Tania The Revolutionary

Tania the Revolutionary
Michael Pritchett

 

Back living with Mom again, she read about the massacres of the coffee heiress,

Barbara Folger, her Polish boyfriend and a bunch of movie people. She read the accounts with a pounding heart and felt she’d missed out on everything during her time away. Her dad had left tons of books behind in that attic room and Mom had saved all the papers. The papers were a kind of fossil record. She could dig down, layer by layer, and examine each of the days lost, retrieving what she could.

Where she’d been living, newspapers and books weren’t allowed. They were that crazy. So she didn’t read about Watergate until a year after the fact, how they tore apart some shrink’s office looking for dirt to destroy some enemy of the party.

She learned the terms “Charles Manson” and “lysergic acid.” The Manson girls—and they should know—said life with Charlie was just like dropping acid. He didn’t force you to do anything you didn’t want to. He did change how your life looked to you. She began to read all of Dad’s old books, Mein Kampf and the Bible, Spengler’s Decline of the West and Ayn Rand.

She couldn’t talk about what happened or who’d been right or wrong in the whole mess. Mom didn’t try to talk to her about church or God’s role in the events. Whose fault was it that she wound up in that house? And how was she supposed to remove what he crammed up inside her?

Charlie’s murders filled her eyes and blacked her hands. His family of killers had campy names like Sexy Sadie and Country Sue. Mother Mary. Little Patty. Soupspoon. Gypsy. Tex and Squeaky.

 

Her own fall was much less technicolor, took two years, and now she needed help back up. Like this nation after Charlie and Vietnam. He’d absorbed her into his black and white insanity in that tiny house: now she was back to a world of painful, livid colors. Charlie called this re-entry process “Coming to Now.” They were printing everything Charlie said because he had somehow turned pretty girls into killers. Or he’d found the way to free the killer inside every pretty girl. Each body had received literally hundreds of frenzied stab wounds.

It happened in a Hollywood suburb, Bel Air. While she was stuck in a little house the whole time, just outside Kansas City, not far from her old swim club of the same name.

 

Now she was back in her old room with the bad light and the hot, small bed, the spread an itchy polyester.

The action star Steve McQueen (she read) had swept the houses of the victims for narcotics before the police could get warrants, because that’s what friends did for dead friends in Bel Air. The rest of the story was—a hole. Mom cut it out for the recipe. She stared into this absence and knew it meant something profound, the same way the country stared at the story of those psychotic girls, stabbing and stabbing in a mad frenzy.

At first, police thought they’d never met the victims til that night. But later it was discovered that one of the girls saw one of the victims in the home’s driveway earlier in the day. Words were exchanged.

As for the war and the likely aftermath, the experts could offer only “degrees of pessimism.”

“As for me, I had a family, of sorts—at least for a while,” she wrote to her notebook.

 

The biggest thing in town was the enormous green cemetery, with fences miles high. It sat right in the middle like a sort of Central Park, and you had to go all the way around to get anywhere. The town had everything you could want, a roller rink, a swim club, two theater multiplexes, a drive-in, a pizza place, two high schools, a mall, lakes, streams and woods. Also things you didn’t want.

In theology, in high school, her teacher said the human race was haunted by a call to behave in a way that it could not.

 

The house they squatted in didn’t have gas-heat or a phone, so they walked a mile to a payphone. He taught them to be careful, that anybody could be the FBI, or the narcs, and they’d all be forced to go home. Kids showed up every day with no place to go. He thought he knew everybody, always saying, “Hold up a minute, son (girl). I think I do know you. I think I might be the father who ran out on you. Have you come to give me another chance, even though I don’t deserve it?”

She wanted to forget, but needed to figure out what happened to her. The paper said that only the Lindbergh-baby murder trial had even approached the fury of Charlie’s. But the country had loved Lindbergh like a messiah. And then it hated him like a Judas for opposing the Second World War.

Then, recently, Charlie’s girls stabbed Roman Polanski’s honey-blonde wife to death insanely, like something from a drive-in movie. Like that one, The Hills Have Eyes.

“Have you seen that Rosemary’s Baby?” Mom asked as they did laundry in the basement. “It’s the one where her baby is the devil. And her husband is the devil. Later, it turns out all his friends are in on it and they’re all devils, too.”

Mom was right there, talking at less than arm’s reach. But she couldn’t feel her somehow. Last summer, just before he found her, she’d slipped into this state where she couldn’t seem to contact people. She’d gone someplace and was alone and increasingly afraid.

 

What happened could happen with people all around you. That’s something she had learned. As if, at some hidden signal, everyone turned away from her and looked only at each other. That way, it could happen without anyone being to blame.

“Distract your mind, don’t think so much,” Mom said to her, abruptly. She was suddenly there in the bedroom doorway, disrupting a fit of sit-ups and jumping jacks and running-in-place.

So she read the books, all of them. The paper, too, which luckily came twice, morning and night.

“Listen to this,” Mom said. “Here they’re describing the Manson compound as ‘crawling with roaches and strewn with garbage and human waste.’“

The paper was less hysterical about the attack and retaking of Wounded Knee by the Sioux Indians, out of anger over the 1898 treaty that should’ve granted them South Dakota.

 

Mom was furious about the whole situation and took it out on the house, slamming doors and crashing cupboards, chipping cups and plates. Sometimes she wanted to go down and gently pry the dishes from Mom’s straining fingers, take her hand and just walk away. Against a backdrop of flames.

“This is somehow all my fault,” she admitted in her pages. “It’s happened due to how nuts I am and how hopeless.”

But silence was the worst burden of having met him. When should she have pulled the alarm? What were the signs of his coming?

On the other hand, every girl sensed his approach all her life.

