Almost a year ago, on a Friday morning, I checked Twitter and saw that there were reports of gunshots near a school in western CT. I knew that my sweetheart, who I was planning to see that evening and whose journalistic “beat” is that part of the state, would be speeding over there with his photographer to find out what had happened. For a brief second I thought “well, this is going to foul up my night” and for that naïve, selfish, stupid thought I will be ashamed for the rest of my life.
I kept up with the reporting all day, as he was part of local continuing coverage while national media streamed in to that small town. I refused to believe the reports of mass casualties until they were confirmed later that afternoon. There was no possible way it could be as bad as rumored. And then we learned it was that bad, if not worse.
Later, when the sun was down but it was still not quite night, I drove to a caroling gig. We sang carols for an hour in silly hats at a car dealership while guests reveled as if nothing had happened. On the drive home I put the news’ livestream on my phone so I could hear Robert’s voice. He talked about bodies piled up in classrooms, and I cried, knowing that there was no way that he could have seen that, wishing he hadn’t had to hear about it. I wished a little that I hadn’t had to either.
[My father apparently had the same thought, calling me moments later from CT to make sure Robert hadn’t been too close or seen anything gruesome. Before he asked after Robert, though, just after I answered the phone, he cried out “Where are you??” When I told him, he went on “your brother is right here…” and trailed off, without explaining his primal urge to account for all of his children in a crisis.]
Everything was horrifying that day, even from a distance, and I try in vain to revisit those few quiet moments before the shouting began, when we could sit with grief without being told that what we were feeling and thinking were wrong. Those moments don’t last long anymore.
By the time I got home we were well into the shouting, and even with the distance of a year I’m not ready to be gracious about it. I understand relating tragedies to politics; for better or for worse, politics is one major way our nation creates change. I want to believe that our horror at the unthinkable drive us to argue, that the vitriol has at its root our rage against the dying of the light. But I can’t shake the feeling that some people like the fight, like to be right, and enjoy turning any cultural flashpoint into an opportunity for superiority.
I was not able to see my sweetheart that weekend. I had made food for us ahead of time, but ate it alone. He was supposed to go to a concert of mine, I gave away the ticket. I cried by myself, and cried because I knew he was processing this madness too, and I wanted to be with him.
[On Monday I had the worst Crohn’s flare of my life. I threw up for 18 hours. I worried I’d have to go to the hospital for dehydration.]
I wish that telling my story made a difference. I wish that my grief and shock could honor people. I wish I didn’t feel like writing out my experience is just as self-satisfying as sending one of the pallets of teddy bears that still fill warehouses all over CT.
When six months had passed, I couldn’t believe it had only been that long. Some news – even that which doesn’t touch us personally – shakes our worlds so much that it is hard to remember there was anything before the bottom fell out.
Maybe that’s why we tell these stories of where we were and how we felt, to remind ourselves that there was a time before the brokenness. Maybe that’s our futile way of trying to redeem the evil, by remembering that there is something we learned that day, something that changed us, and that maybe even made us more human.
As hard as we try, there is still an ice cold core of inscrutable evil inside the layers of warmth with which we have surrounded this tragedy. There are those who have lost loved ones, and for them this evil, that day, can never be redeemed. I don’t know if our words honor them. I don’t know what can.
The one thing I am convinced of is that confusion is the one appropriate response to an event that so violates our understanding of how the world is supposed to work. I wrote that evening and I write now because I am still bewildered, and because I hold out hope that even on our darkest days there is at least the promise of light.