A Runaway Life by Mariflo Stephens

I live a runaway life. I’m a writer, a wife, and a mother and, like a lot of women who tire of the multi-layered duties that come with that combination, I need to get away. Right now, what I’m running away from is a story.

That could be funny since I’m a short story writer, a comedic one at that. But it’s not funny. Usually I run away to Washington, D.C. I ride the train from Charlottesville and settle in the quiet car. The train sways slowly from side to side. It’s like being calmed in a giant rocking chair.

Sometimes I don’t know why I’m on the go like this. My grown children say, “Mom’s wandering,” (as in the song—I Never Did No Wanderin’ in the film A Mighty Wind.) Sometimes I seek solitude in order to write, not journalism, not anymore, but fiction, or essays, like the one I’m writing now. But this time I know what I am running away from.

Less than four blocks from my house there are tents, set up right on the courthouse lawn, looking, exactly, like a circus has come to town. The circus has not come to town. The trial of George Huguely has come to town. And, at least geographically, I am right in the middle of it. (Huguely is the drunken University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted in 2012 of killing his girlfriend, Yeardly Love in 2010.)

Many would argue I am perfectly poised to write about that trial. I covered murder trials for the Florida Times Union; my editor once showed me a note from the managing editor that said: “Give her anything she wants. Give her Ted Bundy if she wants him.”

I understand the language the lawyers use and if there’s something I don’t understand, I can ask my lawyer husband. And as for the lawyers who represent Huguely, I know one well, served on a board with him for years. He might have a hard time declining if I pressed him for an interview. The judge too would find it difficult to slam the door in my face since we live within a block and see each other socially. But I wouldn’t bother these people for a million dollars. I well remember how people didn’t mind at all stopping me on the street or calling me up when my husband was involved in a high-profile murder case to give me their low opinion of lawyers who take on such cases.

I did not want to go to that courtroom and see those sad faces. In my runaway life, I see happy faces. I go to the Kennedy Center and take in a musical. When I left to escape the George Huguely trial, I returned home too early, back for the victim impact testimony. Yardley Love’s mother and sister took the stand. “I’d like to testify,” I think. “I lost my sister.” I look at the surviving Love daughter and think, “By the time I was her age, I’d already lost my mother.”

My first short story the Virginia Quarterly Review published featured a reporter covering a double-murder trial. In my sixteen-story collection, it is the only autobiographical story. The reporter, in fiction and in fact, discovers that, for the month-long trial, she has been sitting next to and chatting, unaware, with the victim’s mother. Only at the end of the trial does the woman’s identity emerge. In my fictional timeline, the reporter concludes, “It wasn’t a story after all,” and leaves the news business.

There is little resolution or satisfaction to be had, I feel, in factual reporting. The dead remain dead, and prison years aren’t going to change it.

Though I knew it didn’t promote my mental health, I read the news stories about Huguely and watched his sad visage on television. I couldn’t stop remembering back to my reporting days. I kept remembering the extent I’d go to in order to get that perfect sidebar. I knew I was not that young woman, that hard-charging journalist, anymore. Becoming a mother had softened me. And I knew, after covering that double murder trial in Florida, I passed up the perfect sidebar—the victim’s mother. Because I finally realized: it wasn’t a story after all. It was a mother’s very sad loss, not my journalistic gain.

Train running on mountain
MGB: HGe 4/4 II 108 by Pascal Hartmann. CC license.

Mariflo Stephens
Mariflo Stephens’s first book of poetry, Dream Straw, has been recently published by Finishing Line Press. Her fiction is anthologized in Worlds in Her Words: Contemporary American Women Writers, and her essays have been anthologized in The Barbie Chronicles: A Real Doll Turns Forty and Strategies for Successful Writing. She has appeared on both the Oprah show and Oxygen network discussing her work.

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