“Whatever they do to her, she just keeps coming,” Mom said as they watched the

news. “Look at all those defensive wounds. That’s from swinging her fists, hitting back.” This was about the actress, Sharon, whose debut was in Valley of the Dolls. It was her breakout role and she’d been living like a real movie star for the first time.

“‘Death to the Pigs’,” Mom said. “They wrote that everywhere, in her blood.”

“Susan wrote that,” she answered. “I mean, her real name is Susan.”

“What’s happened to this summer?” Mom said. “Gone so quick.”

“Good riddance,” she said. “The End. All she wrote.”

This had been the summer of love and protest and fingerpointing at all the pigs in society, plus the killing of them. “I think all the time about the pigs and who the true pigs in this world truly are. You can’t always be sure,” she wrote.

 

“You can’t try on all the dresses here. You have to judge by those you can,” Mom said, as they shopped the thrift stores. She bought mini-dresses in Easter colors and boy’s jeans that zipped in front.

The town was an island of sorts. “We have everything, even a cemetery, so we never have to leave,” she said. When Mom didn’t answer, she said, “I don’t mind this silence. It’s kind of nice, after work.”

The story of Watergate—the radio said—would be with the nation always.

Mom listened til the Patty Hearst story came on, then switched. “She was brainwashed, poor thing,” Mom said. “Some stories are just too sad. They never seem to end.”

She started to answer, but thought she recognized the car behind them and was sick inside and sweated. He might turn up again anywhere, anytime, and it would start all over, loving him. There’d be no question. She’d simply get out of this car at the next light and into that one.

She and Patty were a lot alike, she understood. Patty in the aftermath. Home from kidnapping, brainwashing, torture, rape.

Afterward, you were suddenly free. And yet it was bad, empty. You’d been condemned to home and its tortures, the airless panic of parental love. Worse, in its way, than being forced to open yourself to him and to everything.

“They place such faith in these rockets,” Mom said, snapping off the news. “They hurl a million pounds into orbit and think it will just stay up there.”

She felt sick and exhausted and it wasn’t even his car, this time.

 

At night, she lay outside her window at the house’s tip-top. Gravity and Mom’s

love could not hold her, because she wasn’t real. Yet she continued to do the hollow things, anyway, and drifted around. She was nothing at the apple festival. Nothing along the carnival midway at night, across from Funhouse Pizza with its radiating neon star. She ate the corndogs, anyway, with hardly enough spit to swallow, and was often silent. Things like this shut your mouth, which is what they wanted.

“I just read about Sharon’s funeral. Guess who went to Sharon’s funeral. Kirk Douglas! Warren Beatty! Steve McQueen and the Mamas and Papas!”

Every word had to be torn from the unreality of herself, the core of her disease.

It didn’t seem things could go on this way. On the drive there, she’d thought of leaping out into the approaching river—though it didn’t look deep enough.

How had it happened? How could one summer go this wrong—and did you ever get right again?

 

The day they met, he’d walked right up to her at the Dog ‘n’ Suds. “I could tell you some things about you, if you wanted. One thing, you don’t think you belong here.” When she was too stunned to reply, he asked, “So how long’s it been this bad?”

She knew as soon as he appeared that he’d been sent. She was sixteen and figured it was her last year on earth. But he had a plan and it wasn’t Jesus. “Try this on for size,” he said. “If God were just some blind force without morals or mind, He wouldn’t have bothered with you to begin with.” That first night they talked for seven hours.

 

“So Skylab’s up there,” Mom said, riding the Ferris wheel.

“Yeah.” She pictured it as a big hurtling angel with one broken wing. Its solar panels failed to deploy on one side. Fighting hard to feel real, but reality had turned its back on her. She called this feeling Glass Curtain and took lengthy walks to slap trees and head-butt brick-walls, trying to bring pain back into this body.

Mom’s exasperation grew and showed in her driving. They roared out of the carnival and streaked away down Blue Ridge Boulevard, trailing light. “I can’t stand crowds anymore,” Mom said. “People have no manners and they just seem mean and overfed.”

Mom’s rant included the word “pig” as if Mom was starting to catch what she had. She glared at Judy as if to ask when the silent treatment would end.

 

Upstairs, she read Dad’s books. They said God was both Man’s only comfort and his supreme terror. She never felt safe now, having fled the love of her life. When her heart flooded with blood and ran out of control, she could just manage, with shaking hands, to put the book down and walk out. The entire house exclaimed, in total silence, about her absolute need for him. Mom was here somewhere and she ought to just go screaming into her arms. Except she was too old for that now.

The paper that evening warned of steep drops in currency, Dollar v Mark, Ruble v Franc, Pound v Gilder. Collapses were unavoidable and weakness very hard to resist. They’d killed Sharon and now it was Warren Beatty who put up the money for information. Somebody must’ve heard five people being stabbed and shot to death in a quiet street.

She picked up the phone to call him, looking down at a paper in the trash. One caption read, “They watched as the girl, blindfolded, was put into the trunk of a car.” That was about Patty, the night they took her.

Suddenly she was outside herself and in that trunk with Patty. But her own life was no place for her right now. In the distance lay her grief over Dad and a sort of memory about the riots when they killed MLK. She’d been downtown with Mom, and they were trapped. This block had cars flipped over and burning at either end. Until then, she hadn’t known you could drive a car through fire and up onto the sidewalk. But that’s what Dad did in order to save them. He picked them up, smashing his way through the barricades, leaving the insanity and burning trash barrels, the choking orange blackness behind them.

Though when she related this to Mom, she said, “It wasn’t quite like that. For one thing, your father wasn’t there.”

She recalled Dad’s departure as a cold dawn and a dead furnace, a constant overcast with blowing leaves. Dad always lit the pilot when wind down the chimney blew it out and she’d been freezing ever since.

It was a while after he’d left, in class one day, when she saw the trouble she was in.

