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4:52 on Christmas Morning

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Matt grows increasingly flustered. He explains he needs to raise $20,000 to make the relationship worthwhile. Duff says he doesn’t have twenty people in his Rolodex that he can just call up. He jokes he is a Democrat. Matt is all but pleading. He reiterates that there were 200 people who attended the fund-raiser, and that they raised $1,200. He wants to know if the senator knows what this feels like:

“I put my three daughters out there. And this is what they’re worth?”

Every day—every minute, every second—can fall apart. Back in New York, on a beautiful early-autumn evening, Matt and I are walking through Soho. He is in good spirits, having just discussed his plans for a cross-country road trip to visit the schools that have received funds from the foundation. We are making our way toward the restaurant La Esquina. He is smiling and occasionally joking, and he explains that there are ways in which this talking feels therapeutic. It’s not like he can drink, he says. He cannot go to his mate’s and just drink. His voice changes.

The thing is, he says, he did all the things. He’d worked hard. He’d changed. He’d tried. He’d shown up for his life, for his kids. And yes, there were things he’d fucked up. Yes, he may even have fucked up his marriage. But, he wants to know, is that any reason to take away his kids?

A tattooed man with one pant leg rolled up slows his bike approaching Grand Street. Warm light glows from a shop window, through which a woman fingers a spatula. Two women in sundresses and high heels pass by. Matt has stopped walking. He is looking at me. He wants me to know he knows they woke up. He knows, from the positions of their bodies, they woke up. They were scared. And they were running around the burning house.

A breeze picks up. There are the sounds of downtown New York City at six o’clock on a warm late-September evening when Matt Badger tells me he knows his children “melted—

“They fucking melted.”

He wants to know why.

Additional reporting by Emma Whitford.


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