My first full-time reporting gig was for The Stoneham Sun newspaper, part of what was then Community Newspaper Company. (It’s now Gatehouse Media.) It was a fun job, giving me a priceless education in local politics, public safety and criminal court proceedings. But in some ways, it was the darkest year of my 20s.
It was a year of vicious binge eating, 80-hour workweeks for little money, depression, anxiety and the suicide of my best friend, who slowly fell into madness while I was too busy working to pay attention.
I remember feeling relieved on Fridays because it was the start of the weekend and depressed as hell on Sunday mornings because it meant I’d soon be diving back into late nights of selectmen meetings, ambulance chasing and writing deadlines. I comforted myself with multiple daily visits to the McDonald’s drive-through and the various gas stations along my driving routes where I could tank up on candy bars and Hostess products.
I wanted to show everyone how badass my work ethic was, and I never seemed to leave the newsroom, except for my forays into Stoneham to collect police and fire logs and find people to interview for stories important and insignificant.
I gained about 40 pounds in that one year alone.
That summer, my friend wound up in the mental hospital. I visited him once or twice, then got wrapped up in my work again. Through much of that year I took Sunday-morning walks with him and another friend. But I was so anxious over the next story that my head wasn’t really there. I usually walked a few steps behind them, lost in thought.
He got out of the hospital but never shook his depression. I knew it was there but figured it would pass. That November, he proved me wrong.
I only took a few days off before returning to work. My first assignment upon returning was to get to the bottom of a heroin death. It took a few years for police to figure out that the overdose was part of a larger plot by some thugs to silence a few kids who knew too much about their gun-running enterprise. They gave one boy a fatal overdose of smack and later murdered a girl whose remains eluded the authorities for years.
At the time, though, all I knew was that a seemingly all-American boy with everything going for him was dead. He wasn’t the type to try heroin. I interviewed his family and, with my friend’s suicide still eating at me, I decided to write about what I was feeling. Specifically, I tried to answer the question: Why do good people step down dark and deadly avenues? An editor wanted to publish it. I said OK. I put things in that column that never should have been revealed. It was deeply personal stuff that wounded a family already mired in grief. They won’t speak to me to this day. I don’t blame them.
By year’s end, I had proposed to Erin and by January 1997, I was on to a new post covering Lynn, Mass. But it would be another couple years before I pulled myself from the mental abyss. By the time that happened, I was 280 pounds.
It took another 15 years to fully make peace with that part of my past.