After Sandy Hook

Season Collage
Season Collage/Wordsmith Studio Photographers

Lovely images, aren’t they?

Fun. Sweet. Cozy. Nostalgic. Beautiful.

But other adjectives stick in my head this morning. Unspeakable. Horrific. Tragic. Unbelievable.

None of them are sufficient. There are no words for what happened to twenty young children in Newtown, Connecticut yesterday. I keep thinking about the parents who had already shopped for Santa or who were engaged with their children in other holiday traditions. I think about the mom or dad who dropped a child off at school yesterday morning. An ordinary morning. Maybe homework had gone undone the night before. Maybe they were running late. Maybe there was a last-minute hug before the child got out of the car. Or maybe there wasn’t.

In light of the tragedy, I can’t write fiction today. I can’t write about smiling snowmen or bright lights or children mesmerized by a Christmas tree. If I had to choose one image, I would write about the one at the lower right, that ghostly image of a child’s backyard play set lost in a sea of blue-white, snowy light. The emptiness of it. The cold.

This morning, all those children are missing from their parents’, their siblings’, their grandparents’, their friends’ lives. That kind of emptiness is beyond my imagination. I’ve lost people I loved–a marriage gone to hell, my parents and grandparents, other relatives, friends–but I have been blessed to see my children grow to adulthood and now my grandchildren, too, three of them in their teens. I simply can’t imagine waking up every day with the kind of hole in a life that the death of a child creates.

I witnessed my grandmother’s grief when my mother, her only child, died. My grandmother lived nine years after that, to a stunning old age–almost 98–and she never got over that loss. My mother was 65, and I felt her life had been cut short.

But these little lives, in such a senseless act of violence?

Two things 

I have made it a point to stay away from politics on this blog, but I have to say two things today:

We must do something to keep automatic assault weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. What ordinary citizen needs a gun that fires off multiple rounds in seconds? I don’t believe this is what the founding fathers had in mind when they proposed “the right to bear arms.”

We must do something about how we care for the mentally ill in our society. The only way I can conceive of someone committing such a horrific act is to believe that person was seriously ill. Who else could act without conscience, concoct such a plan, and carry it out? We are failing this segment of our population. We throw drugs at them and expect the drugs to work the cure. Granted, we don’t know much about this “shooter” yet.  Surely there must have been signs. Maybe those around him were doing all they could to help him, but somebody missed something.

They say a tragedy like this brings out the best in us as a community, as a nation. I want to believe that’s true, but unless we change things, this event too will be forgotten by all except those most closely affected. We’ll move on, and nothing will be different. And there will be a next time.

That’s all I have to say this morning. I still want to write that story, but not today.

That empty play set is too haunting. Heartbreaking.

Please keep those parents and the whole community of Newtown in your hearts. Hold your own children close. And tell me here how you cope with a tragedy of this scope. What are you telling your children? What are you telling yourself? 

Imagine (fiction)


Maria’s husband, Jack, brings the elf out every Christmas and nestles it in the branches of the tree, like it’s hiding. Jack had this elf when he was a kid. Its green felt body and legs have faded. Its face is chipped. But its eyes are bright, and Maria feels it watching her from its perch, tucked back against the trunk of the tree.

Every time their two-year-old son, Eric, catches sight of it, he screams and runs to Maria.

“Take it off, Jack,” Maria says. “It scares Eric.”

Jack laughs. “It was my Christmas elf. I love this thing. He’ll love it, too. You’ll see.” Jack takes the elf out of the tree and starts toward Eric, who bursts into tears and reaches for Maria. She picks him up and he buries his face against her neck.

“Come to Daddy,” Jack says, but Eric clings to Maria, his arms tight around her neck. Jack plays peek-a-boo with the elf, pops it up behind Maria, hides it again. “Peek-a-boo!” Jack says in a high-pitched voice. “I see you!” Eric looks up, his face crumples. He howls.

“Stop it, Jack. Leave him alone.”

Jack looks, what, forlorn? “Okay, okay. But I’m putting it back on the tree.” He goes in the living room and Maria hears the tinkle of ornaments, moving.

Elf / Gerry Wilson

While Jack’s at work, Maria hides the elf in a drawer. “It’s gone, baby,” she tells Eric. “See?” But Eric still cries and refuses to go in the living room where the tree is. Maria is miffed. Jack’s ruining the first Christmas Eric might possibly remember.

It’s not just the elf, though. There’s something else, something bigger. Maria has read that men are sometimes jealous of their own babies. When women become mothers, they change. It’s hard being a mother and a wife.

When Maria and Jack agreed she would stay home for a couple of years after the baby came, Maria was glad. She hated the thought of leaving her baby in day care. Doing without her salary would be a sacrifice, but she could freelance from home, once the baby got a little older. And she has done that.

The trouble is, Jack comes in, kicks off his shoes, gets a beer, turns on the TV, drops on the couch, and doesn’t do a thing to help Maria. He plays with Eric, but mostly he gets the baby revved up so he has trouble going to sleep. Jack makes Maria’s job harder. And the sex—oh, God, it used to be so good. Now, most of the time, she’s too tired to think about it, but Jack won’t let her alone.

She can’t imagine her life without the baby. She can imagine it without Jack.

Most nights, Jack gets home late, after Eric is asleep. Maria puts the elf back on the tree before he comes in. The night before Christmas Eve, Jack says, “Where’s my elf?”

“Isn’t it on the tree?”

“You know it’s not, Maria. What’d you do with it?”

She shrugs. “I didn’t do anything. Maybe it fell. Did you look?” She goes back to the kitchen. Her heart is racing.

Jack is opening and closing cabinets and drawers. He yells, “This isn’t funny. Where’d you hide it?”

“I didn’t. Please be quiet. You’ll wake Eric.”

The elf made a smelly, smoky little fire in the back yard that morning while Eric was taking his nap. Maria burned it in an old metal garden bucket and scattered the ashes in a flowerbed, almost ceremoniously. The plastic face melted in the most grotesque way. She buried it. Only the jingle bell was left. She threw it over the fence.

Jack heads out the back door. She hears him rummaging through the trashcans. When he comes back inside, he’s flushed and winded. His eyes are unnaturally bright. Maria holds her breath until he stalks past her, through the kitchen, down the hall, into the living room. She imagines him looking at the blank space in the middle of the tree, looking deep into its branches, trying to see what isn’t there.

Wordsmith Studio’s Weekly Photo Prompt: Out the Window

I had to think about this photo challenge from Wordsmith Studio. I walked all around the house, checking different window views, since I had no handy exotic window locations. I discovered that my windows have been neglected during this period of writing hard, but that’s all right. They’ll get cleaned soon.

Here’s a view I love, looking out toward the back yard. I’m thinking of a story that might use this view . . . Who might be looking out this window, watching fall turn to winter? How might the view match her mood? Where is she going? Where has she been? Stay tuned . . .


Window blinds