I remember, I was sitting on the sofa watching television in the small apartment we had rented 3 months earlier when we moved to Georgia. It wasn’t home. It wasn’t a place I felt safe. It was just a roof over our heads while we tried to sell our NY house and find one here. As I sat there in this unsettled place, a story came on the news that broke my heart. A shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was the first time one of the increasingly frequent acts of domestic terrorism stopped my world.
I know that for most people, 9/11 effected them in that way. For me, September 11th was extremely surreal, like I was watching a horror movie on-screen. The personal emotional effect didn’t hit me right away……but Sandy Hook…..well, Sandy Hook hit me hard and fast. You see, I know Sandy Hook, I know Newtown. It is a place ingrained in my blood….a place ingrained in my past. It was the place my parents grew up, met and got married. It was where my sister and I spent winter afternoons ice skating with my grandmother….and where I spent Saturday nights indulging in my love of the Muppets with my grandfather. It was where I first held my breath underwater in the ‘deep hole’……..and where my cousins and I would have adventures in the woods. It was where generations of my family were born…….and are now buried in Zoar cemetary.
There I was, sitting in this foreign place, hundreds of miles away and Sandy Hook came on the news. For the first time, it wasn’t like a movie on a screen….it was a real place, real people, real terror. It took me a while to truly grasp what had happened in that school when the news stories started putting out ‘diagnosis’ theories about the shooter. My 12-year-old son had just been treated in a mental health facility 6 weeks earlier and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had been exhibiting extreme aggression and anger, with me as his primary target. So, this new development that the shooting wasn’t in an attempt to make a political statement or an act of retaliation….it was just a boy who clearly needed some type of treatment, that hurt my heart even more….if that could be possible.
When my son came home from school that day, he found me crying….still watching the news. Once he figured out what was happening, he started asking a lot of questions. I tried to answer them the best I could and then he asked about the numbers. He kept hearing 26 killed at the school….but then the reporter would say 28 dead. I explained that one was the shooter…..and one was his mom, because he shot her first before he left home. My son looked at me, horrified, and hugged me….hard. Under his breath he whispered “I promise I will never kill you, mama”. Just a small sentence, but it was filled with compassion and an understanding of my fears that I am not sure he had before. Just a small sentence that punctuated a day I will never forget.
As I reflect on the happenings of that day 3 years ago, I can’t help to be reminded of an assignment many of us had in elementary school. You know, the ‘Where were you when?’ assignment. For those of us 80’s children, we were usually told to ask a family member one of two dates…..’Where were you when President Kennedy was shot?’ or ‘Where were you when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon?’. It’s not that other things didn’t happen during our parent’s and grandparent’s lifetimes….but those were the two that ‘stopped’ most people in our country.
What would that assignment look like if it kids were to ask my generation that question? I remember school stopping to watch the Challenger launch….and then explode. I remember where I was when Desert Storm started ……the Oklahoma City Bombing…..Columbine……Binghamton Civic Association……9/11……Sandy Hook…….San Bernardino. There are so many others to list….but these are the ‘few’ that I can tell you the place I was when it happened. Can you imagine what this list might look like when our children are our age…..or our grandchildren? Will they have a list at all or will it be so common place that they won’t even stop for a moment of compassion when tragedy happens?