But not what kind, not yet. And knew instinctively not to talk about it. It was beyond telling. Like that account she’d read of a girl kidnapped for ransom and buried alive in a plywood box with nothing but a jug of water and an air pipe one inch in diameter. Like that.

She worked her way down in the pile, to Patty’s whereabouts in February. At that time, they’d both been locked away in houses. But the two abductions happened very differently. And anyway she was “safe” now. She was “found” “unharmed.” Patty, on the other hand, was still “on the run.”

In her own case, nobody looked because nobody knew she was missing. That’s when she realized that tons of people were missing, probably millions. You could be missing while right in plain sight. Or, one day, you could suddenly turn up and go calling through the house. And your mom could come running down from the attic to stare at you. And you could say, “I’m not staying. We could use some food, though, pretty bad.”

What happened to Patty was new. They called it “terrorism,” a tactic invented by the urban guerilla terrorists of America. What happened to them both, in fact, was terrorism. And nobody attempted a rescue, because these were desperate men.

It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered before and it sure as hell didn’t now. Though she did read each and every word of the story about Patty and about Charlie. That one Manson girl, aka Susan, claimed it took great love to kill someone because the killer always died too.

And always that image of a topless, blindfolded Patty stuffed into a trunk as witnesses stood by, helpless. Her dad was quoted as saying that Patty was a strong-minded girl. Ha. Didn’t matter, wouldn’t help. A gossamer strand, a held breath, that’s all that kept the world together.

As for Charlie, he’d been scouring the western desert for a lost civilization whose home was a cave somewhere in Death Valley. And she worked next to Mom, downtown, where you still saw little scorched places in the streets, from the riots. They’d just lifted the curfews and let everyone move about freely again. After a week, Mom stopped coming along, so it was just her. In the background, as she typed, was a pounding and the crackling of an arc-welder.

“I’m an unsound female working behind a locked door,” was what she wrote of her state, in her nightly pages.

“This says that, if the Universe has no meaning, we’d be incapable of asking if it does,” she noted to Mom. Now and then in Dad’s books, she found gems like this, things he’d underlined, so they must be significant.

“At first, I thought some crazy person just took Patty and killed her,” Mom replied, as if moving to a safer subject. Judy didn’t mind, but it made her insane to hear how most people talked about Patty and that’s why she avoided the lunchroom and ate in the car. The stories always called it a “silent abduction,” never just an abduction.

One morning, the fear overwhelming her, she hyperventilated before work and Mom said, “It’s not like you have to go. It barely covers the gas.”

In the paper, Susan kept hamming it up, saying how they’d also wanted to kidnap

Richard Burton and Liz Taylor and to cut off his penis and carve out those famed violet eyes and send it all to Eddie Fisher. She read the stories in tiny doses, like a strong narcotic. It she felt too crazy, she laid off a few days.

Dad had underlined these words in a book: This is a good world gone wrong whose one virtue is the faint memory of good and what we once knew it to be.

“Everything Patty says is backwards,” she remarked to Mom. “If she says she’s not being forced, beaten or starved, she means that’s all happening, one way or other. When she says it’s not bad, she means it’s unbearable. If she says they aren’t crazy, she means there’s no word for them.”

“What does ‘Helter Skelter’ even mean?” Mom asked, flipping through a Time in her doctor’s waiting room.

“It’s a kid’s ride. John and Paul rode it as kids in Liverpool and then made it a song,” she said. “John wanted to write about horror, like, the first time he ever felt it, as a child.”

“That makes me think of the Panama Canal,” Mom said. “Those poor French guys. They went crazy digging a stupid ditch. Then strapped dynamite to themselves and blew up cafés.”

 

At night, this ache must be for Dad. The anguish of not-having, like some savage need for God. It was pre-verbal and made her almost—wild. And understanding that she’d have to heal herself alone if she wanted to get better. It was almost funny.

Of course she’d gone with him. He was clever, resolved and good-looking. His hand was out to her and wide open.

 

“They’re closing in,” Mom told her that morning. “They’ve got Donald cornered in a house.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

Mom sat back. “It doesn’t matter?”

“It’s too late. She’s been gone too long. You think she can just come back?”

And then she looked at the other stories and drank coffee and ate a danish. Because whatever it was the police would recover finally, it would not be Patty’s mother’s daughter.

During the day, random memories of Dad struck her in the throat and eyes.

But never his face, as if he stopped at the shoulder. At a motorcycle hill climb, for instance, with hot, heavy machines flying up the slope and then cartwheeling back to earth, a strong arm—no face attached—tore her away through the air, saving her from the bouncing, meteoric and hurtling gas-bombs.

“It’s a war, so of course there’s got to be casualties,” she told Mom. “First Sharon and now Patty.”

Donald had broken Patty in just a few weeks. In fact, most things that looked quite solid were hardly there. It was gossamer, all of it.

She, too, had broken in time. But hers lacked the spectacle of Patty’s. It was done in the basement of a small and defeated one-story house. The only weapon was himself, that nervy apparatus of mostly intellect and bone.

The trial ground forward and grew mocking and defamatory. They said Charlie liked to play “Rat Patrol” with dune buggies in the desert, starring himself as Rommel in Africa. But they couldn’t just convict him. An example had to be made.

As for Patty, her dad said her captors were methodically sickening, exhausting and humiliating her. He didn’t think she’d ever come home.

It was strange how much she hated him and everybody Patty ever knew. And strange, too, how the famed Charlie resembled her own. They had very similar outlooks.

Also, it was blasphemy to say Charlie’s name aloud and the girls were outraged at its casual use in court. But he’d taken them to himself one by one. Part of the process was to call himself and each of them by a different name every day.

The moment he took you to himself was the coming of something unimaginable into your world. And yet, all her life, every girl knows he’s out there. And pretends, stupidly, that she’ll know what to do.

