The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members Prior to driving to the school, Lanza shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home. As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Something went wrong again in the world. Somebody snapped, I can tell. They turned off the Cable in the common room.
First, breaking news alerts popped up on the crawl, then an anchorman interrupted the program, then a school building appeared and the anchorman kept talking. Suddenly, doctors were yelling at the nurses and the nurses began yelling at the assistant nurses who started yelling at the orderlies. Some patients sobbed and cried out, not because of the news, which we were still assessing at this early stage of the story – school, children, shooting – but from the outbreak of commotion by our caretakers. Then the screen turned black.
We’re not allowed television in our rooms. We only have orderlies, who give us meds or take our blood pressure. Carl comes in the most frequently. I’m on his ward. He wears an earring like he did twenty years ago when he was younger and earrings on men still looked cool. Budgets keep getting cut, with them regular sessions with psychiatrists and I’ve been deemed too unstable and prone to outbursts to be permitted group therapy participation. Without the Cable, all I have is Carl and sometimes Christmas Cards but I didn’t get any last year. All my requests to contact my son have been denied. They prefer to keep patients like me in a stupor, but I’ve outsmarted them yet again.
I’ve outsmarted them just like I hear the Devil but no longer listen. I’ve learned not to listen.
One of the Honchos arrived. You can tell who they are because they are the only ones dressed in a suit and tie, like bankers. He marched around, calm and stern, gave orders to the staff, and a few moments later, the DVD player was activated, finally killing our only connection to the outside. I Love Lucy came on, the black and white episodes we’ve all seen thousands of times, with the unseen audience signaling us when to share in their laughter. They played the same disc last time, and the time before that. First the Honcho appears, then the 1950s sitcom comes on. Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory, stuffing candy into their mouths and down their blouses to keep up with the accelerated conveyor belt.
At St. Aden’s, Lucille Ball is as much a sign of the apocalypse as any of the four horsemen. The Honcho went back to his office, which is on another floor, where there are no locked gates and security guards. The rest of the staff, including doctors, huddled around a television set in in the conference room, watching the cable news, ignoring us.
I know the signs and I know they’ve been occurring – these incidents – more and more and becoming more and more incomprehensible. When it was only high school kids with guns shooting each other up, well that was just teenagers doing what they always do except this time with real guns. There’s a reason they called Billy the Kid, the Kid. But now houses of worship, shopping malls, movie theaters, grammar schools, no matter how normal, any place can be a place for killing. Gunmen – they’re always men aren’t they – barging in blasting away innocent victims, whose innocence only increases with each incident. Sooner or later they’ll be everywhere, the shooters, even here. We all have the potential to snap, so it goes to follow we all will snap.
Whatever happened was bad, this time really bad. Worse than the last one, much worse. It was more tragic. Through the conference room window I saw the women shake their heads and tear up. One of the orderlies covered his face with his palms.
I’m not worried, I’m ready. Okay, that’s a lie. I am worried and I’m not ready because who can be ready. I don’t have a gun and even if I did, I would have to have a bigger gun than the shooter and be more skilled at shooting than the shooter. That used to be called an arms race and it may have worked when America and Russia were stockpiling nuclear weapons, but it won’t work with people, with individuals, with you and me. America and Russia didn’t use them on each other though, they just kept their missiles as a threat and that threat kept the peace – only between America and Russia, not between other countries. War did not end, killing did not end. It never will.
Today’s shooters use the element of surprise. No one knows when they may snap. But I’m prepared, I’m armed. I have a shiv that I keep on me all the time. One day, when Ricky singing Babaloo indicated another massacre had taken place, I was able to pilfer a plastic knife during supper when a new orderly was distracted by watching a news update in the conference room. He rushed through the clean up procedures and did not pay sufficient attention to the utensil count.
At night, in the silence of my room, I sharpened the edge with my teeth. Amazing what precise gnawing can do to plastic. The tip is pointed and the edge is razor sharp. I’ve drawn blood on my inner thigh with only a minimum of pressure, both by puncture and laceration. I could kill somebody with an accurate jab to the jugular vein. I love my shiv, it’s potentially deadly but small enough to hide in my sock. It’s always at my side, at the ready by my ankle. My hidden weapon, my secret protection, my little constitutional right to bear arms.
I was still on the outside, living with my kids, when there were all those television reports of disgruntled workers snapping then shooting up co-workers. Going postal it was called. There was a min-epidemic of going postal. That was when all this shooter stuff started, and it’s been getting worse ever since.
A knife may not stop a gun, but maybe if I get close I can stop a gunman with a good neck jab, or worse-case scenario, I’ll put myself out of my misery by severing my own jugular, taking away the chance of being slaughtered by some madman’s bullet spray.
Sometimes, as I quietly chew the plastic then test the sharpness of my prized blade, I fantasize that during one of my son’s visits I’ll use the shiv to take an orderly or assistant nurse hostage and we can escape together, my son and I. My son hasn’t been here in more than a year, but like I said, it’s just a fantasy for now.
I’m dreaming more, thinking more, and more clearly, because of my new med program. It’s the no-med program, which nobody knows I’m on but me of course. The tranquilizers and mood drugs they were giving me kept me in a permanent haze. True, they shut up the Devil in my head, who was telling me to do harm and not to trust anyone. He was so very loud, even louder than when I was a teenager and I did those things to those people. But I couldn’t just not hear him, I could not hear anything. Every day was just TV, food, pissing and bowel movements, every moment dreary and distant, unfolding through a thick fog, thick as damp cotton balls. I could taste the cotton, the same cotton that was in my head was in my mouth all the time.
