Brenda wore the reddish leather skirt over white "eye candy" outfit to work on Monday. She rarely used that particular outfit that way, but it seemed appropriate for this day. Like every Monday morning, she sat down at her desk, booted up the computer, and went to work on the police notes and jail log. She said nothing about the change in her attire from the last nine weeks, wondering how long it would take anyone to notice.
It took a surprisingly long time. The Soliels had become so much a part of how people looked at her that it wasn't easy for them to notice their absence.
It was Mike who finally noticed first, as she reached for her coffee cup with one hand while she held the phone to her ear with the other. "Hey!" he said. "What happened to the handcuffs?"
"They're off," Brenda said. "Yesterday."
"How does it feel?" he asked.
"Strange," she replied slowly. "I got used to them. But that's not the big news. Carole's are off, too."
"She doesn't have handcuffs on anymore," Brenda affirmed. "It was, uh, pretty dramatic."
"How's she taking it?"
"Not very well." Brenda said, shaking her head. "It's a big change for her. Look, Mike, the next few days, I may have to race out of here at any time to go hold her hand."
"I understand," Mike smiled. "Are you gonna write about it?"
"I'd like to," Brenda said thoughtfully, "But I want a few days to put the whole thing in perspective, and I feel like I ought to have her approval before we print anything. Like I said it was pretty dramatic, and it's going to be hard for her to make the adjustment. Hell, it's not easy for me. Wendy told me that they'd planned for mine to come off this weekend because they thought I was starting to like them a little too much. They were right. It's a lot worse for her."
For the first time in months, both exercise sessions and workouts at Spearfish Lake Appliance went by the boards for Brenda. Dragonslayer did too. She spent a lot of time with Carole and Wendy, trying to help support them as they adjusted to the new reality – and letting them support her, too.
But in the remaining free time, what little of it there was, Brenda wrote. She had often used writing a story to help put the impressions and facts she had in order in her own mind, and it was no less true this time. It started almost as therapy for herself, but she wrote it as if writing for print, and by the time she finished, she thought it was. Carole and Wendy both read the story over before she let Mike see it, and, a little to her own surprise, they approved it. It was a big feature, touching on a lot of things. The main story, entitled Sisterly Love, took a lot of space in the Record-Herald feature section and discussed some of the history and issues of Carole wearing the handcuffs. Since there were issues that Brenda couldn't discuss directly, not having experienced them, she wrote a sidebar, entitled Adventures in Chains, detailing her own experiences and discoveries; there, she could at least write from experience.
Brenda ended the latter story by saying, My body still remembers my wrists being locked together. As I was writing this, I had to scratch my nose, and I lifted both hands to do the job, just like my wrists were still encased in steel and chained together. And, when I walked over to the courthouse this morning, my hands were getting cold. I was most of the way there before I realized I could put them in my pockets.
Did I learn anything? Yes. Can I tell you what? Some of it, maybe; some I'm still learning. But I can say that I've learned that people can adapt to a lot of things, learn to survive them, and even to be able to overcome them, maybe even learn to enjoy them. I've learned that you have to learn to accept what's happened to you and get on with things. And, maybe I was lucky, since I didn't have to learn it the hard way."
Once the story was in print, Mike read it over one last time as soon as Sally brought it back from the printing plant in Camden, then sat down across the mailroom table from Brenda. "That is a helluva story," he said. "It's one of the best things I've ever seen anyone do, and there were a number of sticky issues that you handled with really noticeable sensitivity. Like I said, a helluva piece of writing, Brenda."
She shook her head. "There were things that I wish I had done better, but I didn't have the facts to do it better. But, Mike, just understand, I wrote that for me, not necessarily for the Record-Herald."
"I understand perfectly," Mike smiled. "Still, would you mind if I sent some copies around to a few people I know?"
"Fine with me," Brenda smiled, thinking that Mike was laying it on a little thick, but possibly not; it wouldn't have been the first time Mike had brought a junior reporter to the attention of people on a bigger newspaper. That gave her the thought that she ought to stick back a handful of extra copies of this week's paper; they might come in useful when the time came to start looking, if she ever decided to do it.
It was the middle of May, a nice spring day, almost summer. Brenda and Carole had taken Wendy down to the North Towne Mall the weekend before, and Wendy had helped Brenda pick out some new spring outfits. She sat at her desk, wearing one now, typing away at a story on the latest twist of the ongoing hassles over basketball and cheerleading and some of the off-the-wall places the story had gone.
She didn't think much about it when Mike came up to her desk, holding a sheet of paper in his hand. She could see that it was a printout of an e-mail, but had no idea of what it was. She looked up at Mike; he had a grin, but the expression on his face was indescribable. "Uh, Brenda?" he said. "We gotta talk."
"Yes?" she said, turning away from the keyboard to look at him. There was something in the tone of his voice that that she didn't like. More trouble? Big trouble?
"Uh, Brenda, I don't know how to say this," he said. "You know I had some doubts about you when I hired you. I knew you were a good writer, but you had some problems that didn't reflect well on you in a lot of ways. I probably wouldn't have hired you, but I was tired of going to all those stupid meetings. Well, I want you to know I was wrong, at least I did the right thing for the wrong reasons, and I want to apologize for that."
