The helicopters were swarming overhead as we drank champagne and ate cake in celebration of my mother-in-law's 69th birthday last week.
"That's not normal," I said, peering out the bay window to see the lights of the helicopters flickering between the knuckled limbs of so many North Stamford trees. "We should turn on the news to find out what's going on."
My mother-in-law pressed the Bose system into action. 1010 WINS came on, a strange mix of high quality stereo mixed with antiquated terrestrial radio signals. Somewhere between the weather report and the commercials, we lost interest and began to drift in separate directions to other rooms of the house.
"The Merritt's closed in Norwalk because of an accident," my mother-in-law called out. We all nodded. The Partner went to check the details on the Internet so that we could plan an alternate route home. I wandered back into the kitchen, puzzling over the fact that five choppers were circling backyard because of an accident 15 miles down the highway.
I stood at the window. I watched the lights. I heard the hover. Then, out of the corner of my ear, the radio announcer barked out the story that came to me only in keywords. "Stabbed. Chimpanzee. Rock Rimmon Road."
"That's it!" I shouted. "A chimp was stabbed on Rock Rimmon Road!" My mother-in-law didn't even look up from the recipe for cabbage and apples she was writing down for me. In that moment, based on two keywords and the name of a street one block over, it was hard to understand why all those helicopters were hell bent on bringing the story of a bloody chimpanzee to the nation.
I know now, and every time I hear the latest information leaking out from the press, I feel a tightness in my chest that makes it just a bit harder to breathe. One of the goriest scenes ever to breach the wooded canopy of Fairfield County privilege played out as I clinked glasses with my husband's family on a lazy President's Day.
Stories that hit close to home hit harder. It's not that they're worse or sadder or more deserving of reflection than other catastrophes; it's that they're easier to relate to. It's the path of proximity: there but for the grace of God go I. A widow whose daughter was killed in a car accident raises her chimpanzee like a son. She sleeps in the same bed with him; he surfs the Internet; he once took a downtown joyride. The details are a stretch, but the results of the chimp's final rampage bring out a common, primal fear. A friend of the widow is torn apart by the chimp. Face, hands. The terror in the backyard is a reminder of unknown perils at home.
I saw the helicopter lights shine down on truths that had been so well hidden beneath the landscaped forests in which my husband was raised. No matter where you go, how much you make, or with whom you surround yourself, the facts are the same: people can be crazy, animals are wild, and tragedy so often begets the same.