Then one day I was eating. Meat Loaf. Every other Thursday we have meat loaf for lunch. I felt a crunch in my teeth and drooled out what was in my mouth. Drooling is not unusual, much less an attention grabber around here. Something that looked like a fragment of bone was in my salvia. I felt with my tongue and realized I had lost a portion of a root canal. Later, when I looked in the mirror, I saw that the crown of the molar was mostly in place, but what was under it was gone. There was a shell where my tooth used to be, a gap in my bottom row of teeth. Our regular dental exams were also victims of cutbacks. I kept poking at the gap with the tip of my tongue, determining the size of the pocket and sort of enjoying the twinge of nerve pain that shot from my gums through my jaw. I realized the gap was big enough for the two small pills I had to take after breakfast and after dinner. No one was the wiser when I closed my mouth, pretended to swallow but actually pushed the pills into the gap. When Carl or whoever was on duty left, I went to the bathroom, spat the drugs into the toilet and flushed. The routine of not taking drugs became as routine as taking them.
I made sure to act serenely oblivious like before, even though within a few days most of the damp cotton had evaporated, which made the acting like I was still in the stupor easier. It was during those days when I was replacing the med-induced stupor with my pretend stupor that I seized opportunity and grabbed the plastic knife, waiting for the right moment when nobody would be looking. With my new clarity I was able to spend my nights teething my shiv and reveling in my new potential for both hope and security.
Carl noticed the improvement in my attitude. Not right away or at least he said nothing for a while if he did. But eventually he complimented me, said I was more positive and responsive and credited the efficacy of the new med program, ignorant of the no-med program I had self prescribed.
I never liked Carl, he was mean to me. One time, he screamed right in my face, throwing me down to the bed and strapping restraints on my arms and legs. They changed my meds the next day, and then again a few weeks later. The meds became more and more stupefying.
Carl hated me, hated himself, hated his job, you could just tell. Then he was gone for a while, which is when they said he had his heart attack and when he returned to work, I was doped up, smiling so much, smiling all the time, smiling in my sleep even. I could feel the strain in my cheekbones and the corners of my mouth. I wasn’t happy but my face always smiled. My grin relaxed Carl and he thought I was his friend. He started telling me about his problems, how he was under a lot of stress. He said he was still young, too young for heart disease. He had a second wife with a second mortgage and a newborn and between the college tuition for his oldest from the first wife and the bills from his current life, he had no choice but to work double shifts at St. Aden’s. He said there was a recession and all the good jobs were gone.
He could talk to me now that I was all complacent and compliant. I was no longer a threat and he needed somebody to talk to. I was so drugged up I had no choice but to listen.
I’ll never get better, but they don’t know about him. He made me lie and steal and even worse. I did anything for money. He made me be such a terrible parent, made it easy for me to think of new punishments. My children would not behave no matter what I did. The Devil now wants me to die from a bullet.
But I can ignore him. I can’t ignore the cotton, and it’s best that I’m rid of the cotton and ignore him than the other way around and besides, nobody knows, nobody can tell. Just act the same and nobody is the wiser. I’m convincing. I could get an Academy Award, I’ve been that good.
I cannot trust Carl. We were on the third day of I Love Lucy shows, no explanation from anybody, all our pleas, all our inquiries, ignored.
Things are bad in this world, it’s all so … Carl was talking to himself more than to me, but they all talk like that when they’re with us in our rooms, running a test or giving us drugs. They always blather. Carl was about to say so crazy… CRAZY… I knew that word was going to be the next one out of his mouth, but crazy is not a word allowed around here and I asked him, what happened… just bad stuff, it’s horrible, a mess, he says, my wife is real upset, we can’t sleep, those poor children, it’s just the most terrible one yet… what is that sticking out of your sock?
Nothing I say and he says I can see something in your sock, Irene. As he stoops down and moves his hands towards my foot, I lean back in the chair and my leg kicks up and I’m able to pull out my shiv and then the Devil is loud in there, I can see his burnt red skin, tough as leather. His eyes are crimson, shaped like cat eyes and goat horns protrude from his forehead. He has a goatee that looks a lot like Carl’s but the Devil is not Carl because the Devil has cloven feet and a tail and Carl is wearing scrubs and Velcro-laced tennis shoes, but both the Devil and Carl are saying my name, like a duet, like Simon & Garfunkel. I am not hearing or I am hearing but not listening and I am not going to stab but what Carl is reaching for may be a gun, he may be a shooter and I’m shouting don’t, don’t, please don’t and I lunge but it’s just the walkie-talkie and I remember now last week the clip that attaches the device to his belt broke so he keeps it in his pants, using his pocket as a holster. When he sees my shiv in my hand, the color in his face changes, but that has nothing to do with the shiv. He’s short of breath, pushing me away and sitting down on the floor and grasping at his chest and the Devil is saying stab him, kill Carl, but as the orderlies charge in, followed by two security guards, who wrestle with me, trying to get my shiv, I’m screaming, I didn’t listen, I didn’t stab, I didn’t kill this time, I haven’t snapped, not me.
copyright held by author, 2013