 

In the next morning’s paper, Patty told her family to go to Hell: they’d never see her again. She’d given herself to the cause and its leader, Cinque (Sin-Cue), which meant the fifth one, as in the obscure fifth angel of the Apocalypse.

She gave herself. What was the saying? When the pupil is ready, the teacher appears? These guys always went barefoot and shirtless, of course, owning nothing, especially not the houses they squatted in.

“It’s too bad what’s happened to us,” she said to Mom, “but without any royal family, this place was always wide open to plunder.”

Mom nodded because it was clear to her too, now: America made Charlie. They’d locked him up at age nine and unleashed him at thirty-three, even after he warned them not to. In the penal system, he’d learned to write songs and so made his way to California. Within a few weeks, he was grifting off some new rock group called The Beach Boys.

 

More often now, Mom just looked at her. What had been the point, exactly, in sleeping for a year with three girls on a dirty mattress on the floor?

 

He’d said to her, “Today, we begin your education.” Then he got in her face and said,

“You listen to me, now. You are a filthy little pig. Everybody is disgusted by you and agrees that something has to be done about you, but they’re scared. But I’m not scared of you or what’s between your legs.” Then he gave her a bunch of new names.

She was a pig, and would be one til he said different. Then the girls came in and also called her pig and kicked and punched her and threw garbage and piss on her. For several days, she couldn’t wear or eat anything and was left dirty on the floor. They blamed her for every stink and problem in the house.

“Among themselves, they’re nice,” she told Mom, about Charlie’s girls. “They radiate nothing but pure joy and love, it says here. One is so pretty, her family name is Wow-ee.”

In contrast, Patty’s gang was more military, less of a family. They were broken into teams and called the robberies “actions.” They made her take a new name. But naming will always be an obsession of the Cinques and the Charlies. In fact, Charlie had come into the world a bastard, his certificate reading “No Name Maddox.”

From there, it was all downhill and they locked him in the National Training School for

Boys and then the Gibault School for Boys and finally the Indiana School for Boys.

(Sometimes, thinking about all those places full of boys, she felt an odd ache to fuck all of them, in every last reformatory he had ever visited. She looked around and couldn’t believe this was really America.)

“If you really want to know what makes Charlie tick, ask Patty,” she told Mom, “assuming they ever find her. Though even if she gets away, one way or another, she’s sleeping with a gun in her hand, always.”

They sat eating french fries and hamburgers and drinking milkshakes at the Dog ‘n’ Suds as she considered the Charlies and the Cinques, who took you in order to teach you a lesson: how it feels to be the pig, always stinking, wrong and stupid. She was coming closer to telling Mom what really happened. Though she did feel very hateful today and about half nuts.

As for Charlie, he told them never to put him on a large detail with lots of men—or they’d be sorry.

 

But what was the truth? That she sometimes missed life on that mattress and being that low, nameless and stinking, like a rooting animal? “The world would’ve turned out better if Hannibal had had enough ships to attack by sea,” she told Mom, history book in lap.

She still hadn’t slept in a bed. Instead, she passed out on the couch each night, reading and reading. Some part of her was convinced he was right: she would stay a sniveling little coward and a stinking little liar all her life.

After a month, he’d gotten her agreement on every point. “If I start beating you in the face right now with the brass knucks in my pocket, you’ll do anything to make me stop,” he told her.

She never saw the brass knucks and didn’t need to. Sometimes, an image is enough.

“This book says if I ever met God, I would feel both irresistible love and boundless horror at the same time,” she told Mom. So apparently she’d already met Him. And after she’d finally gotten used to being the pig, he of course forced her to change again.

“Charlie’s path from here is up to him,” she told Mom. “In prison, his best friend was some old con who ran with the Ma Barker Gang. He told this old crook he’d be bigger than the Beatles someday.”

Charlie’s catch-phrase, “coming to now,” referred to what happened to you when somebody began to destroy your face with brass knuckles. For the first time ever, probably, you became fully and utterly goddamned present in that exact goddamned moment.

“You’re through your changes now,” he told her one night, over her sobbing. “You’ve never existed. You’ve never had a thought. Tonight, you’re a being in the creation.”

 

“How does it happen?” she asked Mom the next day, surveying the overgrown garden, the wave of milkweed vines crashing up the house to the gutter.

“It gets away from you,” Mom said.

That was it, all right. America had been special at first (she reflected) then produced machine guns and repeating carbines and Naval Destroyers, like the rest.

Mom didn’t talk when they worked, expressing herself through effort. They hardly argued anymore, having surrendered to each other. It reminded her of that Bible saying, that we must be harmless as doves and wise as serpents.

After the murders, the police had put out APBs for a carful of killers screaming around town in Roman’s missing red Ferrari, soaked in Sharon’s blood. The car would later turn up in winter storage.

“Charlie was trying to make the whole world come to now,” she said. “It needs to happen, but he can’t do it.”

Though what nobody understood was how many Charlies were really out there, acting alone but toward a common goal.

 

Patty’s great grandfather, Randolph Hearst, made his money in newspapers, and those always did best during wartime. But Dad’s books said to forget this world and look to the next where just and courageous acts won’t be needed. Where there won’t be wrongs to right.

It was hard to picture. It was hard to accept that he’d done all those things to her, and she’d let him. But he was a deep ditch. He said to stop running her fat mouth full of shitty little opinions. “Your soul is worthless. You’ve been ruined by the pigs who raised you.” That’s just how he talked and he was almost never wrong. He always got right in her face, but never hit her and didn’t have to.

 

“The truth is, Susan was a killer before she met Charlie,” the announcer said. They watched a fact-based piece about her and heard a cop say she’d tried to shoot him during a simple traffic stop. She could not stand free love, either, or hippies, or any of that.

