A few days after December 14, I found my son's blue striped hoodie crumpled behind a floor lamp in my living room. I saw it just after returning home from the first interfaith vigil for Sandy Hook School students, and felt a pit in my stomach grow and bloom.
Somewhere deep inside, a little voice said, "Just throw it out."
"There's Will's hoodie. It's my favorite shirt I bought him this year, but I don't think I can look at it ever again," I confessed to my husband.
It might seem insignificant -- just a hoodie, but that garment is tied up in the pain and anguish of December 14, 2012 at my children's school -- the now famous Sandy Hook School. I wish we could go back to December 13, when no one beyond our town had heard of our school. But we can't.
And the hoodie, with its darker blue and lighter blue stripes, is now entwined with my memories of that day. We bought it in August, when I was trying to fill my kids' drawers with clothes for their new adventure in public school. Will, Paige and I headed to the store one summer day after dinner for school shopping, carefully selecting clothes. Though I was on a tight budget, I saw that hoodie and loved its two-toned blue stripes -- even with its full price. We bought it. It was my one splurge.
On the morning of December 14, I woke up just before 8:00 a.m. and rushed to the basement. I'd forgotten again to toss Will's clothes in the dryer, but I had enough time to get one outfit done. I carefully shook out a pair of jeans, light blue t-shirt and the hoodie, turning on the dryer as I went back upstairs to make breakfast.
Will ate a warmed piece of homemade raspberry walnut bread with butter as I spread peanut butter and jelly on bread for his lunch. I gnashed my teeth, realizing that my husband hadn't saved the leftover stew after dinner, instead leaving it overnight in the slow cooker. "That would have made a great lunch," I thought to myself. It was a normal morning.
A little while later, Will was dressed and ready to head to the bus stop. He'd made his bed and was wearing his favorite sneakers and coat. "We're going Christmas shopping when I get home, right Mommy?" Will asked. I affirmed. That was the plan.
At the top of our driveway, we talked about something -- I don't remember what. And as the big yellow school bus rounded the corner, I kissed Will goodbye, hugged him and told him that I loved him -- just as I do every school day. Will crossed the road, looking both ways just like we've practiced. Then, he did something he never does: he paused and looked back. My first thought was that something was wrong, but as he said "I love you," my heart warmed. All was well.
Then he was gone.
A little over one hour later, I got word that there was a shooting at his school. My heart burst, and I sobbed -- the feeling of helplessness overtaking me. Then I prayed. And went. And thanked God that I got to hug Will again and tell him that I love him. My heart aches for the parents and families who weren't able to do the same.
We're healing here in Sandy Hook. Nothing will ever make us forget that December day. And those names -- the Sandy Hook 26 -- will forever remain in our hearts. But it's time to make the next big step forward – one that we've all been anticipating.
It's time for the kids to return to school.
On January 3, 2013, I will rise early. Hopefully, I'll already have Will's clothes ready. I'll make him breakfast, pack his lunch and supervise teeth brushing. He'll bundle up in a new red coat that he got for Christmas and pack his backpack with his lunch and his favorite water bottle. I'll put on my warm duffle coat and pull on my gloves before heading outside into the cold January air.
Together, we'll walk to the top of the driveway again. I'll smile the smile I've been practicing -- the encouraging one to mask my own fear and worry. We'll talk of seeing his friends and returning to school. I'll kiss him goodbye, give him a hug and tell him that I love him. Perhaps I will linger a little longer, holding him a little tighter, but I won't waiver in my encouraging smile. Then I will watch him board a school bus for the first time in nearly three weeks.
The route will be a little different, heading to a new destination -- Sandy Hook School at Chalk Hill. The classrooms, set up to look as much like our old neighborhood school as possible, will be fresh, new and a little unfamiliar. But he'll be surrounded by familiar faces and immersed back into second grade studies with his amazing teacher.
It isn't going to be easy. While the news has faded, the terrible thing that happened on December 14 is still fresh and raw for us. But I will do it because it's what my children need.
I'll watch that bus pull out of sight, taking my son back to school where he wants to be. I'll stand there in silent prayer that this time will be different.
And as I walk back down our driveway, I'll swipe away the tear that I won't let Will see -- hoping that school will be about learning, and disrupted by nothing. I'll think of his teacher and classmates, and hope for a peaceful day.
That's the way it's supposed to be.
Sarah W. Caron is a writer and mom of two.
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