there had been a sharp increase in the number of shootings--unusual for duluth. a lot of them caused only injuries, not death. but i started thinking-- even an injury would be almost unfathomably awful. i wanted to fathom it. what did it feel like? what damage would it do? how would your life be different?
so in between assignments, i spent a few days in our morgue, going through crime clips, looking for victims i could interview. i had a lot to choose from. eventually, i settled on a woman named betty who lived along the south shore in wisconsin. she had been shot in a bowling alley by her ex-husband. he had shot her in the head, but she had lived. her injury seemed the most dramatic.
i found her number and gave her a call. she turned out to be a very nice woman, friendly and willing to talk. but she was on her way to work--could i call her back the next day?
and there is where i ran into a bit of difficulty. the gunshot wound had caused short-term memory problems, so we made appointment after appointment, and she kept forgetting them. it took weeks to hook up with her again.
but when i did, she was terrific. she told me everything, in great detail. she told me how her ex-husband, wayne, walked into the bowling alley one night where she was bowling with her new boyfriend. his hands were hanging straight down at his sides. he held a pistol in his right hand. she heard a loud noise, and she fell.
she told me about being in the hospital, and the many surgeries she had. the doctors had to insert a plastic plate the size of an egg in her head, to cover the hole left by the bullet. at night, when she turned over in bed, it crackled. it wakes me up, she said.
she worked shift work now, and was able to drive in daylight hours and hold a job, but she had memory problems and other physical ailments, which she patiently described for me. i was so unnerved by the "crackling" comment that i forgot to ask her to explain the egg reference. after i hung up and started writing, i realized that describing something flat as "the size of an egg" didn't work--an egg isn't flat, it's oval and three-dimensional, and i couldn't picture an egg plugging the hole in her head. wouldn't it pivot?
i called her back, but she didn't answer the phone.
my column was due the next day, so i wrote it as well as i could, but i didn't know what to do about the egg reference. i just didn't think it made sense. so i consulted my friend Katy, who was a reporter in the features section. we tried to think of other things that were the size of eggs. how about a playing card? katy suggested. that's about the same size. and it's flat.
that worked. i could picture a playing card plugging a hole. so i wrote that the doctors inserted a plastic plate the size of a playing card in betty's head. when i turn over in bed, it crackles. it wakes me up.
i called her again the next day, couldn't reach her, and sent the column on to my editor.
after it ran, betty called me up. great column, she said. there's just one thing you got wrong.
my heart sank into my stomach. there is nothing worse than making an error in print. what? what?
the plastic plate wasn't the size of a playing card, she said. geez, that make it sound like half my head was blown off!
so how big was the plate? i asked.
i knew her answer even before she said it: it was the size of an egg.
now i could ask. betty, i said. i can't picture that. an egg is round. i keep seeing an egg floating around in the hole in your head. how could it be the size of an egg?
not the whole egg, she said. the end of an egg.
ah. more like a quarter than a playing card. whoops.
after i hung up, i wrestled with a new problem: how do i write the correction? i just didn't think this would clarify anything for readers: In a column published Tuesday, the News-Tribune incorrectly reported the size of a plastic plate in Betty Peterson's head. The plate is not the size of a playing card. It is the size of an egg.
a note on the photo: obviously, this has nothing to do with betty peterson or her injury. i already blew that picture last friday. so you'll have to be satisfied with this picture of me interviewing a llama at a llama farm in northern minnesota. the second photo is my friend katy, taken this summer when she was visiting from chicago.
while it's true that i interviewed betty's ex-husband, it was before he tried to become a murderer. i think we talked about the budget for some small town in northern wisconsin. but a year or so later, i did interview a convicted murderer who was serving a 30-years-to-life sentence for murdering his wife in Silver Bay. so maybe i'll tell you that story later.
TO BE CONTINUED
The Education Of Women
2 hours ago