 

“You aren’t even ashamed. Look at what you are,” he insisted. She liked that. His standards were impossible. “The ones that made you have absconded. Just look around you.”

He was right about that. He’d grown up wild, too, and could catch, gut, skin and cook pretty much anything.

“I finally had a father,” she admitted, to her pages.

Now, up here in her old room, she wrestled with the big questions. For instance, what should concern a creature that knows its soul will go on forever?

Meanwhile, Vietnamese farmers demanded money for hogs killed in US rocket attacks, but never asked anything for their dead children and this drove the soldiers insane. They needed those parents to scream and try to kill them and they wouldn’t.

 

“Let’s go back in time,” she said to Mom. “This time, let’s not invade the Philippines, Hawaii or Cuba. Let’s not build destroyers. Then no Susan and no Charlie.”

At first, it was exciting. He said he couldn’t bear to see her living out the lies of pigs who’d raped her mind and kept her crazy and sick. His stated goal was to ruin her for a normal life.

Mom did try to intervene, at first, leaving clothes, food, notes promising to try harder this time. But having him in her face about her ways, all day every day, was addicting.

Now, without that in her life, she was in trouble. She only liked a few moments of each day and the number was going down, not up.

“Susan says she feels as dead as her victims,” she said, turning the news off.

“Then I hope she got what she wanted,” Mom said simply. When Mom was quiet, it felt like an invitation to say things—things they’d already waited too long to say.

“She says that only in handcuffs is she truly free.”

 

He showed her she’d been dying from living at war with herself. Her fat, open mouth was her whole trouble. She must close it for good.

At the trial, secrets were revealed. It turned out the Manson family tended to play a lot of games together. One involved names and the other a revolver and a single bullet.

At least Patty was out of the headlines. But she was just running now, jumping into any unlocked car and flooring it away. She’d even taken a hostage, but let him go a few hours later.

She read in her stifling room, refusing to crack a window, unable to stop sweating or to breathe. Venturing out, she always checked behind and under things. Once she spotted a Lucky, crushed out on a tree root in the yard. She and Mom harvested fruit from the tiny orchard, golf-ball-sized peaches, tiny pears hard as arrowheads, sour plums and cherries and bitter, bleeding grapes. With yellow jackets boiling out of the eaves, like embers.

Dad’s lawn was matted yet crudely alive. Nothing ever died in that yard, not the black racers or garter snakes or box turtles, not the swallows or yellow cats, not the red ants or jade grasshoppers. Not the heat or crickets.

Her old swing hung from a silver-painted frame. They toted buckets to the shade of a drunken shed.

Probably the most shocking event of her life was behind her, and probably the world needed her to say nothing in order to go on turning. She and Mom discussed a crazy occurrence in Bethel, New York. Apparently, hundreds of thousands poured into an onion field and then stayed for a three-day mud slog. The roads jammed with abandoned cars. Medicine and food had to be airlifted in, like for a flood or famine. When it was over, Sharon was dead, spirit adrift in the sky above the stage.

“Calamity clusters around certain dates,” she said to Mom as they picked. “I don’t know the name for it.”

“A bad intersection,” Mom said. “A rotten convergence.”

 

Next came the My Lai Massacre, right on time, with plenty of hysteria, as if nothing like it had ever happened. But what about Wounded Knee and also Sand Creek?

When she was cheated and angry, Patty did all the feeling for both of them. It was 22 months ago that they went missing, and now Patty was still out there, very free and very caught. “She’s just circling and circling, looking for any way down,” she told Mom.

These things didn’t just hold on for a while and then let go. A locked door got inside you. Just ask Charlie. It took leaving prison to discover that you couldn’t, that something in you needed a door locked from the outside.

After a month, the girls had even stopped locking her in. To show that her legs no longer worked. Like that dream where you try to run but can’t because they weigh tons.   “He warned me he’d teach me about myself,” she wrote. “But if you go along, he hates you. If you don’t, he destroys you.”

 

She found a new job, at her old high school in the glass-sided office. She was testing herself, to see if she could live in the open. If she was stupid, or unlucky, he’d find her again, make her stop playing the pig’s game and come home. Home home. That’s what made it hard to sit there, smiling, knowing that nobody could count on you.

The next day, Charlie accused the police and reporters of serving the same “regime.” This made her suddenly afraid of the paper. If a siren blew, they were coming for her. Her principal asked her to announce her own hiring in a release to the paper. She never did.

“I’m reading Dad’s books, sort of over and over,” she told Mom as they drove to a troop meeting where Mom was a den mother. “I just feel like there’s something I’m missing.”

“Just because B is better than C, that doesn’t mean there isn’t an A that’s better than B,” Mom said. “That’s something your dad liked to say.”

She nodded, but his sayings never helped.

 

In the morning, Patty’s abductor, Cinque aka Donald Defreeze, was dead in a police shootout. “I guess she can stop running,” Mom said.

“Maybe. Maybe when he’s been dead about a thousand years,” she replied.

At last, the chest-high pink flowers everywhere had died and dried up and rattled with menace. The windows buzzed as it rained and thundered and the whole house shook.

Of course, she couldn’t prove what he’d done. He’d just get twenty witnesses to say he didn’t even know her. And who could she get? Barely even herself.

“Anybody here!” he’d often say, gesturing, “will stab their own fucking grandmother if you show them brass knucks. Anybody!”

It was just bizarre. It was like he had to break you, but then accused you of giving him no choice.

After the SLA raid, they’d found female bodies burnt beyond recognition. But she hadn’t prepared for this and suddenly froze and sweated and got weak and trembly. Horrified it might be Patty. And felt actual relief when the dead women were not Patty.

“They’re tying up loose ends. They have to wipe out all of Patty’s friends,” she said to Mom. “Til she has no one.”

