When it is too much

I loved being a reporter.
I loved covering something different everyday: Today write a series of stories about the death of general stores as gathering places in Maine; tomorrow cover the homecoming of a local soldier…
I took snapshots of life and told them to readers. Every. Day.
Sometimes, I’d have 3 stories on the front page alone — one breaking news and 2 profiles… or something like that.
So why did I stop being a reporter and move to digital production/editing?
I was in Maine at the time and covering a small town no one else wanted to cover (there was backbiting in the town selectmen ranks, and everyone in town seemed gossipy, you could never get anyone to talk to….just my kind of challenge as you guessed.)
I put in hours and hours there, sometimes just hanging out at their general store (that was the only place in town you could buy milk/bread past 6pm) and not even interview anyone for days.
Pretty soon, people got comfortable with me. I became a fixture. I wasn’t “that reporter” anymore, I was Elizabeth: the woman who wrote stories for the paper, who also liked to hike the nearby mountain on Sunday mornings with her dog, the woman who made a point to stop in to the library and see what new books they’d gotten there; the one who could walk into the general store and order “her usual” coffee and have all the clerks know just what that meant.
One day, on a day I had to be in the office because I was working the weekend shift (and was the only reporter on duty in case of a fire etc) I got a call on my cell phone.
It was Ron (the fire chief in town).
He told me I had better get down there. Bring a photographer, he told me. There was no idle chit-chat like normal. I knew something bad had happened.
I grabbed my colleague, Jim, a photographer on staff, and we raced out to Fayette (the town).
I went straight to the store instead of the fire or police station. I asked Shelley, the store manager what was going on.
“Marlee Johnston was found dead” she told me.
Marlee was the daughter of a big-time (for maine) attorney. She was 14.
Jim and I drove to the Johnston house on Lovejoy Pond. It was surrounded by police cars.
There was a red puddle in the snow. Dark, and deep red.
I covered her murder by the hand of her childhood friend and boy next door for 2 years straight. Sometimes, it felt like it was was all I wrote about — all I thought about. They figured out quickly who had killed her, but there were ramifications to the town that reverberated in ways no one expected. They all had meaning, I felt. So I told all the stories.
I covered his trial. I covered her memorial service. I wrote about when her family put their house on the market. I wrote a profile of who Patrick (the boy accused of killing her).
And, after 2 years, when Patrick’s family finally spoke to me, felt like maybe now, I had finally told the story as best I could.
After filing the story about how his parents felt about their son, and how they felt still living in town… I told my editor to call my cell if he had questions and drove home to my little cape just outside of Maine’s capital.
I walked in the front door, and for the first time in 2 years of covering the horrible awful things I had seen, I cried.
I couldn’t do it anymore. It was too much. The world was too awful. And I wrote about it, all. I wrote about the beautiful parts, too, but the awful seemed to outweigh the beauty.
I found a job in Boston. I could still write, but not as a full time daily reporter. I’d be doing web stuff… my other obsession and thing I was good at.
I felt the same awful feeling after covering the marathon bombings. I took me a week to cry and actually process what happened.
Sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing writing all those stories.
Other times, I know I did.
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One Comment

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  1. Beautiful blog post. Heartbreaking stories that needed to be told. I don’t know how you did…you are one tough mama. Glad you could move on to a more uplifting space!

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