December 21, 2012

Drawn to scene of tragedy

Ten minutes up the road, six if I take the highway, sits Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

At around 5 p.m. on a rain-drenched Monday night, with low-hanging clouds cuddling the Housatonic River, I decided to have a beer.

I didn’t want to go to my regular haunt here in my hometown of Southbury. My watering hole of choice on this night was 100 Church Hill Restaurant in the center of Sandy Hook.

When I left the Press-Republican in the late 1980s, I took my pens and notebooks and set up shop in the Newtown bureau of the local daily paper there. For five or six years, the bar in the middle of Sandy Hook served as my real office.

Although I retired from newspapers long ago, I visited my friends at Church Hill and in Sandy Hook often.

On Monday, that’s where I found Joe from Wisconsin.

For two days, Joe’s eyes had been glued to his TV set in Milwaukee, his head shaking in disbelief as the carnage at the elementary school played itself out. Something in him stirred. The age of the victims? The town’s anguish? The senselessness of it all?

On Saturday night, Joe found it hard to sleep. He tossed. He turned. The next morning, Milwaukee Joe, blurry eyed and determined, packed a bag and drove more than 10 hours to a speck on a New England map that he never knew existed until last Friday.

“I needed to be here,” he said.

I, too, was drawn back to Sandy Hook. When tragedy of such indescribable magnitude strikes in your own backyard, it seems a bit more brittle, a bit more raw. There really are no words.

I wallowed in my grief, and Joe wallowed in his. Then we found ourselves sitting next to each other, a bar stool away — Joe from Wisconsin, a 6-foot-something power forward who spent time playing basketball in a league in Mozambique — and John, a Connecticut scribe who hadn’t written a word in nearly a week.

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