Heart at Half-Mast: Discombobulated Reflections on Sandy Hook Tragedy

I’ll be going about my day, buying groceries or talking to a friend, and then that unmistakable pull from my chest sinks down into my guts. That guilt. That wave of nauseous disgust. It’s the way you feel when someone close to you passes away and you keep on living despite their gone-ness. How you can just…put on your chapstick, drink a beer…carry on.It’s how I’ve always felt when I’ve lost someone close to me.

But I didn’t know the kids of Sandy Hook Elementary. I didn’t know their teachers. I didn’t know the would-be heroes or the devastated parents.They existed in a world outside of mine and I would have gone on living, as would they, unbeknownst to me, had this unimaginable horror failed to take place on Friday morning. Of course, I wish this were the case. I wish that I’d never heard of any of them; that I remained ignorant to their existence, because they would have gone to school that day and left in the afternoon, perfectly normal kids coming and going as usual. But their lives were ripped were them in a violent, unimaginable way, and because of this, it seems that as a society, we are collectively mourning a tragedy that has become more than the lost lives of 26 strangers. It has become personal.

Friday afternoon, I’m walking around a Target buying dog food. There is a woman in the middle of the pet aisle hunched over her shopping cart. She is sobbing. In the next aisle over, an elderly woman gets a phone call. I can’t help but eavesdrop from her point of view. “Hello? No, what happened? No I didn’t hear. Oh my God. Oh my God. I can’t believe it. All of them? Oh my God.” I look over to her, we share a nod of recognition. The color is gone from her face. I suddenly want to talk to everyone. Ask them what they’re feeling. How they will process this. Ask them what I should do? Part of me, instinctively, wants to go to Newtown. It’s only an hour and a half away. I realize this is a silly idea, put it out of my head. As though I could possibly do anything but take up space. To gawk helplessly. Knowing these poor people will not get a break from onlookers for weeks and weeks to come. That they are a fixture of anguish now. And they would be best left to mourn together, without the constant presence of an outsider’s perspective looming at a distance.

On the drive home, the oft-unbearable traffic over the bridge doesn’t bother me. I am looking in the car windows, assuming everyone is listening to the same radio broadcast as I am. Running it over in their minds. Thinking about how terrifying it must have been for them. Letting the same image play in my head, trying to blink it away. The one question that lingers, that will not stop flashing angry and red: How do you look a child square in the face and pull the trigger? 

The question has variations. What kind of monster would do this? What world do we live in where we are exposed to this horror? How does this kind of thing happen? Why? Why? Why?

When I get home, I watch Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast just to calm myself down. The only other option is booze and I know that drinking when I’m this upset is never a good idea. I let all that Disney in my veins and I feel a little better. I spend my Friday night drinking cocoa in my pajamas, regressing and numbing myself with animated ballads. It does help. Turning off the news was a good idea. Tonight, all I want to do is call my mom. Have my friends over. Hug everyone I see. Release some form of agnostic prayer into the universe.

The next day, I am angry. I want answers, like everyone else. But I am struggling. Facebook is a great place to go and get everyone else’s opinions and feel completely discouraged by your own. I scan my newsfeed and become simultaneously passionate about gun control and mental health education. This is overlapped with resentment for those jumping to conclusions and posting paragraphs of editorial melodrama like common law. George Takei is updating as fast as a heartbeat. Don’t I have to agree with him? Don’t I have to write something important now too? How do I want to say this? What words could possibly make a difference?

I feel overwhelmed with hatred for the person who committed this unthinkable act and yet when I think of his family that same sorrow creeps through me. What causes a person to break in such a way? What puts that moment into fruition? This is not something that happens instantaneously. It festers. It itches. It bubbles on the skin. And then it is real. It is a weapon in your hand met with the terror in the eye of your victim. And you don’t stop. And you know that you end with it. What is going through the head of the person who can complete that act?

Someone posts an article claiming Adam Lanza suffered from Asberger Syndrome and I instantly feel defensive, knowing that there is no correlation between violence and the Autism spectrum. Knowing as well, through my work with adults suffering from mental illness, that the stigmas for their disorders will be heightened now, as they are each time a violent crime is committed without just cause. The overarching majority of my clients are Schizophrenic. They have delusions, they have had command hallucinations, they have acted in a way our society has viewed as incorrect; unsuitable; inappropriate. But they will watch the news today and grieve just as I do. They will bow their heads with human empathy and know that something went terribly wrong. But they will look a certain way or say a certain phrase and someone will not understand them. It will instill a fear and a lack of emotive capacity for that individual. And that will create a distance that is more destructive with its avoidance.

There are a million opinions zooming through my brain and each one conflicts with the next. Yes, I think that we need to increase our gun control, especially of semi-automatic weaponry. Yes, I think that we should have a deeper understanding of mental health issues and educate ourselves on early childhood symptoms and triggers. My impulse is towards a Liberal conjecture that is bewildered with the ease at which we are granted access to guns and ammunition. But there is a part of me, a perhaps deep-seeded, minutely moderate part of me, that thinks this is only a quick-fix. This is the band-aid over the wound that needs to breathe. This is the way we point our fingers and draw our straws until the most blaring point made is that yes, guns do kill people, but the people holding the guns need an outlet that isn’t necessarily there.

Someone posts a poem, a revision of The Night Before Christmas retold in the perspective of this tragedy and it makes me sick. It refers to the children spending Christmas with Jesus instead of their families and I know that no God would ever let this happen. Not this way. Other people are posting rants about more funds being cut from mental health programs; how Alabama is completely disbanding their mental health system altogether by closing all psychiatric hospitals save for a geriatric and criminally insane unit. It all makes my blood boil. I can’t wrap my head around it. There’s too much talking. This has happened too many times to keep dancing around. 

I don’t want to turn this into a political rant because I don’t have a truly affective argument for everything I’m feeling. I am mostly devastated that the parents of these children have to look at the Christmas presents they already wrapped under the tree that their babies will never get to rip open. That today, we have to worry about sending our children to school because they might not come back home again. That someone felt so desperate and alone and empty that he chose to snuff out so many lives. That he got away with it. That people like this walk among us, and we will pass him or her on the street and never think about them again. That they are carrying around something dark, and heavy, and it has nothing to do with the gun they will later arm themselves with.  And it’s that central darkness that is being overlooked.

How do we fix this? Gun control might be the first step. Education the second. But what is really going to stop this seemingly inherent impulse towards violence? Do we ban video games or Marilyn Manson albums or South Park? Do we necessitate mental health exams for every individual wanting to purchase a weapon? Do we pray? Do we praise peace and pacifism for all and denounce our right to bear arms? Is there a common ground that can exist to promote a safer world? The thing is, I don’t know the answer. I’m not going to pretend it’s there. There might not be one and I sure as hell am not the voice of reason in chaos. But I’m going to make sure the people in my life know they are loved. I am going to continue advocating for my clients. I am going to reach out in whatever way I can to promote safe spaces to talk, emote, and confide. Because how will be ever begin to understand something so heinous if we move in a frenzy to fix it or to cover it up. First, it has to sink in. We have to be given an opportunity to heal. We have to let the wound breathe.

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About Lauren Singer

Until my life turns into the Beyonce single that it’s meant to become, I’ll be over here, cuddling my pup and supplementing my delusions with bottom shelf-whiskey, RnB dance parties, and a lot of Netflix movies ‘featuring a strong female lead’.
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