First off, let me warn you that this entire blog post is going to be one big trigger warning. I’m commenting on a terrible set of circumstances which have a personal impact on a lot of the people in the SCA community… and it’s not a recent situation of terrible events, it’s an ongoing one. For the past week and a half here in the SCA Kingdom of Ealdormere, there has only been one topic of conversation: the fate of Melissa Richmond. She went missing on July 24th and her body was found on July 27th. Yesterday, August 2nd, her husband was arrested and charged with first degree murder. Both Melissa and her husband Howard were active in the Society for Creative Anachronism’s Barony of Skraeling Althing, and during the search for the missing woman SCAdians pulled together and pitched-in as a community… only to face this tragic outcome.
I need to put a couple of caveats in here: I didn’t really know the victim or the accused. I’d met both at a couple of SCA events over the years and I recognized them both from pictures in the media but I really didn’t know them well at all, so I can’t speculate — even were I so inclined — on their circumstances or personalities. This situation impacts me second-hand, through the shock waves rippling through our community. Also, and very importantly, the foundation of our legal system is innocent until proven guilty: Howard Richmond will have his day in court and, hopefully, the truth will come out. I’m not going to speculate beyond the bare facts of the case as laid out above. I can only hope that justice is served and that everyone effected is able to the get the closure necessary to start the healing process.
This is not a post about the murder, or the investigation, or the upcoming legal proceedings, or even about the victim. This is a post about our community. For almost two weeks now, our community has been deluged by a series of shocks, a stream of anxiety and grief: one of our own was missing… and then, terribly, found. There was fear, fear for her fate, fear that the killer might be one of our community, fear that the killer might strike again. There was grief for her loss and so sympathy for her husband… and then the terrible shock of the murder charges laid against him.
Last night and this morning there was no commentary about that development, none at all, on my Facebook feed. Considering that the search for Melissa and the fallout from the discovery of her body was a constant — almost overwhelming — flow of information in the days since her disappearance, that abrupt cessation of commentary was perhaps the most striking thing for me. I think that silence reflects the shock we all feel. I think that silence is the result of not knowing what to say. And why should we know what to say? This shouldn’t happen. Young women shouldn’t be murdered, families shouldn’t be torn apart, communities shouldn’t have to deal with jolt after soul-tearing jolt. That it happens every day, in ordinary communities everywhere, matters not at all: it shouldn’t happen. The world is not as it ought to be.
When I was 24, I got hit by a car. I was on my bike, it was a hit-and-run, and it’s the reason I had to have my left knee surgically reconstructed. The single most vivid memory I have of that experience is being airborne, almost hanging in midair, up and over the handlebars of my bike with the pavement rushing towards me and enough time to clearly say to myself “This is really going to hurt.” I don’t actually remember hitting the ground, despite the fact I broke my arm in the landing: it’s that awful, slow-motion realization that stuck with me ever since.
That’s what this morning feels like: that hollow, crystal-clear moment of being powerless to do anything to change what’s happening.
Today we’re all in shock… and if I’m shocked, through the distance of one remove, how much worse must it be for the people who knew her well there in Skraeling Althing? For me the most terrible realization is how many of my friends are directly impacted, that there’s people I care about who’ve had a gaping hole blasted into their lives… and that they’re going to have to cope with it for a long, long time to come. There is shock today. There will be grief today. Tomorrow I fear there will be anger… and anger has a way of lashing out and doing damage in unpredictable ways.
I hope that people pull together, I really do. But the fact that the accused is one of our own frightens me — not fear for myself, but fear of what that means for us all. I’m so afraid today of anger crashing through the SCA in this Kingdom, of it breaking things and driving people apart — and not just anger at the accused, but anger at each other, at the divisions and arguments that must result, even at the situation itself. There’s been a lot of solidarity inside the SCA community around this, but fatigue can set in… and there was a lot of that even before yesterday’s arrest.
This isn’t happening in a vaccuum: People are going to form their own opinions, they’re going to take sides. It’s part of human nature… but I’m afraid that this will crack our community, like water freezing inside a stone. When Melissa disappeared, it was a crisis; when her body was found, it was a tragedy; when her husband — a member of our community — was charged, it felt like a betrayal. And betrayal is like acid to trust: it spreads far and wide and weakens the already-strained bonds which hold us together. Those bonds need to be reinforced against the blows which are going to keep coming throughout the legal proceedings in the weeks and months ahead. Whether Howard Richmond is found guilty or innocent there will be a division of opinion within the community and how we’ll react to that division worries me. There is no quick fix to this, no neat TV ending: our community is going to continue to be hurt.
We have good leaders, at least; I don’t envy the Royalty of Ealdormere or the Baron and Baroness of Skraeling Althing right now. I know it seems a little silly to outsiders, but in the SCA people who take on a leadership role — especially a long-term leadership role like being Territorial Baron and Baroness — end up holding an enormous amount of moral authority in the eyes of their “subjects.” It sounds strange, but it’s true (in fact, I’ve been planning to write a blog post about it for some time… hopefully a much happier post than this one) and, strange or not, it’s a factor that will matter in days to come. The Baron and Baroness Skraeling Althing are friends of mine, and I know they rushed home from Pennsic in order to make today’s funeral… which is a thought I find strangely comforting, in the middle of all this terrible mess. There’s somebody watching out for the community, for all of us.
Bad things happen to good people. It’s a truth about the world, and I wish I knew how to fix it. Sometimes those bad things are done by people we thought we knew, that we thought we could trust. We can hope that people pull together in the face of tragedy, that we’ll strengthen the bonds of community, not destroy them. The neopagan author and philosopher Starhawk once wrote “Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done.” Today the work that needs to be done is grieving; tomorrow that work will be to start healing. We need to be strong together in order to get through this.
We built a community around the SCA; a game, yes, but more than a game. That community is being tested right now. And despite the grief, the shock, and the fear, I think that we’ll pass our test… Or at least, I hope we will.