs up the silence as she presses a button on the vacuum cleaner and hums Christmas hymns to herself. Joy to the World, she sings, and the phone rings. Her humming cuts short, the vacuum silences its song. Janet mutes the TV, and in the instant that she picks up the phone, there is complete hush in her home.

Janet doesn’t speak, but listens. Tears stream down her cheeks, and nonsensical words stream in banners across her television. She sees reporters and police on the screen, but the setting is too familiar to understand. Those people seem incongruous, to Janet, in a school parking lot she traverses (traversed) five days a week. Nothing is right. All is wrong. Hours later, David comes home and embraces his wife. No words. A few times, the phone rings, offering condolences. The doorbell, too, sounds at times by cookies left on the porch. Jeanie’s car blasts sad country songs as she arrives at the house. But Janet never hears these noises. All she hears are the words Mary would never speak again.

*****************************************

In Sandy Hook that morning, children were quietly fearful as they hid in corners. Then there were boom boom booms and then there was silence.

With effort, I drop the soggy tissue. I have to think about every motion. I have to think to breathe, think to lift my foot. Now set it down. Now lift left. Don’t think about the crunch each step makes, or the acid that noise engenders in the back of your throat. Stop that bloody shaking, woman! Lift your head—don’t look at the floor. Don’t look at the floor. Lift right foot. Lift left foot.

I see myself in the mirror. I look like a stranger in my own home—is it me that’s changed or the house? My eyes, usually a shining hazel with three smiling crinkles at the corners, are red and puffy and lifeless. My lips are frozen in an unattractive pout. The stiff work clothes beneath my face seem slightly damp.

Stop trembling, stop that stupid shivering.

The woman in the mirror is not the woman I was before I came home. That woman was at least content, excited for dinner with her loving husband and little son. The woman in front of me is alone, and she stands in the middle of a ransacked home. Everything around me is in disarray, strewn about in search of something valuable. Papers lay everywhere. What used to be my possessions are dead objects, broken, defiled, violated. Random bits of wood stick out from crushed kitchen chairs. Shards of glass threaten me from below, pining to return to the windows.

And there is paint, paint all over. It coats the floor and the piles of paper with a sick gurgling crimson. I could trace the edges of the curvy pool of paint. With my eyes, I follow it inward, inward, innard. At the center of the paint, there lays a pale blue doll, the color of the sky on a cloudy day. It’s a big doll, dressed in a white and red collared shirt, and black and red slacks. The blue doll has my husband’s face. Who would do this to him, to us, after all that’s happened? I’d thought I’d escaped tragedy, escaped death.

I vomit again. Stop shaking, lift your left leg.

Something shifts from far away. I try my best to turn my head, to listen, but the sound is gone.

Left leg, right leg, left leg. Lift your arm, grab something to fight with. Climb the stairs, one leg at a time. There’s motion in Junior’s room, oh God my God. Open the door! Do it! Don’t think about finding another pool of paint… just open it and hit the offender with the bat, and don’t look at the floor. Stop shaking and turn the knob.

I walk into my son’s room, and am paralyzed by what I see.

Junior’s head peeks out of the closet. “Momma! Did I win? Dad said we had to play hide and go seek until you came home! There were lots of strange noises…”

My cheek is wet again. “Yes, baby, you won. Nobody could find you.” As I embrace my son, I’m not shaking anymore.

*****************************************

“Ma’am, could you describe what happened in your own words?”

“Certainly. You’re my favorite news service, you know.”

“Thank you.”

“Ahem, I mean… would you mind describing it?”

“Would I… oh, I suppose you mean now. Right. Umm, where to start…”

“If you’re not comfortable speaking, Ma’am, you could write it down or simply tell me after a short break.”

“No, no. I’m fi—I’ll be fine. Well, it started off like any other day at work. I—“

“Sorry to interrupt, but would you please state your official title one more time?”

“Ah, right. I’m Diane Tiney, the K-4 Art Teacher, Head of Department. The kids call me Missus Teeny, isn’t that something? Me, six foot two—me, ‘teeny!’ Well. Right. What happened. I arrived at 7:00 and began prepping for my first class, the children in 2 F. Need me to slow down?”

“No, I’ve got it. 2 F, Go on.”

“Right. Well. Class started and I was helping the kids with their watercolor projects. It’s really the sweetest thing, the little darlings all picked a fish to paint and—oh, well after class I had a free period during which I always clean up and get ready to teach the next class. After the empty block, I had the other second grade class. They have the same fish assignment, so I was just going around the room answering questions and cleaning up spilled paint and such when I heard a commotion outside. It sounded like angry voices and scuffling shoes, but it wasn’t loud like shouting. That was when I heard the lockdown alarm, and my heart just flew. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than hearing a lockdown announcement when you know the belligerent on the other side of the door can hear just as well. I put on a happy face for the kids, and that was the hardest part.

“And did the ‘happy face’ work?”

“Maybe. You always think you’re going to be the strong one in such situations, you know? You always hope you’ll be calm and composed. But when it happens there is no such thing as calm. Peace is a foreign word, familiar yet undistinguishable, at times like that. No peace, no calm, no nothing but acting.

“Well. I pretended to know what I was doing, and I guess to an extent, I did. It felt almost like the drills we do—lock the door shut the window shut the blinds turn off the lights get the kids in the corner and keep them quiet. I could almost fool myself into believing it was a drill, that it would be okay. We waited for what felt like hours. I kept checking the clock and my watch, but they had both slowed down. When I thought it had been five hours, they said it had been five minutes. I guess I was just anxious, but I nearly got up to change the batteries on the clock.

