78. Homecoming

June 1, 2013

My Place Restaurant — Newtown, Connecticut

The regulars all met early in the morning, for the long drive north.

Many in town had complicated feelings about Nancy Lanza, now that the initial shock had faded somewhat, and more of the facts had come out. She was never a doomsday prepper, nor was she a schoolteacher… nor was she ever as sick as she sometimes claimed.

Of all the people she had deceived, the one who seems to have had the most trouble accepting the reality — that she had been physically well, all along — was her ex-husband. She and Peter had fought in their marriage, and even struggled for power in the process of raising their son, but he had never dreamed that she could have constructed such an elaborate fantasy, and maintained it for so long. He told investigators he remembered her going for treatment, and her telling him about her Multiple Sclerosis in detail. But finally, he went to the Child Advocate, and “indicated that, after further review of [Nancy’s] records,” it did not appear that she was ever diagnosed with MS. The coroner didn’t find any sign of it, either.

Nancy was also the woman who had raised a monster, and armed him, and so there were other townspeople who did not have complicated feelings about her all: they were angry with her. Some hated her.

But those weren’t her My Place friends. The owners were planning on installing a plaque on the back of Nancy’s old bar stool, in her memory. Her old friends considered her the forgotten victim of that Friday morning six months before; when President Obama spoke from Newtown High School in the days after the shooting, they turned on the television in the bar. A reporter from the Washington Post was there, and when Obama said the number of victims, the reporter heard some of the patrons correct the president, adding one; he had left out Nancy.

Once they were all assembled that morning, they got in their cars and headed for New Hampshire — for a town they’d seen in their mind’s eye so many times before, listening to their friend talk about her old life on the farm.

First Congregational Church — Kingston, New Hampshire

The memorial service was closed to the public, but all who knew and loved Nancy during her life were welcome. More than 100 came. The service was held in the church where she attended Sunday school as a little girl. Ryan gave a speech, sharing some memories of his mother; her siblings remembered how she used to name the animals on their farm, and taste-test the cat food. There were bagpipes, playing “Amazing Grace.” In the audience, her “My Place” friends wept.

At the end of the service, the doors to the old congregational church opened, and a procession of Nancy’s family, and friends from throughout her life, began the short walk to Greenwood Cemetery, just up the road. One of them held her remains in an urn. The rest held roses — and one, in the other hand, carried a violin; the woman played the instrument at Open Mic night at My Place, taking requests, and she wanted to play Nancy’s song for her, one last time: “Here, There, and Everywhere.”

Along the way, the mourners walked past what was once Sanborn Regional High School. Its final class had graduated years ago, and now the parking lot was cracked and grown over with weeds. But one could still see, barely, the faded outlines of the parking places, where the Volkswagen bugs lined up every morning before the class bell, and where Nancy Champion stood one afternoon, staring up at a camera’s lens, awaiting her grand adventure: with dreams of one day starting a family, and with a spirit not yet tested by time.