Sunday, February 20, 2011

Writer's Anxiety

When it comes to this blog, it seems that you really shouldn't listen to anything I say. I promise consistent posts about the Red Wings and fall through after a few weeks; I promise running installments of stories and usually let those endeavors down after a single post, maybe two. It all comes down to the fact that when you write every day for a living, it's damned hard to want to do it in your free time. So take this first post in more than two months as a sign of things to come: I'm going to write here whenever I can muster the energy and have something to write about, two things that don't always happen together.

But tonight I catch myself thinking more and more about the upcoming insanity trial of Christopher Gribble, who has admitted to his role in the murder of Kimberly Cates and the near-fatal maiming of her 11-year-old daughter at the family's home in Mont Vernon - a 30 minute drive from Nashua - back in August 2009. The main villain in the case, Steven Spader, was convicted in November for the crime on his 19th birthday and received the gift of life in prison, plus another 76 years to life.

His cohort, Gribble, is 21 years old and has admitted his guilt. Now he's trying to plead insanity. I've been called on to cover his trial. Jury selection starts a week from tomorrow.

The case is brutal. Four teenage boys broke into a small-town home in the middle of the night and walked by the light of an iPod into the room of a sleeping woman, who they then proceeded to hack to death with a machete. The random nature of the crime, with a seeming lack of any motivation, compares chillingly with the story of In Cold Blood, a nonfiction book written by Truman Capote. And that's what scares me about covering this thing.

In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books. Capote is an incredible writer and he told a gruesome story in the most compelling way imaginable. But the story changed him, played with his emotions for years. I don't plan on writing a book about the Mont Vernon case, and I sure as hell don't plan on speaking with Gribble or Spader personally. But I fear that I'll see images I don't want to see and I'll hear stories I don't want to hear. I'll spend hours upon hours, day after day, in a courtroom where a man's sanity is called into question for a horrifying murder.

The pressure of the situation is a different fear - every news outlet in New England will be covering the trial and my stories will be on the front page for two weeks - and brings a different set of challenges. But those I know I can face. I know I can write front-page caliber for two weeks straight that rival those of other reporters. What I don't know is how my psyche will react to the appalling details of the murder or how I'll handle my emotions at the end of the day or if my stomach and my nerves will ever settle the same way they do now.

I know this is a unique opportunity for my writing career, and in some small ways I'm grateful for it. But all I hope for is to be the same person I've always been when it's all over. My vacation to Spain starts on March 11, when I'll finally be reunited with my amazing girlfriend right in the middle of her semester abroad. I can't wait for that day; I just hope I'm the same Cam when I jump into her arms.

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