CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Decisions she made put Paula Broadwell in the headlines. They put me across the street from her house at 6 o’clock on Monday morning — that’s what I told myself as I stood with a cluster of reporters and photographers looking for signs of life.
At 6:30 a.m. a light clicks on and at 7:30 a.m. the family walks out, mom and dad, each carrying a young son. They get in separate cars — the vanity plate on hers reads RAMBL ON — and drive away. It would be an ordinary scene, except in this case the man, Scott Broadwell, cautions the gaggle to watch it as the cars back out of the garage. His wife, wearing dark glasses, doesn’t comment at all. What could she say?
Sometimes it’s news, sometimes it’s scandal. This story has a little bit of everything, from spy secrets and generals and former generals — Gen. John Allen and Gen. David Petraeus, respectively — the FBI, CIA and a trail of e-mail evidence. The government that belongs to all of us made private affairs public. While all involved try to sort it out with the help of assorted lawyers, public relations pros and crisis managers and Congress asks questions, attention turns to the women. In Tampa, that’s party-giver and caller of FBI agents Jill Kelley (plus her twin). After a stay with her brother in Washington, Paula Broadwell, the woman described as an attentive mother and generous neighbor by many who live close by, has returned to a Charlotte home that has already been searched by federal agents.
In a very nice neighborhood, it’s a sprawling brick house where dad is a doctor, the children are cute and all is quiet except for the renovation job on the block and the news trucks parked on the street.
The public is watching and I’m part of the business that’s giving them a peek. Occasionally drivers slow down to look or take pictures out of their windows. An inordinate amount of people seem to be walking their dogs. A man in a truck stops to ask, “Has Paula come home yet?” Not a neighbor, just curious, he says.
Scott Broadwell had said he would speak “soon” about the situation. No one can blame him if he leaves it up to the professionals.
Most neighbors passing by don’t comment, at least on the record; those who do have nice things to say. Though sick of all the attention, they understand and realize that eventually the crowd will move on to the next thing. When the Broadwells returned on Sunday, their friends came by with food and support, and they will be there when the headlines fade.
One brings tins of cupcakes for the media on Monday as the light fades. Whether or not she approves, she must figure we’re just doing a job, one you don’t always enjoy. Still, I don’t eat right away. Is that the cynic in me, wondering if a dubious ingredient awaits? After all, who would blame her?
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3