'Where we love is home — home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts' ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes
Like the rest of the world I woke up this morning trying to wrap my head around the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, CT at Sandy Hook Elementary. Where 25 lives were cut short, 20 of them children, at an elementary school. My elementary school. In an instant my town, my school has become infamous. I feel robbed. This was MY school. It is filled with happy memories. Lasting friendships. We were the Jolly Green Giants. Where huge green footprints were painted all the way up the winding driveway. Where we had an annual Sandy Hook School Fair each spring. Where we had cement dinosaur footprints made from fossils in the library. Where I walked into my kindergarten class, terrified, into the warm embrace of Mrs. Cogswell, who made everything better in an instant. Where my first grade teacher, Mrs. Hamilton pulled my tooth — because her husband was a dentist (and it was the 70's). Where we celebrated the Bicentennial by dressing in colonial clothing for a week straight. It's where I learned to flip baseball cards at recess. Play bombard man. Master Chinese jumprope. Where I had fun. Everyday. The friends I made then, are my friends to this very day. My eyes are swollen because I can't stop crying. Wishing it was a bad dream. Sadly, it isn't and the reality of it is that its closer to me than I could have ever imagined. This is NOT supposed to happen. Anywhere. But, Newtown? No.
Newtown is everything you can say about a small New England town. Picturesque, steeped in history, family and community focused. A main street straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Homes that line the street date back to the 17th Century. We have a giant flagpole right in the middle of Main Street. No, really — it's right there. At the intersection of Church Hill Road. We are arguably the only people on the planet who think this is perfectly normal. We'll rally againt any "outside" critics who attempt to use public safety logic to have it removed. One-hundred years later, and its still here. My sister and I would walk the 1/4 mile from our saltbox house on Johnnie Cake Lane (no joke) to the General Store to buy Penny Candy — and it really was a penny. Mrs. Meyers would scoop it out of the glass jar with a pewter scoop into a small brown bag. We'd walk next door to the Town Hall and catch the movie of the week for a dollar. We didn't care that it was released months ago, maybe longer.
Each Labor Day we had an annual parade that traveled down Main St. We'd wave to our friends from church, Pop Warner, the high school marching band. The volunteer firemen who manned the five firehouses needed to cover our "small" yet vast town, and the EMTs from the Ambulance. We watched fire works at our Town Park, and would traipse up the hill of the golf course across the street to get better seats. Sounds like a time warp, doesnt it? It wasn't. It was my town. We were in a Breyers Ice Cream commercial because that's how much we captured the idyllic image of a "quaint New England town." It was and is the real deal — the best place to grow up.
I was on my way to Brookside Elementary to pick up my son for a dental appointment when I got the first text about the shooting. My friend said all schools were in lockdown, with three dead. Possibly one child. I felt numb. By the time I arrived at Brookside I received another text. "It's bad. Very, very bad" it began. Then I read "27. Mostly kids. kindergartners." I sobbed. I was buzzed into Brookside after informing them I had a pre-arranged early dismissal for my son, in 2nd grade. As I stood at the front desk my phone continued to ring and buzz with text messages. I felt nauseous. As I waited, the kindergarteners began to file out of the cafeteria. I subconsciously began counting them as they passed by. I got to 18, and saw my daughter. I turned, and told the teacher at the front desk. "I'm going to just take my daughter with me while I'm here." I kept them both close by that afternoon, and since. At times beginning to think about the unthinkable. Ultimately I couldn't think it. Couldn't fathom it. Can't imagine it.
Watching the events unfold throughout the day, and seeing my precious hometown on national news was the most disconnected feeling I've ever had. Friends passing in front of cameras. It was surreal. I felt so helpless. Those same police officers and volunteer firemen that I've known for years, to whom I've waived in our town's parade, on CNN providing crucial coordination and support to the affected families. Is this real? The media was quick to jump on any information. A lot of it inaccurate. The most reliable information I found was streaming on Facebook, with countless friends providing updates on lockdowns, reuniting with their kids, and sadly, the increasing number of reported fatalities. My phone was blowing up with calls from family and friends. Some offering support, knowing this was my town, and most just needing confirmation that yes, it is indeed the worst thing that could ever happen.
My friend was volunteering at Sandy Hook Elementary, in her son's kindergarten class that morning, with her other two children in different classes. She and her children got out safely, and were picked up by our friend, because her car was behind crime scene tape, and a multitude of heavily armed officers. "I can't talk right now, but it's bad" is what she said in a brief call from the car. Another friend, a teacher's aide, hid in a closet with students for hours. Another friend, a special education assistant, is so shaken by this event she cannot discuss it, and is heavily mourning the loss of friends/colleagues and students. She is credited for calling 911 and ushering her 2nd grade students to a corner during the lockdown. I've seen heartbreaking photos of Dawn, the heroic principal, and a dear, dear friend of my childhood friend, with her beautiful daughters. Yet another friend rushed frantically to retrieve her 5-year-old son, and thankfully found him at the firehouse. She shared that as the day progressed, he was recalling more and more of what he heard and saw. No doubt, nothing any child should ever have to see or hear. Ever.
I felt as though I was holding my breath, and the cyber hands of dozens of people I've known my entire life. It was both comforting and devastating all at once. The names of the deceased were released today. I am thankful that no one I know directly was effected, but in several instances there is only a degree or two of separation. A friend's co-worker lost a daughter, another's daughter's best friend lost her mom, many whose children's friend's lost a sibling. Regardless, my entire Newtown family is hurting right now. I am sad that we will forever be known for this horrific event. I feel broken, yet I know we have the strength to persevere.
We... they will never get over this, but they will get through it. I love you Newtown. All my love and prayers to my friends and family. Please keep them in your prayers. Thank you.