I first saw Hailey McDonald in 2007 at a luncheon meant to introduce me to The Rocky Mountain Collegian, the student newspaper at Colorado State University, where I would learn new methods of getting drunk faster and how to be an investigative journalist. She was sitting at a table, as the editor, who was supposed to speak about his journalism career and the importance of the craft, first introduced his staff. He said something like: “Hailey McDonald, the managing editor at the Collegian, is the giggly one in the front, here.”
As the managing editor of the paper, she was second to the editor-in-chief, and would have taken his place if he were unexpectedly fired or assassinated. Both became a worry among staff and faculty when, that semester, sleazy journalists from FOX News and even some other news organizations filled campus after the paper published a terse staff editorial that harshly insulted President George W. Bush. The reporters, some of whom came from national affiliates, were after an explanation about the decision-making process behind the article. Anyone who was around and didn’t have an agenda to vindicate the president will tell you it was published in conjunction with a news piece about perceived repression of a question-asker’s free-speech rights at the University of Florida. A few days earlier, a student at the U of F had yelled the now-famous plea, “Don’t Tase me, bro!” as college cops tackled him to the ground, wielding Tasers. The editorial in the Collegian was, simply, an attempt to exercise First Amendment rights. Newspapers and television stations across the country issued calls to fire the editor, charging that the resulting controversy cost the paper advertising revenue, which was not true.
The papers and TV journalists that reported on the incident never got the following detail: That during the production of that day’s newspaper, as the editor was overseeing the design of the opinion page, Ms. McDonald proposed that, instead of printing the article’s four-word text the normal size of the staff editorial font, It should run at four times the normal headline size.
It glowed out matter-of-factly into the late-night dim of the Collegian newsroom in an InDesign file, over Hailey’s shoulder: “Taser this … FUCK BUSH.”
The editor turned to me with a nervous giggle and said: “This is either the coolest thing we’ve ever done, or the stupidest.”
The next three years at the newspaper went by in something of a blur, in which I wrote a lot of stories and drank enough booze to support a tab in the dozens of thousands of dollars. Hailey may be the item I remember most clearly, though even that doesn’t say much.
She once gave me a 20-minute ride from Fort Collins to Loveland to retrieve my stolen GMC Jimmy and I once bought her a cranberry vodka drink at a crappy concert venue, and so we started spending time together.
One weekend, I returned to Fort Collins from a Denver journalism conference with plans to hang out with her. I called and told her I didn’t want to drink that night. So we spent the weekend watching movies on her bed in her apartment. It was one of the longest periods of time I went without drinking when I lived in Fort Collins.
I didn’t know if it was a thing, what Hailey and I were doing; I was too drunk most of the time. But behind the curtain of my long anti-sobriety campaign, it was growing. Hailey left the country with a friend to work as an au pair for a wealthy couple in Perth, Australia. When they first got there, she told her friend she would marry me at that moment if I asked. We talked long-distance, and she encouraged me not to drink. I flew to see her, but I drank too much and she sent me away. I thought she would never want to talk to me again. She came back, and somehow, she did want to talk. She staged an intervention for me with some of our friends. Over the course of about a year and a half, the intervention worked, as I dropped out of college to figure myself and my finances out. I stopped drinking and joined the Navy, so Hailey and I could live together. We got married at a courthouse.
She wrote me around 40 letters during my two month-long basic training camp with the Navy, and it was all I thought about. One of them was a card with one of those recording devices in it. I listened to her voice three times before my recruit division commander made me destroy it.
Now, we live in base housing in different parts of the country. We have a golden retriever named Sweet Dee, after the blonde woman from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, one of our favorite television shows. One day, early in 2012, I got home from work, and she sent Sweet Dee to greet me at the entrance of the home we were living in. The dog had a card attached to her collar with a pregnancy test with a “+” in the little indicator window, taped to the inside of the note. We’re already trying to be good parents by saving money and preparing mentally for the birth, which, as of this writing on October 20, 2012, will happen in a few weeks. We even have a nursery, set up Montessori-style, because we want to embrace something of a minimalist lifestyle, whatever that means.
We sometimes eat things that violate our own strongly-voiced sensibilities to the evils that abound in the American food industry, mainly animal-based products. But mostly, we try to do a good job.
Hailey telecommutes for a Colorado-based company that does public relations for adventure travel companies that she hopes to take over someday. We want to travel.
The editor from the Collegian, with whom we’re still good friends, recently visited. He and I chatted as he smoked a cigarette outside our apartment. I told him how happy I was that I was with Hailey.
“She saved your life, man,” he said.
“I know, man. I know,” I said.
That is not the end of this story.