The president cried for my hometown on Friday. He wiped away tears on national television with a curled finger, just as I had been doing for hours in the privacy of my home.
I don't really know what to say when people ask where I am from. I usually just say, "Oh, a small town in Connecticut," because the majority of the people who ask wouldn't know of my bucolic community. Friday, December 14 changed that.
Newtown is a place synonymous with a few things. For one, the flagpole that sits smack dab in the center of our Main Street, causing our town's drivers to make scary sharp left turns into town. It is known for Fairfield Hills, an abandoned hospital, now home to soccer fields and a youth academy. It is known for sleepy Sunday mornings and late Friday nights at its Blue Colony Diner right off of Exit 10. I know it as my home, my little corner of the universe. Newtown is a place with a long colonial history, but it also embodies innocence and youth.
People remark, "It is a great place to grow up." This is one of the truest statements about this place. As a child, there are few reasons to venture outside of Newtown. Everything a child could need or desire is located within the town's borders: Horseback riding, piano lessons, little league baseball, ice cream shops, a movie theater, a toy store... Newtown is a place that teenagers often long to escape from, but younger children adore to live here.
This image, unfortunately, is not truly known to the rest of the country, the rest of the world. Newtown was never known by my friends from college on the West Coast for its flagpole, or Fairfield Hills or the Blue Colony diner. Newtown is not viewed as a place of innocence, as those of us who love this town see it. To the rest of the country, the rest of the world, Newtown is a place synonymous with a massacre of children. It is now a place that will forever be mentioned alongside Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and Virginia Tech, locations known for killing sprees.
I returned home from college for winter break on the evening of Thursday, December 13. I was looking forward to being mindless for a whole month. Then, I woke up Friday morning to the horrors that humanity inflicted on my sleepy little hometown. Twenty children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school, just 10 minutes from my home. These little children are just babies. They are the kids I see at the supermarket, carrying huge boxes of Coco-Puffs to their mother's carts, only to be turned away because of the cereal's "high sugar count." They are the kids who had just performed their winter concert and had held their heads high as they sang, however out of tune they may have been. They are the kids who I would interview when I was interning at Newtown's newspaper, The Newtown Bee. They would supply me with quotes such as, "I like summer because there is no school."
These babies, as I have been calling them, had not been released yet from the cocoon of Newtown. They are our brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, cousins, neighbors, and the kids we babysat every day after school or taught swimming lessons. They were an integral part of our community; they were our happiness. When life hits me with a wave of stress, I often think, "Damn, how good it would be to be so young again." Since Friday, though, all I can think of is the innocence that was stripped from these children. Five-year-olds are considered "survivors" and "heroes." They are also victims of homicide. Suddenly, being young in my town is a scary thing.
Every person who has grown up in Newtown has said at least once, "Nothing happens here." When something did happen here, though, it is something from a nightmare. Unreal. With all those gunshots, Newtown suddenly lost something that cannot be replaced -- our essential innocence.
However, as a former student of the Newtown school district, who was taught kindergarten through 12th grade by Newtown teachers, I believe that we can recover and move on. Despite this horrific massacre, we will have a lot to celebrate here and be proud of. The teachers of Newtown are true heroes who will continue to teach generations of children. I grew up in this town. I learned to read and write, I learned to drive, I learned to laugh and cry here. I learned the meaning of friendship as well as humility and respect from the people here. It will take time, but the only way we can recover Newtown is to remember that innocence and love are what this town is built on. I hope that parents still jump at the chance to get their child into Newtown schools. This town provided me with an amazing education, enriching experiences and lifelong friendships. Newtown encountered evil and experienced tragedy, but we will overcome.
To my area code 203 family, I love you all.