Mom looked at her a moment, sort of strange. “Hey, have you ever heard of something called The Process? Or what about this Church of the Final Judgment? They say this garbage is spreading like wildfire.”

She wanted to tell, she really did. But nobody could know, and no exceptions. That was the deal she made with herself, on that mattress. And never to try to pursue things to their logical ends.

“Sharon’s dead, now somebody must come forth and explain,” Mom said. “They’ve called Henry Fonda, Doris Day and Candy Bergen to testify.”

When she didn’t answer, Mom said, “Don’t go mute on me now!” But she only wanted her child to take a hard, savage grip on life. She wanted her to fight. Though why on earth for? What would it matter if everyone just sat down and quit?

She pored over pictures of Patty. One secret part of her ordeal was buried in her face and it must stay there forever. Maybe it was that time Donald sat her down and said how—if he began destroying her face with brass knucks—she’d do anything for him. She’d rob banks for him and curse her parents for him, and worship him like a god.

Meanwhile, nobody sought her attacker. He wasn’t hunted and shot down. Far from it. He was persisting safe as could be, with a harem of girls, and in that same house.

And though Patty’s abductor was now dead, Patty’s parents remained “extremely apprehensive” about the future.

Her, too. She was on high alert everywhere, in the house, at work, in a store, even sitting in a crowd. She couldn’t see any of the beauty in life, but could hear it in pop songs like “(Do You Know The Way To) San Jose?” and “Beautiful Balloon.”

And Charlie now said it had happened because he was a “repeater” or a soul doomed to repeat in the same role over and over, forever. If they killed him, he’d just be reborn and keep playing out Jesus’s last days always, throughout eternity.

“The poles have flipped,” she told Mom. “First, Patty was a victim. Now she’s the worst girl on earth. Ungrateful. Mouthy. A tomboy. A parricide.”

She picked up one book after another. One of Dad’s favorites said the first step was to try to picture herself as a very small and dirty object.

She learned the sad history of dynamite, invented by Alfred Nobel and instantly exploited by the war machine. Later on came the million-dollar prize for anyone able to close the Pandora’s box he’d opened.

 

Mom urged her to call old friends. Like “Hi, just getting back in touch. I fell down a hole last year but managed to recently crawl back out. Let’s get together!”

She called up Genessee, who sounded guarded yet curious about her old unstable high school friend. They’d meet at Funhouse Pizza on Highway 350, on Wednesday, Family Night. Of course, she couldn’t possibly make herself go. But there she was, with Gene, in a booth. Gene wore the usual: cowgirl shirt and jeans and boots with a heel.

The wedding ring was a blow. But as long as there were punches, she would keep walking into them.

She told Gene all about Charlie, how he was crediting Hitler with having fixed

Jewish karma forever: from now on, the Jews were protected. Gene wasn’t nice, then or now. But they’d always shared this grim refusal to take it easy or lighten up. Their favorite reply to any insult was “So what’s the bad news?”

“Yeah, you’re very different,” Gene said. “I was warned. Mom said something was literally gone from your face.” She nodded, telling herself to save any hurts for later. Studying Gene’s face for signs of a bad marriage.

They talked about classmates who were dead and divorced as she tried to work in a comment about Patty. Gene used to bully her, but couldn’t now. Now, with what he’d put inside her, she might even slip and kill Gene with a single poison remark.

Gene confessed to dating the Western Civ teacher, Mr. Bloom, last year. “What a psycho,” she said. “What a control freak. He was like—Hitler!”

She inserted Charlie here, casually. “The thing about all the Hitlers,” she said, “they never see themselves and the beloved—or themselves and that glass—as separate. They need to dig in and gouge around in you til they’ve made a home. Charlie suffers from this. For him, the family is his body. So he was always going around the orgy, trying to time everybody’s fucking so the whole room came at once. Never worked.”

Gene chewed her straw, then said, “People are always after this thing inside you that they think is your whole problem. Except it’s your most favorite thing.”

“I’m reading these books my dad left when he—” (miming throat-cutting) “and anything about Patty of course,” she said.

“Patty’s mom says she ought to just keep going,” Gene said. “Can you imagine?

And if Patty really believes in this cause, then she’s better off.” Gene’s worries had folded her brow some. She kept looking around and peeking (twice) at her watch. “How do you think he did it?”

“How do I think who did what?”

“You know. The Defreeze character.”

She couldn’t, mustn’t tell Gene. To tell was like giving him away and denying him at the same time. “I dunno. These guys always hate pigs. Maybe he convinced her she was the worst kind. Look, I have to get going.”

“Me too. Hey. Come to church with me.”

She shook her head. “My root sinfulness has been pointed out. I’m aware. Now what about this?” Pointing.

“Oh. You know all about that, don’t you?” Gene said. “I mean, you guys sort of went steady, didn’t you, in ninth grade? It’s Steve Summers. I married Steve Summers.”

It was perfect now. It had lacked this crowning touch and now she reached up and touched her own face, to check its expression. Of course it was Steve. Maybe someday, she’d always told herself. Maybe the two of us will meet somewhere and—.

“My mom knows the mother of one of those girls they killed,” Gene said. “One of Patty’s friends. They grew up in the same town.”

“I want everybody to stop acting surprised,” she answered. “Let’s all stop pretending it’s all so shocking and admit it. That world is over now. Grow up.”

She’d been in Mom’s sewing room with Gene the first time she heard the White Album. Back when she’d had no idea about anything.

The first time Charlie heard it, he knew it was a message straight to him from John Lennon, about the Book of Revelations.

At home, Mom was waiting up. After all, she might be ready to talk at last. But she went right upstairs and shut the door. “God never put a creature on earth with a desire that couldn’t be satisfied,” one of Dad’s books told her. “Desires are here to be satisfied.”

