I have wanted to have my own blog for quite a while now, but life always gets in the way. With being a busy working mom, it’s not easy to carve out time to spend on one of my first loves: writing. But with the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, I felt driven today to start my blog with a post reflecting on how our lives have all drastically changed because of this awful tragedy.
If you don’t know me, I am a busy working mom of two boys, ages 11 (almost 12) and 9. They both play hockey and that activity takes up most of our time. It is quite literally our life, but we love it. My grandfather, due to his love of hockey, was the one to introduce us to it.
Last night after hockey practice my grandpa took us to dinner, which tends to be a regular thing we all do as a family. We went to Denny’s close to the rink, and it started out as a normal, everyday dinner. It would soon turn into a very nerve-wracking experience for us.
There was a young man in the restaurant, probably about 25, 26 years old. He was eating alone in the restaurant. Quite frankly, I thought he was an employee on his lunch break, so I didn’t pay much attention to him. He was sitting in a booth but eating food that appeared to have been packaged for takeout. He had the plastic bag on the table with the plastic carryout box opened with a cheeseburger and fries. I noted that, but still didn’t pay much attention to him.
The waitress came to take our order, and that’s when things turned weird. In the middle of my oldest son, Derek, giving his order, the man hollered out to the waitress, “Hey! I need some more water, please! This water has been sitting here for a while.” The sweet waitress tried to be polite to the man by saying, “Okay, sure, just a moment, sir.” We continued in our ordering and the man shouted out again, “And I need a bigger glass too, and I want it cold but with no ice.” She again nodded at him and my hackles were raised. After we ordered, he addressed us. “Hey, did you guys hear they shut down NASA today? Isn’t that crazy?” We all looked at each other as in, “Is this guy crazy? What is he on?” NASA??? I am watching him like a hawk.
He finished his meal and got up from his table. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. However, this would not be the end of our encounter with this young man. He went to a booth on the opposite side of the restaurant and picked up a backpack he had stowed there. It alarmed me that he hadn’t had it with him in the booth he was eating in. He then started to dance. I mean it. He was dancing to no music in Denny’s. Meanwhile, I thought I was the only one watching when he took something out of his backpack, which appeared to be headphones, but he held it in such a way that it could be misconstrued to be a gun. In fact, it was. I looked at Derek and he had broken down in tears. He was inconsolable. “I thought he had a gun! It looked like a gun!”
I told him the man was gone now, it wasn’t a gun, and not to worry. But I was wrong. Not a minute later, he rounded the corner, backpack in hand, and approached our table. “Hey, is there a blue umbrella that I left at this table? I’m pretty sure I left an umbrella here, if you guys could just check.” I see my husband out of the corner of my eye get up and stand behind the man, appearing to look for the umbrella. We all looked around, under the table. No umbrella. Shocking fact.
He left but continued to pace through the restaurant. I am uneasy, to put it lightly. I want this man to leave now, but every time I think he’s gone, he returns. He came back again and this time demanded that we all get up from our booth so he can check for his umbrella himself. We refused to get up and told him calmly and politely that there was no umbrella there, that we had looked thoroughly for him the last time. He said, “Oh, really? You can’t get up?” We said, “No, we can’t.” I saw the manager watching this whole thing, and I made eye contact with him and gave him my stare-down, hoping to convey to him that this was upsetting us and to please do something.
The manager stepped in and told the man that he’d be happy to pull up the video so he could see where he left his umbrella. The man took him up on that, but while the manager was back doing that, he continued again to pace around us, looking under our table, looking under every table around us. The manager finally came back out and asked him to please go have a seat in the lobby instead of walking around the restaurant. He did and that was the last time we saw him. I don’t believe he ever found his umbrella. I don’t think it ever existed, frankly.
I was deeply disturbed by this incident, and I don’t know if it’s because of the recent tragedy or because it really was disturbing, or maybe both. All I know is that this young man had some problems, obviously. I don’t know if he was on drugs and/or had some serious mental issues. But that was what scared me the most about it. He was a loose cannon. I didn’t know if he had a gun and if he would reach some limit and pull it on us. Trying to stay calm for your children in a situation like that is incredibly difficult. I don’t know how the teachers in that school that day did it.
All I found myself thinking about was how fast my police officer husband would be able to pull his concealed weapon and have this guy on the ground. I knew he was ready should the need arise, but it didn’t help my fear of this situation elevating. There was a time when I was terrified about the fact that my husband “packs heat” virtually everywhere he goes. There have been times where I have thought, “Why can’t we just be like normal people and not bring a gun everywhere?” Now I say, “What are normal people?” And it is not the normal people I worry about anymore.
This situation has made me rethink how I look at everybody. No one gets the benefit of the doubt anymore. Everyone is a suspect. How sad is that? Unfortunately, it is our sad new reality.