I met Melissa Daugherty in fire.
Even when I wasn’t reading the thing, I would haul home great stacks of the CN&R, as firestarter. And this, it was one of those times. Bob Speer, he was serving one of his numberless terms as editor, and I had so been there, done that, I wasn’t really reading. Also, I’d heard Speer was leaving—again—this time to be replaced by some woman who’d worked for the E-R. Sheesh, I thought. Back in my day, there at the CN&R, the E-R had hated us with such fire and fury it wouldn’t even mention our name. When we absolutely had to be referenced, there in its pages, we were but “another local newspaper.” The E-R worked like 12 bastards, for so many years, to put us out of business. And now, one of the paper’s spawn would, at the CN&R, uber alles.
So I’m sitting there, before the wood stove, feeding into it firestarter. CN&Rs. And, as I’m crumpling them, I see that the face of the paper, there in the lead editorial column, it has changed. No more Speer. Some woman, there, now. Must be the E-R woman.
And, as the fire starts, I commence—what the hell—to read.
Wait a minute, I begin to dawn, this is not an E-R woman. For she wrote like no E-R person I had ever known. And so, in the course of things, I became a regular reader.
And then, like, a fan.
I called up Derish, long-ago Wildcat/CN&R compañero, and I said: “Seth, listen, there’s this woman editor of the CN&R now, who goes after the cops like nobody since we were there.”
“No,” he said. “No way.”
But it was true.
She seemed to give no shits. If somebody was wrong, she would just say so. Didn’t matter who, what they were.
She was like those “When You Awake” people: “And if I thought it would do any good/I’d stand on the rock where Moses stood.” It didn’t matter whether it would seem to do any good, or not. She would. Still. Stand. There.
And you know how Dylan chimes for “the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed/for the countless confused accused misused strung-out ones an’ worse/an’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe”? That’s who she was for.
Homeless people would die—and she would cry for them, right there in her column—just blocks from where at the CN&R she did labor, and she just couldn’t countenance that, and so, in that, she would make change, real change, wrench around the Chico Police Department, so that at least nobody, ever again, would die, on those streets, unknown, unnamed, uncounted, unmourned.
She wrote so naked, she made me ashamed. That all my own words, once seemingly so brave and shit, were actually inscribed all locked up, fear-confined.
In her very first CN&R column, she wrote, “I’ve always been more comfortable writing about other people, and don’t plan on baring my soul here.” Maybe that was her only fib. Because she bared it all. Right through her most recent work, where she grieves that her own mother refuses to go to the vaccine, though that woman’s own father—Melissa’s grandfather—was carried off, needlessly, by the plague.
And so, although I had never met her, in reading her, I felt like she was my friend.
Because. She was just so open. With herself.
That is why when some orc wrote into the CN&R a letter, laughing and calling her names, for confusing in her column Tulare with Turlock—and I mean, really, aren’t they both the same?—I sent in my own letter, severing that man’s head from his body.
Because: Nobody scorns my friends like that.
Then, the town burned down.
Melissa was down in the southland when she read that some freak, who had long before her time, once been with the CN&R, refused to get out of the fire, and so was still marooned up there, in the town burned down.
And so, she resolved to go there.
Because. That’s. Who. She. Is.
As she wrote in her column, I “had no clue a near stranger was on her way with rations and a hug. Funny enough, though, when I pulled up near his house, Jeys was sitting on the porch as though he’d been awaiting my arrival.”
Well, yeah. Because it was like, we had always been.
She was so burned down in the fire. She came up here the day after the town burned down, and she kept coming up here, day after day. She saw far more of what the fire had done than I did. And she wrote about it. For instance, that our water up here, in the fire, had gone to poison—she pushed that, there in her paper, week after week after week. Until, she made it right.
While, meanwhile, she wouldn’t do right by herself. She had all the burneddownness—PTSD, anxiety, depression, insomnia, the dreams of the fire coming up the stairs, coming for her child, coming for herself—and though she would write about it—so naked—she would not go to such as the fire lawyers … as all the while she put me into a headlock until I would.
She had a whole route up here, of fire cats that she would feed every day, or close to it, and I was one of them: Once she came up here, after I’d been without cooked food for about three weeks, with some Del Taco, and that may have been the finest meal that I have ever had. Will. Ever. Have.
For more than seven years, she labored as the first female editor of the CN&R, which meant that a too-large percentage of the readers simply dismissed her, because everyone and their orc knows women can’t do that sort of job, and there were the death threats, which the cops just sniffed at and dismissed, and, like any editor of any newspaper, she presided from and for a community an Island Of Misfit Toys, requiring all of her powers to each week bring from the Thursday of absolutely nothing, to the next Thursday of really something—pure magic, that—an entire born-like-Athena-from-the-head-of Zeus issue of a newspaper.
Then, you sleep, maybe. And then, you get up. And do it, all over, again.
Rinse, repeat. And. Never. A. Break.
Meanwhile, the Americans are making it increasingly clear that they don’t any more really want any newspapers. They would prefer to receive their information from Aunt Edna, who heard from Cousin Ed, who’d seen it in an online virality, that Bigfoot burned down the town with directed energy weapons, supplied by Bill Gates, through the chemtrails, after he and the Hebrews control-demolitioned the buildings of 9/11.
So, the money coming in, to support the newspaper, it is … ever … dwindling.
And so, when the plague hit, there was no “nest egg,” no money to fall back on; and the CN&R, it folded, right up.
Yet Melissa, and much of the rest of the crew, tried to soldier—first online, then in print monthly—right on.
For three months, she worked as a volunteer, all the while in great pain, waiting for an operation delayed because with the collapse of the CN&R, also collapsed her health care.
Because. That’s. Who. She. Is.
She is relinquishing the editorship now, passing it on to Jason Cassidy, a good and decent fellow, for reasons and under circumstances she will explain, elsewhere in this issue, in her own words.
She has long believed she is a pariah, and I have tried to talk her out of this, but she will not listen to me, and though it is an axiom that in the writers generally no one appreciates you until you are dead, at which time they say, “no, but wait, I liked you,” I am determined she will be publicly appreciated, here, now, while she is alive, and surely kicking, in her own newspaper.
Also, odds are, she’s not really going anywhere. For she is like Obi-Wan. They thought he disappeared, but really he didn’t, as he was with the Force—as surely is Melissa—and, once subsumed in the Force, you will, and for sure, come alive again, whenever it may so be necessary.
All my life, I don’t salute, anybody.
Melissa. I salute. You.
The author, a former CN&R staff writer, is a Paradise resident who stayed on the Ridge throughout the Camp Fire and its aftermath.