Honeymoons and Hedgehogs

Three years ago this May, the final Republican challengers withdrew from the presidential primary race while Bernie Sanders fought on against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination, not conceding until mid-June. You don’t need me to remind you of the momentous period of American political history that was to follow. 

Beyond the election, one of the most talked-about items in the news cycle at that time involved Harambe. This 440-pound gorilla was shot and killed at a zoo in Cincinnati, inspiring controversy and countless memes. I’m not sure what it means that Harambe still gets attention from readers. Recently, entrepreneur and Tesla CEO Elon Musk appeared in Rolling Stone following the release of his rap song, “RIP Harambe.” 

Other stories from those months were more serious. The nation was stunned by the mass shooting at an Orlando, Fla., nightclub and devastating wildfires in California. Voters in the U.K. approved a referendum to leave the European Union — this chapter of history still hasn’t concluded. Perhaps it will have ended by the time you read this.

I was in a different place in many ways back then. I was married in April 2016, and my wife and I took a short honeymoon trip to Maine in May. We spent our days in coffee shops and our nights eating artisanal french fries. A few days after returning to our North Andover home, our pet hedgehog, Helena, died. I put her body in the freezer, vowing that I would one day bury her in a garden. For the record, my wife did not approve of this undertaking.

Photos courtesy Doug and Tracy Sparks.

In early June, I met and trained with Rickson Gracie, one of the most influential martial artists to ever slap on an arm bar. It was a fitting way to end my own career in the fight world — two weeks later I hung up my belt and walked away from teaching jiu-jitsu, which I had been doing for over a decade. I was ready to devote myself to another art — the ink trade. On June 13, 2016, I took the chair at the 512 Media editor’s desk for the first time. Although, like many of us, I felt surrounded by apocalyptic conflict and anxiety, the profound changes awaiting me were mostly on an intimate scale: new life, new priorities, new work to be done. 

 A three-year work anniversary isn’t something I would normally pause to reflect on, except in that time we moved to another home elsewhere in the Merrimack Valley, my two daughters were born and, in the face of massive political and technological shifts, Merrimack Valley Magazine has continued to thrive. That an independent print magazine finds avid readers in a media landscape dominated by a just a few powerful corporate entities is worthy of celebration.

I’m still behind the editor’s desk, working the ink trade. Helena the Hedgehog made the journey to our new home and lies buried beneath the herb garden. As for all else, it’s a new world, with many stories left to tell.

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