Our Neighbors, Ourselves
A mother's thoughtful recollection of the Sandy Hook School tragedy
Piecemeal. This is how the story began to unfold. On an early Friday morning, as the news began to break initially on local stations it quickly went straight to mass coverage on every news outlet, including CNN. Reporting of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school was seemingly less than apocalyptic. A friend phoned me at home. I had experienced a breech on my personal email account and was preoccupied with my own damage control. She told me that she had just been alerted that there was a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown.
I immediately turned on the news and began to see and hear the earliest reporting. It was a single shooter. No, it was two shooters? The shooter inside the school killed himself? The police found another man in the woods? The shooter had driven from New Jersey and killed his brother before driving 80 miles north drive to Newtown? The broadcaster asks; “What was going through his mind, his mission during the hour and a half or more ride to Sandy Hook Elementary?”
The young man was said to have gone to the school to kill his mother, a teacher at the school. It was revealed that he was a graduate of Quinnipiac. A school where my son is interviewing. There were two known deaths, outside of the shooter who took his own life. One other staff member had been shot in the foot... until these many facts had not been fact checked, and suddenly it changed. It was an apocalypse. It went from two deceased to many more in a short span of time.
As I steadfastly worked on fixing a rogue email blast, a rogue shooter was misidentified, he had identification that belonged to his brother, who had been the graduate. The narrative gradually became so convoluted, however the magnitude gradually increased.
CBS was the first to report that it appeared that a dozen or more were killed. A half hour later another outlet said it claimed up to 20. By 2pm, now as I drive to Fairfield Ludlowe High School, I hear on the radio now that it may be as many as 30!
My daughter walked slowly to the car. Her awareness of the incident was high. She had sent me a text earlier, and the head master had made an announcement. Mia told me a few of the teachers lived in Newtown and had children in the school. They left immediately and their classes were cancelled. I drove her to a doctor appointment and she turned off the radio. I asked her if we should talk about it? It did not seem so. We drove in silence and made our way into the examination room. It was all-surreal. At one point, the doctor asked Mia if she was frustrated by anything? She said no. “I am still thinking about what happened today”. Dr. Smith exhaled as if she had been holding her breath, and said “me too”. “What else can we focus on”? “If you don’t remember anything I said today, I understand.” She urged us to call her to go over it when our minds might be clearer.
It is later in the day, and the news is on at home. But I am the only one watching. My teenagers are purposively distracting themselves. I don’t know what is the appropriate response. I am unsure what to do, how to speak about it, or not too. I must listen. So many facts have changed. It is not just piecemeal. So many aspects don’t add up. But if all these innocents are dead and still lie strewn in this elementary school, what is the meaning of adding up? I discover this is the puzzle that one chases to make sense of the senseless. Left-brain and right are convening on a neural course. All is thrown into a chaotic stew that some were eating by watching the news, and others were rejecting, by turning it off. But it struck me. Like a question in a philosophy class. If a tree falls in the woods, does it make noise if no one is there to hear it? I comfort my 9 year old neighbor Simon, who was home all day and had watched and listened to the news. His mom Jane said “he knows”. He was scared. He was also confused. Like all of us.
Later that evening my son Noah returned from swim practice finding me staring at the television with a palpable look of shock. He told me that 10 or more kids did not show up. He urged me to ‘shut off the television’.
“It is making you depressed”. I asked him to shut my door so he did not have to listen. I was going mad. I knew it, but I could not stop. It wasn’t masochism. It was my responsibility. I am a solution seeker.
Earlier in my week, I shared that I was experiencing a sense of disease. The joking about the end of the world on 12-12-12 had passed. I couldn’t be taking this seriously? Something was amiss. I could feel it. By Friday I told myself that exercise and busyness would allay the anxiousness. When the news came at me, it took up residence in my body. I spoke with friends all weekend who feel similarly. My dear friend Deborah, a psychiatrist told me she feels “a nasty irritability.” She said that “the narrative appeared to present more clarity on Friday. A basis for a motive perhaps, and now it was not at all clear”. “It almost seemed that a storyline was introduced that pointed to son seeking out some pent up vengeance on his mother in the school, and then it evaporated.” “I have patients there, and they are fitful.” I think we all are. It was explained to me by a psychiatrist and neurologist that we have not only our recall of past events that were traumatizing, but we have cellular memory. This lays down a track on our cellular structure that can be ignited by experiencing directly or indirectly a traumatic event. It can be triggered randomly. It can happen after watching an intense scene, engaging in a confrontation, or by watching and absorbing the gravity of what we have seen and read and heard since Friday morning.
Thinking of the first responders who raced into that building, and later were seen outside, as the trauma units began to leave. Standing there. As we watched them our hearts were beating heavy in our chests, as I know theirs were. Perhaps our collective PTSD here in our town, so very, very close to Newtown, now bounds us together. It was there during Sandy. The hurricane left like a lamb, and Sandy Hook came on like a lion. Sandy Hook is Newtown’s 9/11. There is no panacea. There is no remediation. There is no town clean up day. There are no words. That is what the people interviewed keep saying. ‘There are no (right) words.’
“Why is everyone still talking about this?” a 10 year old said to me yesterday, “it happened 2 days ago”. In a young life two days is a long time. As we get older it is years we count.
Perhaps children teach us that they are still gaining experience with curiosity and awe. How can we tap into this DNA? But I believe many of us have ‘no words’ to proffer a reasonable explanation, nor worse, solid reassurance. Can anyone promise them, though we must, that they will be safe?
I asked and heard from teachers and friends that calling out a child is who appears troubled is frowned upon in the ‘age of political correctness’. “How many times have I seen a kid who is off, but these days you are discouraged from saying anything. Was this kid pointed out, was he getting help?”
The resounding note that may be falling on slightly less tone deaf society after this horrific tragedy is echoed in the President’s words on Saturday night. “We cannot tolerate this anymore” has never felt more urgent. Why did this mother, the first victim own all of those guns? Why were they so accessible? If the right to own a gun and our second amendment rights are inviolable, then what rights protect those who have the duty to safeguard our citizens, especially the youngest among them? These innocent 6 and 7 year olds were still being read to at night. They will never be able to study or ever read about our constitution. Nor will they read about any of the amazing things about the amazing places they were destined to go.
To provide relief to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School visit the United Way online.
Linda Patscot has had a successful career as CEO for Pulse, a marketing research firm specializing in behavior and trend analysis for Fortune 500 companies. Her interest in politics and medicine inspired her to found BirthRoad, a consultancy helping intended parents explore 3rd Party Reproduction. She lives In Fairfield with her family where she is currently writing a book.
Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org