August 2 — By the time the Newtown Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings had happened, I was already living in Redondo Beach. It was a Friday and I had the day off. I think I went to go get a haircut, and I remember discussing the tragedy with the stylist. I remember telling her that it still felt close to me in terms of proximity, because I had frequently driven past Newtown for work throughout the years.
This time, I was 3000 miles away and I stayed inside to recycle through the 15-minute news cycle. I remember thinking how cold it probably was in Connecticut on that fateful day. I remember growing very tired of the senseless tragedies that befell the parents and relative of those affected by gun violence. I remember thinking that there was probably not a need for semiautomatic weapons in a suburban Connecticut town.
And then, earlier today, on the stretch of 84 that cuts through Newtown, I veered off the Sandy Hook exit and took the main road into the heart of a small country town. I parked at the Sandy Hook diner and walked through a dirt parking lot to the entrance. A rain had just fallen and the streets were quiet.
Everything was quiet.
The diner was barely half a room, the counter full of people. I ordered coffee and pulled out my phone to search for the address of the school. But something caught me before I started to search: the photos of school children that lined the walls of the diner. My curiosity could wait — this town was still healing. Next to the photos of the school children. a sticker read “We are Newtown, we choose love.”
The waitress was tired and buxom and called me honey. A carpenter sitting next to me told me that he had more work than he knew what to do with, and that his ten-month old son was going to college because of it. A couple entered with their 15-year-old son, it was his birthday. “You pick where we sit son,” said the father.
I left soon after, I had a strange voyeuristic feeling of looking inside the healing process of this town and it bothered me enough to leave. But maybe the community was doing better than I thought? I couldn’t necessarily tell from one diner experience. In the parking lot, away from the watchful eyes of the town’s people, I discovered that that the original school had been demolished. And why did I want to see it anyway? I still don’t know.
There was one location that was easier to find in Newtown though — the former home of the killer, Adam Lanza. Before he reached Sandy Hook Elementary School, his killing spree had started at that home, shooting his mother Nancy four times while she lay in her bed. (“The reason he shot Nancy four times was one for each of us: one for Nancy; one for him; one for [brother] Ryan; one for me,” said his father Peter Lanza in The New Yorker.)
36 Yogananda Street, named after a yogi whose body had apparently not shown any signs of decay since his death in 1952. A girl I dated a few months back had a photo of Yogananda hung next to her bed, and I understood that because she taught yoga. But for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how this small country town had stumbled onto his legacy and decided it would make a good street name. I set my GPS anyway and headed in its direction.
Yogananda Street was bordered by small farms, older houses surrounded by acres of lands, a few country lanes and rusted out trucks that hadn’t moved in years. If I lived and worked in New York City 3-4 days a week, had a family, pulled in half a million dollars a year and wanted to pursue a dream of country living, I could potentially see myself living there. It’s an upscale community, not the typical East Coast suburb I had envisioned on the morning of December 14, 2012.
My car was a Nissan Altima rental with Pennsylvania plates. Everyone on the street knew each other, and I was the morbid stranger coming to look at the empty house of a dead monster. I got looks from the woman playing in her front yard with her dogs. I got tailgated by an SUV. I got the hint: “Leave us alone, we’ve been through too much.”
I didn’t even stop to look at the house. I just noted it and kept on driving. And that’s when it hit me. “Why would they ever need guns in this idyllic neighborhood?” If one could ever figure out how to find Yogananda Street, it would be en route to a dinner party, a summer BBQ or a family get together. In terms of security, this was not a town for guns.
Adam Lanza’s mother Nancy was a gun enthusiast, and that just happens to happen in America. She owned guns, and she encouraged her sons to learn how to use them. I won’t begin to get into whether it was right or wrong to have guns in the house. I just think the quaintness and serenity of Yogananda Street could have yielded familial enthusiasms that were less lethal.
And then there was the size of the half million dollar home occupied by two people who communicated only via email in their finals months alive. I grew up in a house a fraction of the size, and at times I remember feeling lonely, that it was too big and that my family was not nearby enough.
Adam Lanza, the mass murderer, was isolated to a point in which he lost touch with humanity. The small country town life, on generous amounts of privately owned land, on a street lined with half million dollar homes, in a room barricaded from outside light by trash bags placed over the windows, it pulled this person away from human contact. Maybe he preferred it that way, I can’t really say.
As I pulled off Yogananda Street and headed back to 84 bound for New York City, I wanted to say that I had achieved some clarity or perspective on what turns men into monsters, but I only felt a cloud of confusion, a sprinkle of light rain and the want to get back to Redondo, far away from the shroud of tragedy that hung over Newtown. Still.