Today, I finally reached a point I had hoped I might escape.
I'm still working the story on the shooting in Newtown, Conn. I just concluded my fourth full day of work, my fifth in the state.
These full days have been running, at the least, twelve hours, sometimes fifteen hours or more, while immersed in the story of what horrific things unfolded last Friday.
Each day, I've had something different to cover, none much easier than the other in terms of difficulty, in terms of skill or emotion.
Since I've had so many different tasks, I've kept my editor at home informed of what's been going on with the coverage, what I've been slated for, just to let her know what The Mercury might want to use for their own coverage of the event.
I'd kept myself together throughout this. Some hadn't. I've heard of a few people losing it a little. Some are amazed they're still okay. The mix of intense work and the intense sadness here is a formula for a breakdown.
At one point yesterday or the day before (time has ceased to exist here), me and the crew of remarkably talented and dedicated journalists in our satellite newsroom discussed when this all became "real" for them.
Some said it was hearing the reports of how many were killed. Others talked about driving into the town and seeing the makeshift memorials.
Mine came Saturday. When the authorities announced, officially, the list of names of those killed, I was sent to the park where the press briefing was held to retrieve a physical copy of the list.
I grabbed it and began driving back to our satellite newsroom with it. At a stoplight, I picked the list up and glanced down at the names on it.
The list included birth dates and I began noticing how many names had "2005" or "2006" in the DOB column. My hand suddenly felt numb and the list slipped from my fingers into the wheel well of the passenger side of my car.
The difficulty of witnessing some things and talking to some people is something I'll probably never encounter again. But I've kept it together.
This morning, as I was filling in my editor on the day's "budget" of stories, she told me about a story involving one victim that was local to our coverage area. She mentioned the child's name.
I replied that I remembered the name, began to say that I thought I'd been assigned the student at one point, then realized it wasn't one of the six or so I'd been assigned to do over the first few days.
I thought I remembered another person doing the profile.
"He did that person," I said. "I think he did. I think, but I'm not sure because there..."
Suddenly, it felt like all the breath had been sucked from my lungs and I physically couldn't speak.
I was going to say, "I'm not sure because there were so many." And in that moment, just hearing my mind say it and trying to speak those words, I suddenly felt paralyzed by grief.
I'd been afraid of reaching the breaking point for days. We've been immersed in such terrible sorrow day in and out that it was always a threat and, suddenly, on the phone with my home paper's editor, I was completely ambushed.
She thought she'd been cut off from my line, or that I'd broken up.
"I said we just each worked a lot," I finished lamely.
There is a lot of backlash to us being in Newtown right now. I can't put myself in the shoes of the people here, but from what I've gathered from the criticisms and anger vocalized at us, many think we're just trying to capitalize on a sensational news story, that each painful interview is just a feather in our cap.
But from what I've witnessed from others with me who have worked so hard and from what I felt myself this morning when I finally ran into a wall, we're here because we feel telling what happened is indescribably important. In the same breath, I can say we all are affected very deeply by this, we care very much for those it touched, and we truly wish that this all never happened.