20. Distortion

July 22, 1999

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

Somewhere deep in Nancy Lanza’s brain, a switch turned to ON.

Marvin checked his email. He had one new message, from his old friend. “I hope you are having a good week,” Nancy wrote. “It couldn’t be worse than mine…I had a seizure on Tuesday and have been with my Neurologist since, being tested, poked, prodded, injected and otherwise tortured. My arms ache (injections) and I have been terribly tired and sensitive to light.” Her health crisis, held at bay ever since arriving in Newtown, had returned.

Nancy said the doctors wanted to do more tests — “24 hour eeg” and a visit to a cardiac specialist — but as of that moment, she felt okay. She told Marvin he shouldn’t worry: like she said before, the condition could have come back any time. It was something she had to manage, but she was in no immediate danger.

Marvin asked if there was a diagnosis yet.

“There isn’t a fancy name for my problem,” Nancy wrote back, “just a genetically flawed auto immune system…when (if) it activates…then it could become any one of a hundred different diseases.”

Her friend was stunned. Was there anything he could do to help?

“The best thing you can do for me is to promise to keep this in confidence.” She hammered that point home, again and again: he must not tell anyone about her failing health, especially not her family back in Kingston. “I decided not even to tell my little brother, since he would be so upset and worried. It was hard enough to leave my friends and family, without all this hanging over everyone’s head.”

What was she going to do?

“My plan is to live well, and ignore the possibility of a potential problem. If it happens, I’ll deal with it as I go. For now…I am ok.”

* * *

A few weeks passed. Marvin wrote in one of his regular updates that he was feeling sorry for himself, realizing he was about to turn 40. When Nancy responded, she slipped in an update on her health; the news was not good. She said Marvin should feel fortunate that he was going to be 40, as it was looking like she might not even make it to that milestone:

They found another legion in my brain. I just spent the last 2 weeks having tests…some excruciatingly painful. Any hope I had that things were going to be OK or that I could be in any kind of a permanent remission are gone. There is this mad scurry to find out if anything can be done. I look at my boys and think about what will happen to them. I have to put on this big brave face for my family, but I am terrified.

Nancy was prepared for the worst. “I get the ‘big talk’ from my Doctor on Monday… results of tests, etc.” she wrote later, in the fall. She said it was taking all of her energy just to keep up the facade, to hide that anything was wrong: “Amazing what you can do for your kids, isn’t it?”

As before, she said that she was going to keep her ailment a secret. She did not want anyone else to be afraid. It would have been a difficult choice for her to make— if any of it were true.

* * *

Nancy was not being honest with Marvin. Not at all. Everything she had told him about her health had been a lie. And he wasn’t alone in that — contrary to what she claimed, she had not been sparing her family from similar stories. Nancy was not dying, and she never had MS, but her claims to the contrary were putting many of those closest to her in needless suspense, each thinking they were keeping a secret from each other, the awful un-truth securely compartmentalized among them all.

In reality, the single time that Nancy visited a neurologist that summer, they told her everything looked perfectly normal. And Nancy’s primary physician wrote only that she was experiencing “significant stress in her life related to her husband.” Further tests were recommended, but also psychotherapy, “for Mrs. Lanza’s emotional issues.”

* * *

Marvin saved one last email from Nancy:

From: Nancy Lanza

Date: Tue, 28 Sep 1999 9:46am

To: Marvin Lafontaine

Subject: Happy Monday???

Hi! I can’t write much…hurrying off to another Doctor’s appointment.

Not all the tests were back yesterday…some things are ruled out, they are still waiting for pieces of the puzzle. I wish I could make you feel better about this…but it is VERY serious and although medicine has made a lot of progress, there are a good many things that can’t be fixed. On the bright side…lots of things CAN be fixed.

I have to be in the hospital on Friday. They have to stop my heart for a few moments. They said it is safe. A cardiologist with a crash cart will be right there to zap me back. It looks like another 2 weeks of testing before I get to the bottom of this.

Anyway…I really have to run, but I will call you later this afternoon. Please don’t spend time worrying about me. Worrying never solved anything, it just makes you crazy!

I’ll talk to you later!



Not long after receiving this message, Marvin changed jobs, and email accounts; so, the history of his exchanges with Nancy stop here. But the two old friends would still keep in touch, over the years. And like each of the persons in Nancy’s life that she had lied to about her health, Marvin would go on thinking that she suffered from a very serious disease; Nancy would never tell any of them the truth.