The Sounds of Silence

By Cassie Neumann   |   January 25, 2018
Best summertime buddies Pasta and Jonathan (deceased) huddle with Noah, Nelson, and Niles with their dog, Tessa, for a quick photo at Birdsong Cottage

Our family’s story involves almost all the children who were killed during this terrible tragedy. You see, we own (I guess I should say owned) a house directly next to the Taylor and Benitez families. 

There is nothing left.

Literally, nothing. 

What’s worse is that our dear friends and neighbors were pummeled by the storm, and, they too, are gone. 

The children, Pasta and Jonathan, were our daily playmates. The little girls, Lydia and Kailly, were always running about as well. Our little valley echoed laughter and fun. We were a tight-knit group. We often hosted neighborhood basketball games, kiddo parties in the hot tub, meetings in the clubhouse (think Little Rascals), big games of hide and seek, s’mores and karaoke by the fire pit, and endless swinging and spinning on both the tree swing and the oversized hammock. 

Pasta (deceased) and his sister, Lydia (missing), and their mom (survived) joined us for Noah’s 11th birthday cake and ice cream in our front yard at our home, which we lovingly called Birdsong Cottage, because of the wonderful array of birds swooping through the Oak grove

We have three boys, ages 6, 9, and 11. If we had been home, we would all be dead. This thought rocks me to my core. 

I’m not even sure how to return. I think pulling back into our shared driveway would cause too much pain for our kiddos. I think they would wait for Jonathan to run out with a basketball and wait to hear Pasta tell us about his ice skating or show us one of his new dance moves. I can picture my youngest son building a never-ending train track with Pasta, and my oldest sons exploring the woods and the creeks with Jonathan. 

The whole thing is like a bad dream to me. 

As a mother, I always like to have an open door. In Montecito, with the temperate climate, our doors were literally always open. Pasta, Jonathan, and Lydia literally came in and out as they pleased. Our house was their house. 

This loss has really been a lot to take in. I’ve lost children. 

I don’t care about the things. Things are things. 

But how do you tell your children that nine people that they know have died in an instant? How can I even swallow that information?

We are devastated. Our beloved friends. Our beloved Montecito. 

Their stories must be told. They were young and vibrant and full of life. Our children were not separated by race, or color, or creed, or bank account. They were all buddies, everyday buddies, who woke up looking for one another. We’d have to force our kiddos to wait until at least 8 am before they began knocking on their neighbors’ doors. 

There were things to do, games to be played, videos to be made, clubhouse mottos to be created. There was fort building, exploring, creating every day, all day. No video games. No TV. Just one another. True friendships. 

Jonathan would sit on his step and wait for my boys to return from Westmont basketball camp. He had a quiet calm about him, this priceless little smirk and mischievous eyes. He would light up as we pulled in the driveway. The children would count the minutes until they could be together. 

And Pasta – oh, how his sweet voice just rings in my ears. He was quite possibly the most innocent, glorious little boy to ever set foot in Montecito. He had a smile that could light up the oak grove and a giggle that could hold me for days. Sometimes, he would sit at my counter and sip on his water and just stare at me and smile. He often just watched my boys interact, as if he were a sponge, taking it all in. 

He was so happy to have such good friends. We were so blessed to have him. He loved building blocks and playing with trains. He would work for hours on a tower, meticulously creating, and then step back in awe of his work. His creative little brain was in hyper-drive as he explored toy after toy. 

We were thrilled to have Pasta join us for Fireworks on Butterfly Beach on July 4. It was his first trip to Butterfly Beach and also his first time seeing fireworks. He was over-the-moon happy and so were we.

Drippy popsicles on the hardwoods and an emptied pantry seemed a small price to pay for the constant love I was surrounded with. These boys were just flat-out fun to be around. Good old-fashioned summertime fun. 

We were so happy to take Pasta to Butterfly Beach for his first time ever. I remember the way his eyes lit up as he viewed the fireworks in the distance. Likewise, we were thrilled to escort Jonathan to Coast Village Road for his first time. So many memories of these precious lives. 

I wish their clubhouse would’ve remained. They painstakingly rescued an old work shed, and together cleaned it out, painted it, and hung an American flag. They elected clubhouse leaders and had secret meetings with secret pledges and passwords.

It was the stuff little boys dream of. 

We also lost the wonderful patriarch of our neighborhood, Mr. Richard Taylor. He knew everything about everything. Literally. And he had a new joke up his sleeve every day. He kept our bushes trimmed neatly and tightly and insisted on doing all the work himself. He would wander down our path in his bathrobe and delight us with stories from his world travels. He had so much to teach and we had so much to learn. 

I wish I could hear one last story of his. I am so glad my kids got to know him. My husband and I will never forget him.

He is simply irreplaceable. 

And we miss Faviola, who always seemed to have a light shining above her. She loved her babies so much and just couldn’t wait to get off work to be with them. She was such a hard worker and always made sure her work was completed perfectly. She cleaned for us, and we loved her very much. She was an amazing hostess. My husband can still taste Victor’s amazing barbecue. 

I pray that God will bless the Taylor family. Oom was a great dad. 

I pray that God will comfort Victor and Antonio Benitez and their precious little Ian. May Ian carry on the strength and love of his strong, beautiful family. 

And I hope that the giggles and laughter will continue beyond the pearly gates. This is my only solace. 

We will never forget our wonderful extended family in Montecito. 

With love,

Cassie and Spencer Neumann
Noah, Nelson, and Niles


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