On a day when 20 children were shot and killed in cold blood, we had a Christmas party at my house. Just a few friends.
My daughter was given a mechanical dog, one that moves its head and, when asked, produces on cue a metallic “woof.” That was around 7 p.m.
By 8 that dog was driving me nuts.
So I snuck away to the room with the coats on the bed for a few minutes, checking the news on my iPad. By then, we knew more: the screams and the shock and the man police say did it.
But for many it was still sinking in.
As darkness fell, though, the news for me hit home.
Because that coat room was my kid’s room. She’s 5 and in kindergarten, and when I drop her off at school she offers a hurried kiss and jumps out the door. Every time.
She never looks back.
I thought Friday night about those trips to school, and then about the day we brought her home from the hospital.
It’s hard to fathom what parents and family of the deceased must be thinking. And it’s hard, too, to imagine what those who rushed to that elementary school — the ones who heard the word and ran out of work and rushed in a blur to a crying child at Sandy Hook — must have felt.
A day later there’s no more comfort here, only the dull ache of helplessness.
“I feel like I need to do something,” my wife said Saturday morning, apropos of nothing.
I already knew what she was talking about.
What I don’t know is what to tell her.
Today, the talk is everywhere: on the news; in the paper; crossing the lips of the woman at the cafe table next to me. She’s sitting with her daughter and two grandkids. Elementary school kids.
If this doesn’t wake every person in the country up to the need for more mental health funding, she’s saying, then we’re beyond hope.
Earlier, a cashier at the mall was talking about what could have been done. What should be done, she said.
“We need schools on lock down,” she said. “All the time.”
I’m not sure that’s the answer, though I understand the sentiment.
And of course there’s the requiste gun-control discussion, which flared up on cue in the echo of those shattering pops heard over the intercom.
But as the information and the images pour in, I’m still in no place for such high-minded debate. It’s not computing.
No, I’m already thinking about the beginning of the school week. The car door slamming shut.
Not too long ago my daughter learned to write. She had figured out most of her letters by the end of the summer, and pretty soon was able to spell her name.
It began to appear everywhere: on the pictures she colored; on her bedroom chalkboard; on slips of paper left around the house. Some on the kitchen counter. One in the bathtub.
So that’s what I thought I was getting a few weeks ago — another “Annie” note — when I got home from work and she handed me a piece of pink paper. Instead, that hand-delivered note said this:
“I love Dad.”
There was a lopsided heart too, by way of punctuation.
Thing is, I don’t understand how something like that happens in the same world where a man will take the lives of 20 children.
How can there be so much love in that little girl? And how can there be such despair around her?
How can I let her shut that car door?
Right now, I just don’t know.
What I do know is we should hold them, while we can. All we can.
It was one day last week before school, and we were listening to music together when a song came on that little girl didn’t know. She put down her pen to listen, and the singer sang: “Come along with me, to my little corner of the world. Dream a little dream, in my little corner of the world.”
She looked at me and I smiled, and then she stood carefully up on her chair, offering a hand before I picked her up and pulled her close.
“I like this one,” she whispered.
So while the song played on we did the only things we could do. I wiped away a tear.
And we danced.