A trip to the Newseum and isolation in the aftermath

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I cried on the sixth floor of the Newseum in Washington D.C. this Saturday, to a picturesque view of the Capitol and Pennsylvania Avenue.

Minutes earlier myself and other survivors of the mass shooting at the Capital Gazette were greeted by the museum’s president Gene Policinski in the lobby. He was extremely kind, but I forgot to jot down a quote.

We thanked him and said goodbye, then decided to start our tour at the top of the museum and work our way down. It was a group outing, a distraction, I thought.

I realized I forgot something. A piece of paper and a notebook I wanted to share with the museum, in case they ever decide to make an exhibit about us.

They have one sign in the lobby and another by the Journalists Memorial so far. Policinski said they had something up by 4:30 p.m. June 28, informing people of the shooting.

Where was I at 4:30 p.m. June 28? In a fucking hospital room.

I was completely isolated from the outside world. As soon as I left the building that day I was triaged and taken to an ambulance. As I should have been. My head was bleeding.

I spent five hours in the hospital while my coworkers went on CNN to talk about the shooting. And they tweeted about it. And they covered it, all while I was sitting in a bed thinking there wouldn’t be a damn paper the next day.

I wasn’t supposed to look at screens because of my concussion, and I listened, for a while at least.

I have felt disconnected from the weight of the shooting because of this isolation. I feel the weight I’m carrying, and that of my friends, and my co-workers, and of loved ones at five individual funerals and one joint memorial. But I haven’t felt the weight this shooting had on the world.

I believe things happened as they should have, and everyone acted in my best interest. This is just the way things are.

It was a huge news story and I wasn’t a part of telling it. I didn’t even get to see it being told the same day.

Reporters left messages. Friends left messages. My phones were on my desk at 888 Bestgate. My shoes were under my desk.

As the world buzzed around me about the mass shooting in Annapolis, I sat in a hospital bed. The television was off. I asked the nurses and the police not to leave me alone.

I remember a red folder placed by my bed, with a sticker that read “Disaster Patient 1.”

My clothes were taken away in an evidence bag.

The only thing I owned in that moment was a sheet of paper and a pen, which I asked for and received from a family friend who works at AAMC.

I had no information, so I gathered my own. The name of the doctor treating me, the first name and last initial of the officer in the room.

My immediate recollections post-shooting.

“Dried blood on right arm looked like veins outside of my skin.”

“The office smelled like gunpowder.”

The words of a pastor who visited.

“We all benefit from your voice. We’re counting on you to lift it.”

The make of the camera the crime photographer used while photographing my injuries. A Canon EOS 7D, with a kit lens. He was writing down something in a reporter’s notebook.

How strange, I thought, to have the tools of my trade used on me in this manner.

The words of a counselor.

“I believe that you will eventually build some good out of it.”

I was discharged sometime between 7:30 and 8:30 p.m. I folded up my sheet of paper and was taken to the police station. Someone offered to hold it for me. I said no.

Then I was interviewed by police, and jotted down that I noticed a crack in one of the ceiling tiles above the tiny room we were in.

We agreed that they should interview me first, and tell me what happened second. I knew it was bad, but told myself I wasn’t sure yet that people had died.

I stepped over Wendi’s body. I told myself I didn’t know she was dead that whole afternoon. She may have just been injured.

The detective said several people were dead after our interview. I asked for a notebook, and he brought me a spiral-bound pad that was 3 and ¼ inches by 5 and ½ inches. 50 sheets, narrow ruled.

Another detective said five people were dead. A survivor told me the names.

I flipped open my notebook, and wrote them down.

John McNamara

She said he had a shotgun. I wrote that down. In the moment I thought it was a handgun. But what do I know?

She said Wendi charged the shooter. I wrote that down too.

I didn’t stop writing in that notebook. It includes a diagram of the newsroom, marking the relative position of a dead colleague’s body to my hiding place.

It is filled with snapshots from that day, as I remembered them.

Memories of Rob that I jotted down, fearing they would leave and never return.

Notes from the vigil at City Dock the next day. Candle wax from the vigil that spilled on the notebook, as I carried both.

Notes from a staff get-together that Saturday. Notes from the nearby pier I escaped to when I needed time alone with Phil, who also survived the shooting. Notes about the beetles skirting on the surface, and the dime-sized minnows.

A quote — “I’ll miss our old life.”

Notes from Rob’s funeral. Notes from one of the three breakdowns I had at Rob’s funeral.

Notes from the first, and still the only, day I visited the temporary office.

Notes about how upset I am to see my scar healing. I want it to be bad, okay? Stop telling me it looks good.

Notes from a breakdown at the Fourth of July parade.

Notes from a doctor’s visit where they took my stitches out. I got a better notebook on the way home that day. It is periwinkle, and also full of terror.

I am proud of that first notebook. I am proud of my instinct to write down and record everything that was going on around me. I think it belongs in a museum, or at least a permanent exhibition on my bookshelf.

I didn’t cry Saturday because I forgot to bring the notebook; I cried because I realized its value.

I cried because I realized that, yes, my dead colleagues who were alive just 17 days ago would be — were already — part of a museum. And the weight of it crushed me.

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