 

Mom kept on dragging her to the troop meetings. Driving there in a kind of fury, clipping curbs, because life mattered. And at the church, too, she slammed cupboards and freezer doors, in the brown outfit. This caused her own rage to answer sometimes, a little. Her vision pounded and she cried, slightly, but it refused to break loose.

Mom’s problem was simpler: her child lived in a hole but kept acting like she was home. The tactic was simpler, too: if grown men were out of the question, then start over. Try to relate to these boys.

Driving home, Mom sang along to a Beach Boys song and she managed to stop herself from saying the truth: Charlie had helped them write it.

That night, she wrote down a thesis for a history paper, “All peace is an illusion. Years before the war, while the Germans pretended to rebuild their economy, they were really making torpedo boats.”

 

The next day, Patty’s dad used the paper he owned, The Examiner, to reach out to her. The headline read “Stop Running, Patty, and Think!”

And one of Dad’s books said not to mistake anything on earth for the “something else” she was missing. In fact, earthly things were mere copies of the real things she’d get in the next world.

Also, why had nobody stopped Alfred Nobel or Robert Oppenheimer? “It runs counter to something in the American soul to restrict free enterprise,” she wrote.

 

She swam—a lot—in the cap covered in rubber petals, required of women. Doing the American freestyle and breathing every other stroke, flipping on the turns. Hearing and thinking nothing inside that deep turquoise surrounding her struggling shadow.

As a child, she’d sink down and sit on the bottom to watch the crazy effort of a hundred legs, lungs burning. But now she burst forth after only half a minute. More proof that the self she’d started life with was gone.

 

Walking home from the pool. The asphalt so hot under her Keds, she was forced onto the grass. Coming in the back past the beloved trash barrel and spreading bushes and milkweed pods and cheese-curl forsythias. She would never again love people this way. He’d worked her around til she too hated the pigs.

And Dad’s books said Jesus was the only realist who ever existed. He could truly see things with no ego to block the view. As for Charlie, he did try to remove the ego, forcing everybody to have sex with everybody and never letting anybody say no to anything. Far from hating prison, he swore by it as a means for obliterating the “I.”

 

At night, she thought about those million pounds of metal recently hurled into space. Because eventually, everything failed.

 

In the morning, the DA said he was ready to slap Patty with dozens of charges and couldn’t wait to get his hands on her. Patty’s sister, Vicki, was on TV telling her not to throw her life away on a war that didn’t exist.

But it did, if Patty kept fighting it. So long as they kept resisting, the war was real. And she could keep it up if Patty could.

Though you couldn’t be certain you were playing your game and not his. Maybe she was not different from Charlie, who put Black Panther symbols at his crime scenes to trick the pigs into war with the Blacks.

Maybe her own game was just making things worse.

And Patty’s sister had just voiced the ultimate irony, telling Patty she’d have her whole life ahead of her if she’d just give herself up.

To the contrary, Dad’s books said you had to take an action a certain distance before it made sense. Of course, we all suffered “flipouts” now and then; that was part of it. It just meant the ego wasn’t ready to die.

“Look, the church could use help in the kindergarten,” Mom told her. “It’s just half days and, if you don’t like it, you can always quit.”

What Mom meant by this but wasn’t saying was, This was It. If she said no to this, too, then she might as well go back to him.

 

At night, she took the car out farther and farther, but kept showing up right back at that first house. She’d turned five here. These were primal memories. In fact, this little white house was ground zero of that blast of color and sound called awareness of the self.

Mom thought she was just run down and in need of winding. But in fact she’d been way way over-wound and now was all jammed and locked up. Flooring it with the brakes on.

 

“It’s Charlie versus the twentieth century,” she told Mom. “His judge will be some WWII flying ace appointed by Governor Reagan.”

 

“It is not trying that is ever going to bring us home.” Someone had written that in a stall of the ladies’ room at the church. She copied it into the front of Dad’s dream interpretation book by Freud, the same guy who had murdered Victorianism.

At school the first day, the kindergarten teacher looked her over. Judy’s mom was an old friend and probably these crazy stories she’d heard about Judy weren’t true. Still, the woman didn’t like it. Something was missing out of this girl’s face. Judy knew that, but what could she do?

“You should sit down,” Mom said, when she returned. “They got Patty.”

She pretended shock but had been sitting in the car the past hour listening and listening to the reports.

“Patty’s mom is insisting it’s a rescue, not a capture,” Mom said.

 

Upstairs in the tub, she soaked up every word of the report. Also, today was the anniversary of Charlie’s sentencing. They recalled how his lawyer tried to get Charlie’s body excluded as evidence, citing his right to request exclusion of any “body” of evidence.

It was revealed that Patty spent the year hiding just a few miles from her parents’. Yet there’d been sightings all over the world, in Ireland, Lebanon, even Palestine.

She reflected that she still knew only one honest man. He’d answered her every question and even showed her the fallacies in the questions themselves.

Charlie, they reminded her, was an Eagle Scout and a youth minister. But his path took him too far out, beyond the Good, onto that saintly road where nothing had assigned values.

“They took her guns,” she told Mom. “She’s at their mercy, just like before.”

 

She went to work and handed out the milks and crayons. Some kids were ready to read, but Mrs. Krebs was against it. Instead, she brought out real buttermilk and churned butter for their saltines. She and Judy cranked the cast-iron maker in the parking lot under a boiling sun until ice cream formed. Then they rode a bus to a dairy and formed the kids into a line, making them take turns to grip a cow’s nipple.

“They’ll never forget today,” she wrote. “They’ll wonder why these are the sharpest, clearest days, when orange leaves seemed to crash to earth like rumpled sheets of gold and run in delight among their shoes. They’ll remember even after their mornings have turned raw and shapeless. They’ll never get it. Why must their own kids fly into rages at them over the dumbest things?”

