Revisiting Difficult Things
The story of the violent crime my mother survived in the fall of 1994 has never been something I share easily. It’s more something I offer after I’ve really gotten to know someone and feel that there’s something important they need to know about me, about my family.
I’m acutely aware of the impact this crime has had on my mother’s life, on our family’s life, and I’ve always had a sense of its larger consequences. I thought if I could tell the story of both the intimate and the public impact, it might be worthwhile.
There were a lot of people who warned me this would be hard. And it was. Hardest of all was hearing again the details of what happened to my mother that night. And then hearing them repeatedly as I transcribed our interviews, assembled the script, cut tape, and listened to mixes. I spent many days horizontal on my couch, literally knocked over and out again (nearly 20 years later) by what happened to her.
Revisiting difficult topics isn’t for everyone. When I interviewed my brother for this piece he said he doesn’t like to talk about it. I’ve come to respect that point of view. Over the past two plus years, I’ve had stomach aches and nightmares, I’ve locked my doors more than before, and one day was even sure I saw Reginald McFadden (the man who attacked my mother) walking down the street in the small town where I live. Still, I know myself well enough to know what I can tolerate and that ultimately, for me, it’s always better to stare hard stuff straight in the eye than to turn away from it.
Here are a few things I learned from producing this documentary.
Willingness To Talk
My mother started talking about what happened to her the night she landed in the emergency room and hasn’t stopped since. She says that talking about it has saved her life. Going into this, I knew she would be willing to talk with me about what happened to her. But I had no idea about how others — family members and strangers — would feel about me, out of the blue two decades later, asking them to talk on tape about their connection to events before and after the attack.
To my surprise, most people I reached out to said yes. Yes. Immediately yes. There was a sense that they had been waiting to talk to someone else who also carried this event around with them. And that’s often the way the interviews would go. After introductory awkwardness and pleasantries, we would jump right into what for some of the interviewees was one of the most difficult times in their lives. And our conversations would go deep.
I always left the interviews exhausted. I’m sure the people I interviewed did too. I think Mark Singel (who I talked with for three hours) summed it up best.
Producer Me And Me Me
I have never done a personal piece before. While working on it, I became keenly aware of Producer Me (head) and Me Me (heart and belly). Producer Me would think about what was good for the piece, would handle details, would think about the story. Me Me was on a personal journey, was feeling lots of feelings. Me Me was seeking answers and resolution.
The beauty of this, it turns out, is that despite the fact that I was on my own in the field conducting these interviews, I never felt alone — these two parts of me worked together and helped each other through the rough patches. For example, it was Me Me that convinced me to go to McFadden’s sister’s house in Philadelphia and it was Me Me who got me out of the car to approach her. Meeting Charlotte was something I had thought about for 20 years; I knew if I left the city and didn’t at least try to find her, I would regret it. It was Producer Me, though, who thought to turn on my iPhone and record the whole thing.
On the other hand, Producer Me knew going to meet McFadden himself — or even trying to — would probably make great tape.
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