Well, I thought I was okay.
Sometime between mid-January and late March, I had ceased thinking about Newtown on an hourly or daily basis. The holiday season was finally over, I got to meet my baby niece, Jeff and I were taking ballroom dance lessons and I was back in the swing of regular work.
But near the end of March, I had a dream: I was back in Newtown, and I was interviewing a florist as she was preparing spray arrangements for a child’s funeral. Suddenly, I felt my eyes burn hot with tears, and my mind went blank. I quickly turned away for a moment, then faced her again.
“I’m so sorry,” I told her. “I don’t know what’s the matter with me.”
Then I woke up.
Later that day, another reporter who had been in Newtown wrote a blog post in which he explained his reluctance to talk much about his experiences:
1.) I’ve been nervous that [this] just comes across as me complaining about my own personal situation.2.) I’ve felt a certain amount of guilt for feeling so badly when there are obviously people who were directly and significantly affected by what happened far more than I can imagine.Additionally, I’ve wanted to distance myself a little from my coverage in Newtown. It’s not a fun thing to talk about so I largely avoid it, though there are times when I’m drinking with buddies that things will slip out.
That basically sums up my feelings.
But now I feel ready to share some of the pictures I made while in Newtown. It could be that the warmer weather and sunshine are helping me overcome the dreariness of that trip. It could be that I’m actually getting okay-er over time. Or it could be that it’s simply time to do this now.
…December 15, 2012
Lauren and I had arrived in New Haven the previous night and slept for maybe six hours. The next six or so hours after we reported for work were fairly hectic and confusing. I was assigned to profile the school psychologist who had been killed, but after we’d knocked on doors all over her neighborhood and — along with a Wall Street Journal reporter and Bloomberg reporter we encountered on her street — felt like the most horrible people on the planet, we decided we’d had enough: We decided to strike out on our own.
So, at about 2 p.m., we went to Newtown for the first time, to do a profile of the town as a town of its own merits, not as a town defined by tragedy.
As we rolled into Newtown, I spotted a line of white objects neatly placed in the middle of a field. We pulled over.
And we met Ron, a friendly groundskeeper who filled us in a little on the history of Newtown.
Ron gave us directions to Sandy Hook Elementary: Go up the main road, turn right at the flagpole in the middle of town and keep going. Seems pretty simple, but that’s just how Newtown is. Small. Simple. Friendly.
But once on the road toward the school, we ended up sitting in traffic for so long that we knew we could be making more use of our time elsewhere. Seeing a sign for a Christmas tree farm, I turned left and drove along a hilly, semi-rural, two-lane road until we found the farm, where we then found families making an attempt at yuletide normalcy.
On our way back towards Newtown, we stopped to capture just one of the many signs of support on display:
Then we walked around town a bit, to get a feel for the place. Our impressions since Ram Pasture had not changed: Small. Simple. Friendly.
After talking to several people at several different retail locations, we found ourselves at…
Yes — Newtown has its own souvenir store.
And its own line of greeting cards:
Small. Simple. Friendly.
Store co-owner Teri Brunelli showed Lauren and me around the store. There were Newtown shirts, Newtown baseball caps, Newtown Christmas ornaments, Newtown mugs, Newtown magnets. It really was “Everything Newtown.”
“Newtown,” Teri said, “is a very proud community. People in Newtown and Sandy Hook love Newtown and Sandy Hook.”
After we left Everything Newtown, we left Newtown and turned in our work for the day.
That was just the first day.
…December 16, 2012
Sunday morning, I was assigned to do video of church services at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church, which is the largest church in town. Then Lauren and I were assigned a story about funeral preparations. We talked to funeral home directors and florists. We tried to talk to gravediggers and cemetery employees, and I was personally relieved that we were unable to do so.
I was going to write that Sunday was the worst day — because trying to talk to people digging graves for children is just… well, anyway — but then I remembered how we had knocked on doors on Saturday. And Tuesday hadn’t even happened yet.
