In a little over a month, I will be bracing for the onslaught of Sandy Hook memorials. I’ll have to take a few days off social media, because I have never been able to look at the pictures of those kids, and do not expect to be able to now. I get my news from the radio, and that was hard enough. I saw two photos only: one of a smiling, dark-haired boy in a brown jacket who died, and one of a line of surviving kids crossing the school parking lot, each with one hand on the shoulder of the one ahead.
I know this massacre was so horrific that most everyone was laid low by it. Usually, at such times, I, like most people, sorrow and feel shock, feel the urge to help, feel the helplessness and maybe guilt of the unscathed. This time around, I was leveled. I spent a month at least in a semi-daze, crying unpredictably, struggling to focus, all of which felt ridiculous on some level since my kids were unharmed. What had done it though, was the exact age of my older son. He’s in second grade now, just as those kids would have been. All year, as we’ve passed Christmas, birthdays, summer vacation, boring school concerts, Halloween, it’s been in my mind that I have my boy still, and they don’t.
When I heard the stories of what happened in Sandy Hook last year, the jumbled bodies of those first graders huddled in a bathroom seemed to include my son. It was his body I could see torn up and bloody. And it was me I could see, waiting in the town’s firehouse until the last of the good news and the last of the living children had been delivered, and the rest of the mothers went to their knees or began to vomit. A classroom like his, a teacher like his, boys like him–my boy there but for the grace of a couple hundred miles.
I dwelt in that horror for a long time. Seeing my son’s body in that terrible room, the empty hallways and cheery wallhangings. I stalked those hallways in my mind incessantly, peering into the side rooms to look again and again.
Finally, I had to shake myself awake. I had to leave those hallways and bright classrooms turned into tombs, and turn back to my sons. For the parents who lost their children, they’ve had to do it too–to do, as the poet Marie Howe would put it, “what the living do.” Life will force its way through. There have been camping trips to plan, and books to read, and Halloween costumes to make. After a while, I watched my son climb up out of the pile of bodies and scramble away to play soccer, or plan spy missions, but I will see him forever with his small shadows–the classroom of his age matched cohorts who would have started middle school when he does, gotten a driver’s license, graduated high school at the same time. They will always be with us.
Tonight, we raced around gathering all the parts of their Halloween costumes for trick or treat. Simon, as Hedwig the owl, was howling about his talons and picking feathers off his tongue. Malcolm was vacillating, panicky, over whether to carry a wand or a Quidditch broom. Then, there was one still moment when I called him over so I could draw the lightning bolt scar in the middle of his forehead with lipstick. He looked up at me silently, his clear blue eyes fixed on my face. I finished, and turned him loose.
Harry Potter, The Boy Who Lived.