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Orders of Grief

That jocular, suburban normalcy seems possible, even now, if only in glimmers. There are all kinds of places to eat and drink in town—pizza, passable Japanese, a bowl of chowder—but probably the most popular is My Place, a regular Italian joint of the vinyl-booths variety. The real draw is the pub, tucked in the back, where, in an amber haze, amid televisions and twinkling lights, the co-owner, Mark Tambascio, pulls the taps on a wide selection of microbrews. I went there during the first game of the World Series to meet Rob Cox of Sandy Hook Promise; he wanted to show me the bar stool dedicated to the Flatliners, the name of his Frisbee team, so called because all the players are approaching heart-attack age. When I arrived, every seat was taken. People stood in clumps, holding pints and greeting newcomers by name—high fives and backslaps for all.

Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, whom he shot four times on the morning of December 14 before driving to the school, was a regular at My Place, and I had the strong feeling that everyone at the bar could tell me which stool had been hers: down near the end, by the entry to the restaurant. The Frisbee team regularly retires to My Place after its Tuesday-night game, and Cox recalls occasionally exchanging small talk with Nancy. Tambascio was friendly with her and is a neutral party in town—his bathrooms are marked YANKEES and RED SOX, because in Fairfield County, even tight-knit families can have split allegiances. For all these months, he hasn’t spoken ill of her.

Cox arrived, on his way to a 10:40 p.m. hockey game in a neighboring town—it’s hard to get ice time—and introduced me around. There was Terrence Ford, enormous, with a biker-guy look, who showed up out of nowhere to help direct traffic in Sandy Hook that day; cop cars were screaming so fast down the hill he could smell their brake pads burning. “That day was shit,” he hollered, over the din. “It’s still shit. It will always be shit.” There was Scott Wolfman, who works pro bono at Sandy Hook Promise and was busy organizing a trip for a few of the dads to see Pearl Jam that weekend in Hartford. There was the girl Cox took to the sixth-grade dance, now standing in a posse of moms, all of whom had just been to a seminar at the library about how to handle teenagers’ moods at home. Just shrug it off, the experts said. Laugh. Be goofy. Don’t engage. It wasn’t clear how much of this camaraderie was built in the aftermath of the shooting and how much survived it. But the atmosphere in My Place that night was very much the town’s own idyllic picture of itself.

And on TV, the Red Sox were winning; the Cardinals had committed three errors in one game. Nelba Márquez-Greene came in to meet me, texting on her phone, having just finished taping a TED talk. Someone else had a picture on their phone of Márquez-Greene speaking, gazing up and smiling, but Nelba seemed embarrassed by the attention. The conversation turned to Wolfman’s Halloween party: an annual event, a bawdy blowout, no kids allowed. Cox was teasing Márquez-Greene, encouraging her to come, but she said she probably wouldn’t be in a party mood. In the meantime, though, right now, she thought she might be persuaded to have a drink.