The national news has careened wildly from one drama to another: one week the natural variety, the next, man-made. Tornadoes, flooding, powerful men behaving very badly, tornadoes again – it was breathtaking and terrifying and felt like the end of the world, even if it wasn’t.
In Vermont, our disasters often happen on a smaller scale. Record-setting bucketloads of rain, following hard on the heels of one of the snowiest winters ever recorded, has left lakeside homes and businesses flooded for weeks. It’s bad, but it’s not the Mississippi. Even here, though, man pushed nature off the front page, the water swept away by a sad, sordid sort-of sex scandal in which everyone – the innocent, the guilty, the institution where it took place, and the media that dragged it out into the light – ended up looking bad.
Vermont is a state so small that if you don’t know someone, then someone you know is sure to. A friend who knows all these players far too well has spent the week reliving a particularly difficult period of her life. The wronged wife who read another woman’s love letters to her husband aloud in her divorce proceedings, thus making them public record, is someone I’ve met, the friend of a friend. The daily paper, which seems to have scooped the alternative weekly on its own story, is my former employer.
As word of the upcoming bombshell spread through my office Monday, several of us huddled to share what we knew – or had heard, or thought we knew – and whispered like eighth-grade girls in the bathroom at a school dance. Is it a basic human instinct to gawk at the car as it lies crumpled at the side of the road? We held our collective breath, wondering whether all would be revealed.
Sadly, it was. This was a double collision, with multiple victims: the daily’s story up online first, the weekly – whose lengthy piece contained way more embarrassing details than anyone needed to know – close behind. And all day long, as we digested and parsed and speculated, commenters online and in my office kept asking: Why is this news?
I can argue both sides of that one – and did, in fact, to a colleague furious that a woman’s mental health problems had been hauled into public view – but regardless of what any of us believe, the damage is done. The victims are still breathing, but lives and reputations lie shattered.
It’s not that I think we’re perfect, but I have chosen to live in a place that prides itself on swimming against the tide, its small-town friendliness, its live-and-let-live attitude. But this week the mirror cracked, and the reflection wasn’t pretty. On the occasion of our very own little apocalypse, the only thing that was left behind was dignity.