You have no idea, my sweet son, why I suddenly need to hold you all the time.
Why I keep holding you, long after you’ve started squirming, eager to get back to the important business of being 5. I close my eyes and squeeze for a few seconds more, feeling your warmth, smelling your hair, trying to imprint memories.
You’re about the same size as those children. Kids your age are earnest and happy, obsessed with princesses, Batman, Call Me Maybe. You barrel through the days collecting love and scrapes and aspirations. You want to be firemen and manage taco factories. You believe in Santa Claus.
You think your parents know everything. Not long ago you were sitting in the bathtub, eyes welling. You kept asking me, and when I couldn’t avoid it any longer, I told you, yes, people die, but only when they are very, very old. And you believed me.
You are the center of the universe, sheltered, oblivious to so much.
What a blessing that is right now. You have no inkling of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary a few days ago, no concept of what guns actually do, no sense of what horrors are possible.
Those kids doubtless had this gift too, until those last seconds.
Every time I look at you, I think of them. I think of their mothers, and of how they must ache for one more minute like this, one last hug. And then the waves wash over me: Gratitude, and guilt.
Luck alone separates us from them.
There’s no reason this latest lost, murderous soul should have lived in Newtown and not our town. No discernible motivation for his choosing an elementary school over a high school. No clue as to why he picked one classroom over another.
It could have happened here, and as easily. We have stronger gun laws and good mental health care, but those things do not protect us. There are no border crossings between states, no checkpoints where madmen surrender arms. We are only as sensible as the least sensible among us.
The country where I chose to raise you is one where too many people think those young lives are the price we must pay for the sacred Second Amendment. They will try to pass this conviction off as something else, hiding it behind the right to self-defense or a call to crack down on criminals and those with mental illness.
They can say whatever they want. Their money says otherwise: hundreds of millions spent making sure this nation is awash in weapons, including the kind designed solely for mowing people down.
Even if, by some miracle, they lose this time, an assault weapons ban will do nothing about the 300 million guns already out there.
I know a shooting like this is mercifully rare. It doesn’t happen every day. But every day, it could happen.
So many times since Friday, I have imagined you in your classroom at 9:30 in the morning, sitting cross-legged on the rug with your friends, singing the calendar song.
There are two layers of security between you and the outside. There are locks on the doors. You do safety drills to prepare for emergencies. But if somebody wanted to get in and had enough firepower, there would be no stopping him.
I run through the possibilities for escape. There is only one door in and out of your room. Where could your teachers hide you?
I worry that, despite my best efforts, the grown-up world will intrude upon your 5-year-old’s idyll, that one of your more worldly friends will hear about what happened in Newtown and pass it along at the Lego table. I don’t want to have to explain this one to you, to lie and tell you it could never happen here.
I want you to keep believing I can protect you. Even though I don’t believe it myself.