“After about ten minutes, I heard… loud booms. It took me a few moments to register that they were gunshots. I tried to keep the kids from crying, but the best I could do was keep them weeping silently. Then we heard sirens. The police came, and we were hustled out of the building. I saw… bodies… on the way out. Little artists.

“ I’m still acting. I’m acting as if I’m not dead inside, as if time and clocks and art still matter.”

*****************************************

Me and Jessie sat next to each other on my favorite purple poof. I told her she could stop crying, that it was over now. She nodded and wiped her eyes, but they just got wet all over again as soon as she did. I took her hand and showed her around my room. I showed her the poster on my wall of Dora and Boots and Backpack.  I showed her my bed, and Jessie helped me make it because we know how my Momma gets to yelling when she comes in and the toys are out and the green polka dotty comforter is all over the floor and candy wrappers everywhere make the room look like a cupcake with rainbow sprinkles. I got out my toy train and together we made the train go round and round and round until it couldn’t choo choo no more. When we finished, her giggles started to stop and her eyes got droopy. She got real quiet, and I got afraid that she’d cry again. I hated to hear her cry.

I jumped up with another idea. “Come on, Jessie,” I said, “let’s go on a trip! I asked Map to tell us where to go. First we have to go OVER purple volcano, then we’ll go UNDER the green tunnel, and then we’ll get to the big red train!” But Jessie wasn’t in the mood for exploring. She shook her head no, and kept staring at the carpet. Her quiet reminded me of the quiet that comes after Momma tucks me in and the room is dark and I can hear nothing but the quiet monsters under my bed and in my closet. I shivered and felt my goosebumps on my legs and arms.

“MOMMA!” I yelled, and burst outta the room. I runned into the kitchen, but it was empty. It smelled like cookies left in the oven too long. The smell made my stomach turn around. “Mommmmmma?” I yelled again. I runned upstairs into Momma and Daddy’s room.

“Oh, hello Daddy. I didn’t know you were taking a work holiday today.”

“I just got home, hon. What’s wrong?”

I asked why Momma was sitting on the floor with her arms hugging her legs and her head down. Momma said baby I’m fine, why were you yelling?

When I telled them that Jessie was sad and quiet in my room, they looked at each other in that grown up way that means they’re afraid. They make it when they open the mail sometimes, that’s how I know. They’re afraid of some boy named Bill. Anyway, they looked at each other for a long time before Momma started talking real slow.

She said, “Baby girl, you remember what happened at school today?” I looked at the carpet and nodded. Momma made a weird sound when she started to talk again, and when she finally made words they were high and fast. “Your friend Jessie didn’t come home from school today, baby, and she isn’t going to come home tomorrow or the next day or ever. Do you understand? Honey, you won’t be angels in the Christmas pageant together. Baby, where are you going?”

I runned back downstairs and into my room. I threw the gross green sheets on the floor and looked in the bed. I lifted up the purple poof and searched underneath. I dumped the train set on the floor.

Jessie wasn’t there. There was nothing but quiet spilled on the carpet.

*****************************************

April 27, 2062

Dear Diary,

I’ve just remembered because someone mentioned it,

that shooting almost 50 years ago in a small town in Connecticut.

It’s funny what we remember about such things. I remember being in school, probably 8th or 9th grade,

and everyone finding out from that old internet site we used all day…

it was called Twittey or Twattey or something like that.

I was in biology, with Mimi and Matt,

and I remember crying and going to the bathroom with one of my girlfriends.

And we watched a lot of news. The news wouldn’t end.

Aside from that, I remember nothing of that day. I guess I might have remembered better if I’d lost someone close.

It’s human nature to forget, I suppose.

But I don’t like it. What bothers me, too, is how much we care when it happens to us or near us

or right nextdoor—

but how often do we shed a tear for

those kids exploded in Africa or South America or West Sambentria?

Life is life. How come human misery is so egocentric?

I do remember the aftermath of the shooting.

Condolences poured into Newtown via Facebook and the mail and even some real people, too.

It’s hard to believe now, but back then, I believed in God. I went to church in Newtown, and one of the little girls who died had just moved into our church a few months before. We, as a community, hadn’t been welcoming—neither nice nor mean, just… disinterested. Then their kid was gone. The family got a lot of support, but nobody could help.

And then the holidays came and were gone,

and school returned, and things just sort of went on. That’s how these things are.

By the time of the shooting, I’d been through several natural disasters already.

They all had the same pattern of caring, moving on, forgetting.

Hurricane Sandra, for one, was just a few months before.

I remember going down to Queens on the weekends and shoveling sand out of people’s homes. There was always more

to be done.

The earthquake and tsunami back while I lived in Tokyo… that one

I’ll never forget. As a leader of the service organization at my school,

I watched, first-hand, the sudden pool

of volunteers and donations. Then everyone remembered they had their own lives to be living,

and stopped giving.

That’s what I love and hate about public tragedies. They truly do bring people together in love and compassion; there is always an immediate surge of almost too much care. And if you’re in a first world country, then support comes in from everywhere. But what I hate is that the compulsion to serve never lasts.

What I hate is that after a month or a year, all love has passed.

 Your pain, though omnipresent, becomes news from the past.

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One Response to “My homage to Sandy Hook”

  1. chelseainspace April 26, 2013 at 3:51 am #

    So touching 😥

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