The weekend before the unofficial start of summer, a toddler is killed.
Police say his stepfather smothered him. His mother was in the hospital herself, a tiny brother just born.
And the whole next week that story is mine. There’s a desperately written story Saturday because it happened in our backyard but Pittsburgh TV has the story already. Monday there’s a press conference, because the child wasn’t declared dead until Sunday. It’s a chance for the DA to get on camera, or that’s what I think when I’m cynical.
There’s no way not to be cynical when you’re stuck in a small room with camera men and overdressed reporters from Pittsburgh making tired jokes about firemen’s girlfriends and hoses, waiting for a DA to say how a baby was murdered.
By Wednesday another woman has filed legal papers begging for custody of another son, and I have to sit in on the hearing. He’s there, the man who is charged with homicide, and he looks across the room once where his wife and days-old son are sitting and shakes his head and doesn’t look up again. They won’t let him sign his name, because they’re afraid he’ll try to kill himself with the pen.
The wife – and she’s the mother of the toddler – and the newborn both cry.
I want to throw up.
The past two weeks have been like that. I’ve mostly handled the police shift and there have been fires and fatal fires and crime and every morning, it seems, is a frantic scramble toward deadline.
The Tuesday after Memorial Day there’s a sentencing hearing for a man who shot and killed his father-in-law while seeking his estranged wife. The dead man’s son and wife try to read letters but they’re hard to understand because they’re sobbing.
He doesn’t look up. He’s 33 years old and he’s been sentenced to life in prison. Our Facebook commenters want him dead and I have to delete profanity from our Facebook page.
On Wednesday, a 49-year-old man dies when a fire sweeps through his rural home. No one sees the flames until it’s too late. His brother collapses on the ground when he reaches the charred, smoking structure; I didn’t go out but the photographer does, snaps a picture, not sure what’s going on. It doesn’t run.
It always seems to work this way, with hard stories bunching together until you think you can’t take it anymore.
I’m pulling pictures and coffee mugs and a few random thank you cards from my desk and stacking my papers and walking away.
Well, not really away. Away from the deadline shifts and municipal meetings and alternate highs and lows that come with being a reporter at a daily newspaper, yes. Away from full time employment.
Instead we’re talking about feature stories and enterprise stories, pieces that take time and don’t have deadlines – firm ones anyway – written from home when the baby sleeps or the coffee shop when our professor (a full Dr. now, thank you very much) is home.
And I’m dreaming of sleep in the mornings and kisses at 7 a.m. when she’s so happy she just can’t stop laughing and laundry mostly caught up and evenings on the front porch with time to sit and watch the world go by our dead-end street and time for words, words other than the desperate dump of them onto a page that is a deadline morning.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss working in news. Despite the rough two weeks (and I just looked and, with a couple exceptions all I’ve written about is crime), I love the adrenaline rush that comes with a good story. Deadline is stressful but there’s such a satisfaction when it passes and you’ve got the story, when the pieces have fallen together and people answered their phones and answered your questions. I love telling new friends where I work, what I do.
I’ll miss it a lot.
But I’m missing other things, now, and I think no matter what road you choose, there’s always something you’re going to miss.
So this is the best of the two of them, it seems. I can still write and hopefully write better, taking time to craft as well and not just worry about facts and passing minutes. I will still see my byline in the Indiana Gazette and maybe I’ll even branch out a little, see it in other places too. Maybe I will finally start dabbling in fiction.
And I will have the time I’m losing now with my daughter, as her infant-hood slips so quickly into toddler-hood (she pulls up now, standing on wobbly legs and shrieking every time she falls).
Not everyone has such an opportunity to take the best from both roads, and I’m so grateful.
So here is to a new direction. Travel it with me?