Once in a while, around dinnertime, I need to tune in to TV news. For all that’s available to me via the Internet, sitting on the couch and watching a news anchor deliver the top news of the day, condensed for easy consumption, is, oddly, a tuning out of the 24/7 mentality. I like Brian Williams for lots of reasons — his repartee with Jon Stewart, his appreciation of Bruce Springsteen, his resemblance to Peter Jennings. His intelligence and empathy.
Tonight’s top national story (October 19) was more human interest than politics, reporters on the scene in Zanesville, Ohio, where dozens of exotic animals were let loose by the very man who kept them in his own private wild kingdom. Why he did it will never be known (unless he left a note not yet made public). He shot himself after releasing them, the dozens of lions and tigers and bears left to fend for themselves in a heartland that was no real home to them. “Shoot to kill,” police were instructed. As one of them pointed out, this was not a situation they were ever trained for. At least 49 animals were killed, among them Bengal tigers.
The local news, a half-hour earlier, was my real reason for watching tonight, curious about a story I had gotten wind of the night before and was still having difficulty processing. In this Northern Westchester community where I live, upscale by most standards, a man bludgeoned his wife to death, shot his two young children in bed, then killed himself. This is not a family I know (though I know exactly where they live), and all I keep trying to fathom is what rage or mental derangement it must take to commit this kind of murder and suicide in one fell swoop. Divorce proceedings were in the works, but even the most acriminious of family break-ups do not end in such violence. Having raised a daughter in this (mostly) wonderful exurban part of New York, I keep imagining what it’s like in the local elementary school today (and the days to come), how teachers are trying to conduct classes and what’s going through the minds of those friends of a ten-year-old and an eight-year-old they’ll never see again. Just the thought chokes me up.
Zanesville, Ohio, and Cross River, New York, are dots on a map, hundreds of miles from each other. Animals running in a wilderness not of their choosing, connected in some curious way with two children lying still as stone in a bloody, forever unmade bed.