80. Light

March 24, 2015

36 Yogananda — Sandy Hook, Connecticut

A heavy industrial backhoe came rolling up Yogananda Street, on a clear, bright morning. The machine let out a puff of diesel exhaust, as its treads came to a stop at the bottom of the long, winding, driveway that led up to the pale yellow house with the forest-green shutters.

The house had been boarded up for months. There was a padlock on the door, and yellow caution tape strung around the trunks of the trees that lined the property’s edge. But otherwise, it looked much the same as it had before: a wreath from two Christmases ago still hung over the doorway, and the lawn had been freshly mowed every week, by landscapers paid from the estate’s coffers.

The family’s surviving son had been allowed inside, a few days after it had all happened, and after the FBI and the forensics team had all completed their tasks there. He took a few mementos from what was left behind, and locked the door as he left. Not long after, he agreed to give up the house for the price of $1, its deed then passing on to Hudson Bank. The place had been empty ever since.

Every once in awhile, the neighbors would see drivers from out of town slowing down on Yogananda Street, to gawk as they passed by. But the voyeurs always left with the same disappointment: there was little to see from the street, with the house all the way at the back of the lot, at the top of the hill.

One night, the police came out because the burglar alarm detected a break-in at the house; it didn’t appear that anything was taken.

Still, for those who lived in the neighborhood, and the rest of the townspeople, the house was a constant reminder of the disaster that originated there, and of everything taken from them in its path.

* * *

The demolition company had offered to do the job for free. Workers had pulled everything out earlier in the week — furniture, personal items, rugs, all of it — and had the whole mess of it incinerated, so there would be no macabre souvenirs left out there in the world.

The wrecking machine reached the top of the hill. It raised its huge claw up, and the treads revved forward, up to the northern face of the house. A lever was shifted, a hydraulic hissed, and the steel teeth came crashing down.

The machine ripped through the roof, and pulled the master bedroom down into the garage. Its claw raised again, and plunged down through the main stairway.

The machine crept forward, into the chewed-away living room. The claw raised again.

For a fraction of a second, in the darkness, it was just a single beam of light that poured through. Then a great crashing sound, and finally, the sunlight burst in, filling the darkened cave at the top of the stairs. The two rooms were cleaved in half — then fell into splinters, and dust.

Finally, the last of the pale yellow house was ripped away, as the chimney came tumbling down, the stacked bricks now collapsing onto the pile of rubble.

The mechanical jaws opened, and the machine’s arm carried the ruins, in pieces, over to a waiting dump truck. When the pile was cleared, workers with jackhammers pulverized the foundation, and then the last of the rubble was loaded up; the truck rolled down the driveway, turned on Yogananda street, and carried what was left of the house out of sight, over the hill, to someplace far away from Sandy Hook.

The lot had been a gift to Newtown, from the bank. It had been up to the townspeople to decide what to do with it. And it was the town’s first selectman who announced its fate: that after the pale yellow house was finally gone, the two acres under it would be leveled, and new grass planted where the house once stood. But beyond this, the property would be left untouched — so that someday, with the passage of time, the land might return to its natural state.