"No apology necessary," Brenda said, still wondering what this was about.
"I was still wrong," he said. "You've cleaned up all those problems, and I know Carole and Wendy had a lot to do with it. You've proved to be just about the best junior reporter I've ever had. I want you to know that you're welcome to stay as long as you like, but after this, I expect I'll have a hell of a time holding on to you."
"Mike, what are you talking about?" Brenda said, getting even more curious, now.
"I've never had this happen before," he replied. "I don't even know anybody this has happened to. And, I don't know what happens now. I thought maybe Andy Bairnsfether had a chance with that expose of that sham environmental outfit ten years ago, after he left here, but no, you rang the bell."
"Mike, you've totally lost me," she said, feeling edgy. Mike didn't usually ramble, but that last statement made her wonder about what he was trying to say.
"One of the places I sent that Sisterly Love piece to was the American Newspaper Association Awards Contest. I almost didn't send it, we were so close to the cutoff date back at the end of March, but I did anyway." he said, and handed her the piece of paper he held in his hand.
Brenda took one look at the e-mail and gasped: the subject was: 1998 ANA Aherns Award Winners Announced My God! Brenda thought. It couldn't be . . . but there it was, the fourth line down: Best Local Feature, Sisterly Love, Brenda Hodunk, Spearfish Lake Record-Herald.
"Mike . . . but . . . My God!"
"Next to a Pulitzer, that's about the best line you can put on a resume," Mike grinned. "Maybe better, most of the people in the industry realize that Pulitzers are mostly New York people giving stuff to other New Yorkers."
Brenda heard Carrie's voice call, "Brenda, line 1."
Mike held up his hand; there was one more thing he wanted to say: "That's probably just the first of many," he grinned. "Like I said, I don't know what happens from here, but a word of advice: don't just grab the first thing that comes along. Pick and choose what's best for you."
Brenda had some heady times in the next few months.
After considering offers from all over the country, she finally decided to take a job as the City Editor at the Camden Press. It wasn't as good a job as some she was offered – one of which would have taken her to New York to work in network news – but she'd become very devoted to her Spearfish Lake friends, and the Camden Press left her within reach of them.
One of the things that kept her from settling on that decision for some time was that if she moved back to Camden, she'd be tempted to move back home. However, Carole only used her apartment in Camden two or three nights a week, so they decided to become part-time roommates.
It was just as well; Carole was taking a long time adapting to being shed of her handcuffs, and she needed the support of her sister in Spearfish Lake as well as Brenda in Camden. She is still not entirely over the experience, and may never be; just the other day I saw her twist her body to be able to use both hands to reach for a magazine. But, it's not something she does all the time – I've been amused to see her spread her arms wide to put them around her fiancé. She still works with handicapped adaptation, but has been moving more and more into addiction counseling. These days she even admits it was a rather odd thing to be addicted to. Carole has not worn handcuffs since, and even refuses to be near them; Brenda still has both pairs of Soliels.
The Aherns award drew a lot of attention to the story, and eventually there was a WNN Newsmagazine story made about it. In the re-enactments that were done, Brenda did wear the Soliels; through careful cutting, she also stood in for Carole. When we watched it, you could not tell the difference – but for extended periods, Brenda is just about as leery about them as Carole.
When Brenda first went to work at the Press she'd been warned by the senior editor who hired her that there would be some resentment from what Brenda referred to as the "airheaded State Barbies" over her being hired in over their heads, Aherns award or not. I'm told that Brenda just nodded, said, "I'll handle it" – and came to work the first morning wearing Soliels. Absolutely nothing was said by anyone, except for one reporter who took one look at her and the handcuffs, then ran out the door screaming. It was all that was needed to be said. Brenda might have been younger or less experienced than they were, but the handcuffs showed that she could be as tough as she needed to be, in ways they could never begin to understand. Those Soliels are in a glass case on her desk, just in case anyone needs reminding. Not much reminding has been needed; even the Press's worst critics say that the paper has improved a great deal since her arrival.
The Newsmagazine story drew a fair amount of attention. There were a couple of offers for a book – good offers – but Brenda said she was far too busy to deal with it, and then I was quite surprised when she suggested that I take on the project of writing it.
It has not been easy, and I could not have done it without the extensive journals she kept about the whole affair. She allowed me the full use of them, unedited, warts and embarrassments and all, and in the process I learned much that was new to me. Brenda and Carole also gave an extensive amount of help in pulling it together, and Brenda's editing has been very helpful without altering my impressions of her impressions. I also have to thank several other people, including Mike and Kirsten McMahon, Debbie Elkstalker, Gil Evachevski, Harold Novato, Randy Clark, Jennifer Evachevski, Jason Bailey, Harold Hekkinan and others for their input on the story.
I also have to thank Mark Gravengood of Marlin Computer for the great amount of work he did in upgrading Della; it would have been nearly impossible to write this with my mouth stick.
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– 12:34 AM 2/20/03