When talking to friends and family about this, the one phrase that keeps coming up is "I can't believe." It's a cliché, but also true in
a very literal sense. I spent all day reading the headlines and the body counts, but part of me is still waiting for the grand reveal that none of this
really happened because how could any of it have really happened? How could the elementary school where I wrote my first story and got in trouble
for calling Ross Perot a butthead also be the site of the nation's second-deadliest school shooting? I can't reconcile the memories I have of Sandy Hook
School with the events of today. They simply aren't the same place.
In other words, the feeling of helplessness isn't just coming from the fact that I can't do anything about the murders on Friday. If anything, I'm still
far too baffled as to how and why a fellow human being could kill 27 people--20 of them schoolchildren -- to feel much of anything besides inchoate shock and
rage. The helplessness comes more from the fact that my hometown doesn't belong to me anymore.
Over the course of just a few hours on a crisp Friday in December, I saw my humble town become infamous. I saw its name plastered on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. I saw it trending on Twitter. I heard it come out of Barack Obama's mouth. (Although I'm
pretty sure you said "Newton," Mr. President. I tried to ignore that because it was a good speech, but come on. We're very proud of that second "w.") It
belongs to the world now, not to me. And this is all and only because of the shooting.
I don't know how you make sense of an event like this, where even words
like "abominable" and "sickening" come off as understatement. I don't
know what type of person decides to kill 20 elementary school
students. If Columbine is any indication, the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary will likely be the main if not the only thing that people think of when they hear the
word "Newtown" for decades to come. This is eminently understandable, but I can't help but feel angry about how unfair it seems as well. Because there is
more to my hometown than one horrific shooting, and I want people to know that. I want them to know about the Labor Day Parade and the General Store
sandwiches, about Newtown High School soccer and the $2 movies at Edmond Town Hall, about how we put a giant flagpole in the middle of a busy four-way
intersection that everyone seems to both love and hate at the same time. I want them to know that St. Rose of Lima isn't just a place for candlelight
vigils but for weddings and baptisms, and I want the Times to know that the adjectives "wooded" and "bucolic" don't begin to do my town justice,
and I want to chastise my adolescent self for devoting so much of his existence to complaining about a place that never showed him anything but family and
friendship and love, and, damn it, President Obama, that really was a moving speech, but it's Newtown.
A friend of mine set up a fund for the victims' families, if you'd like to contribute.