So Sunday may not have been the worst day, but it wasn’t a good day either.
[UPDATED — 6:17 a.m., April 6, 2013] Only after posting this did I remember that Sunday wasn’t entirely bad. After Lauren and I filed our work from the day, a video editor approached me about getting video of people’s reactions from the president’s speech, which he would make that night in the high school. So, as a nighttime mist began to fall, Lauren and I headed out… and got stuck on an on-ramp to the interstate just in time to see, alongside other drivers who got out of their cars, the president’s motorcade race past us.
Lauren and I ended up at a bar — one of only two or three within five miles of Newtown that turned up in my Google search — and got permission, alongside a BBC crew, from the manager and owner to spend time with their guests in the bar once the speech began.
Teri had been emphatic about how proud the people of Newtown and Sandy Hook are, and after covering the guests in the bar, I believe it. The entire area went silent as Barack Obama’s face filled the 17 TVs, and I saw that customers and wait staff in the restaurant area were also focused, hard, on the screens closer to them. Every time the president made mention of the resilience and strong community of Newtown, people clapped. They held hands. They embraced each other. They wiped tears from their eyes.
I had never seen such fierce hometown pride before — at least, apart from sports situations — nor had I ever beheld such strong positive reactions to a televised speech.
Due to some communication errors, both on my and the video editor’s parts, my video didn’t make it into the final cut that she produced. But even though I have little to show for myself from that night, I’ll never forget the ardent pride and love those people showed for their town. [END UPDATE]
…December 17, 2012
Monday, we were assigned to focus on “acts of kindness.” After feeling like horrible human beings for most of Sunday, we decided to stay out of Newtown. So we reported out of neighboring Monroe.
We found a teddy bear drive organized by a church that was already operating several Christmas-related outreach drives. We ran into a local official who told us, “NBC called. I’m supposed to call them back, but I’d rather talk to you because you’re real,” and then began to give us all sorts of quotes. We discovered a religious gift shop whose co-owner opened its doors to anyone who needed a hug and a prayer.
After encountering so much humanity in the midst of so much pain, I knew we couldn’t go another day without going to the school. So we drove, once again, into Newtown. Once again, into the traffic surrounding Sandy Hook. We left our notepads and cameras in the car and walked to the school’s driveway, where we paid our respects and where the only photo I took was this:
Then we left Sandy Hook and returned to the temporary newsroom, where we filed our day’s work.
…December 18, 2012
Tuesday had arrived.
I was assigned to cover funerals at St. Rose of Lima for video.
I remember, as I parked across the street, that I felt sick to my stomach.
The nausea was made worse when, later, I saw that school buses of young children had no choice but to pass the church on their routes.
The only levity provided that cold, wet, gray morning was this police officer’s handlebar:
One of the two funerals that morning was James Mattioli’s, and while I stood miserably outside the church, Lauren found someone who had known James: His hairstylist, Marci Benitez.
So after the funerals were over, Lauren took me to Marci’s salon, where we met her and her husband. She was from Brooklyn. He was from the Bronx. They came to Connecticut so their children could have a backyard. They used to laugh that they were surrounded by pick-up trucks. Then 9/11 happened, and the pick-up trucks and farms began to give way to Audis and wealthy developments.
A grown customer walked into the shop. Marci gave him a haircut. Her husband talked shop with him. I noticed that both were commenting on the heavy media presence, and they didn’t necessarily have positive experiences to report.
After the customer left, Lauren and I sat down. With Marci’s permission, I turned on my video camera, and she told us her story. Towards the end, she was weeping, but she remained calm and in control. I turned the camera off, and she told us some more. We stood up. She would not let us leave without giving each of us a strong hug.
That was our last full day in Newtown, Conn.
I’m just doing my best to forget that we had to knock on doors and try to talk to gravediggers.
But above all, I’m wishing so hard that this had never happened, and hoping so hard that this never happens again.