In Newtown, our kids spent a lot less time in the car, and by Halloween, more than a week into the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we’d fallen deep into the easy community of the place. None of our neighbors had any power, and we were working together, with generators, to save the contents of our fridges and ration warm-shower time. That Halloween night, rather than heading up to Main Street, our hearty band of neighbor kids went trick-or-treating around our neighborhood. My son Willem, then in the fourth grade, had a new familiarity with the neighborhood after notifying neighbors about an upcoming food drive, his citizenship project at school. So he led a band of smaller kids up the mostly dark lanes and driveways.
Less than a week later, the lights back on but the night brutally cold, Main Street held its trick or treat. Willem and my husband made it all the way down Main Street; my younger son, Luke, and I made it halfway down the block, then retreated to the warmth of the car. That was November 4.
Since then, almost all of my friends have told me about that night. I’ve heard where they were and how long they lasted in the new cold that signaled the end of fall and the coming of winter. Almost everyone I know remembers that night really well. That trick-or-treat night, for so many in Newtown, was the last public moment of celebration before we would find ourselves inside an aftermath that lasted longer and hit harder than a hurricane’s, one we’re still experiencing. Talk of that cold Halloween night in Newtown leads inevitably to talk of a brisk sunny morning five weeks later when 20 first graders and six educators were murdered by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Now each Halloween marks the beginning of a new “season.” Not the holidays, but the season that comprises the weeks from October 31, when, seven years ago, Newtown was emerging from a deluge, and December 14, the date none of us is ever fully prepared to see again, even as the years pass.
Read: The forever aftermath of a mass shooting
In those weeks between Halloween and the anniversary of the tragedy, even from my own distance from the events of that day, I find it hard to stand up, hard to go on. The weather changes, the trees go bare. In spring and summer, the grocery store is the site of lingering chat sessions with moms I run into, their kids in soccer uniforms fresh from the pitch, or headed to dance practice or theater rehearsal. In these weeks, I trudge up the aisle with my head down. When I do look up, I can see it on everyone’s faces: We are trying to show up for one another and especially for those in our town who are experiencing so much worse, but the days and the light have gotten shorter, and we feel anew the coming dark. Some years I can manage to get to the annual tree lighting in early December at the Ram’s Pasture, a classic New England green. Other years I can’t face it. The impulse in this season of mourning is to stay home, close the curtains, and withdraw.