“There’s a world behind this one,” she told Mom. “It’s there. We can’t ever touch it, but it’s there.”

Mom nodded and seemed to accept: her child was still in the hole. And must be for some time yet.

“The prosecutor refuses to go into Patty’s motives,” she told Judy, holding the paper. “He says why isn’t his job and he couldn’t care less.”

Judy wasn’t sure how he’d managed to utterly remove her from the world, other people and God. He’d shoved her through a hidden door painted the same color as the wall.

“‘Today, Patty Hearst was brought in in restraints,’“ she read aloud. “‘She was required to answer the judge three times and each one was “Yes.”’“

“I don’t get it. What is this little man’s hold over people?” Mom said as they flashed his picture.

It would be like this at Patty’s parents’ house, too, of course, a mood bitter and loving, furious and cold, ingrown and mute. They’d all try but never quite get it said. Because in the end, these events belonged to Patty. She was the one who’d actually been there.

 

Dad’s books warned that her soul was made to join the Eternal and God and she’d have to stop doing things her way. The same stuff they’d always been telling her, more or less.    If she wasn’t careful, she’d end up like Nietzsche, hating the very nation that made her.

Shock was still a constant, an everyday. They asked one of the Manson girls what she’d felt when Tex shot the boy and she said shock. What’s more, she was still in shock, she said, and might always be.

Thus, it was possible to get too far out and never get back. People you loved could be right next to you, yet nowhere near, always.

 

Whenever there was trouble among the Mansons, Charlie touched his left shoulder with his right hand, meaning ‘Everyone out.’ Meaning time for the two of you to “come to now.” The ego had to die and it would start with you admitting your puny cowardice.

And Patty’s mom did at last understand. Things were over, things had failed. Her Patty was gone.

 

Mom said, “this Charlie character insisted on the knives because gunshots carry too far in the desert.”

 

She called up her last boyfriend, Terry. Someone Mom always liked. Though personally she’d never been wild about him.

It felt odd, riding around town openly, with a man. People needed to stare at them apparently, and did. Terry was the only steady she’d had with the right look, meaning that he reminded her of a letterman’s jacket. But with dark intense brows showing endless fears of everything. He challenged little things she said because he was a romantic, really.

He couldn’t see how little time she had ahead of her and he wasn’t totally enamored with the Beatles or Charlie.

“His favorite is Stephanie,” she told him. “He loves to sit and just stare at her German features, you know. Her 2,000 years of perfect breeding.”

When she stepped back and looked, something about them as a couple was off, maybe even monstrous. He didn’t deserve this. She wanted sex in the first hour of their date, but held back. This side of the line, things didn’t work that way. “Charlie says this is our day in court, not his,” she added.

And Terry said, “The guy’s guilty. They’ll fry him.”

“That’s what Nixon said too. He nearly got a mistrial.”

She kept testing Terry’s attitudes, and he kept passing. Like Charlie, he’d been an Eagle Scout.

“They caught Patty with guns and explosives and keep trying to match them to different shootings and bombings,” she said. “But nothing adds up.”

 

In the next weeks, she tried to talk to Terry about Dad’s books, but he always balked,

like he smelled a trap. He took her catfishing in little secluded coves at night and she was never spooked by the gun- and knife-toting strangers who appeared out of the dark. Because she really didn’t care what happened (she realized). And strangely, not being scared of death was what finally scared her.

“Horrible nations have horrible religions,” she wrote. “I wonder if America even has one? The one thing you can’t do here is mess with someone’s head. Everyone must be free to live in ignorance.”

She could spend hours watching Terry sleep, in love with his helplessness.

“They’re going to break Patty again,” she told him after the news ended. “Donald did it first, but it has to happen twice. It’s the only way you come back. She must say she was forced even if she wasn’t.”

When Terry said nothing, she said, “I hope Donald’s happy. It’ll take experts to fix this now.”
Oddly, Patty’s jurists were being treated like prisoners as well, riding in buses with soaped windows so they never saw the outside world.

 

She had a bad habit of showing up whenever it suited her. Her joke with Terry was always that “God doesn’t experience Time.” But he had a point—the shock had thrown her clear of the temporal world, though not permanently. And she was bracing now, body aching, for her blazing re-entry.

That night she dreamt Charlie solved the prison problem by branding all the convicts’ foreheads with an ‘X’ and freeing them to form a vast, separate society.

And Patty’s lawyers were trying to explain why her story kept changing, saying she’d lived two years in perpetual terror, without control. That’s why her memory was full of holes, trap-doors and dead-ends.

“Now they’re saying Charlie suffers from Diminished Soul,” she said.

“Good band name,” Terry said.

They made love in his car, his fingers crabbing desperately along the dusty console. Then they sat apart within the fogged windows and she questioned him. “What are you saying? What’s wrong with your life?” she asked.

“You have no idea, Jay. You wouldn’t believe it, the things that happen to guys at school. Now I’m afraid all the time. I don’t trust anybody.”

She nodded, thinking how, in court sketches, Patty’s expressions were always so stony. Frozen. She’d told him her story, but was finally satisfied he didn’t believe it or realize she was nuts. “Mine is unlikely, too,” she insisted. “But I swear to you. I was put through a process.”

The car faced a billboard for the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“It was P.T. Barnum who showed the Germans how to fast-load a train in hours instead of days,” she said.

“So you love him,” Terry said, face and ears dark with blood.

“So I love him?” she repeated, stalling. In one of Dad’s books, it did say, “God is love.” Therefore, the holy trinity was actually this emotion, plus its source, plus you, the perceiver of the duality. You couldn’t escape it. “I don’t— He’s the one who stayed. He offered me immense change. But now he’s up in my head—”

Terry’s distress increased as she elaborated, so she stopped talking. Time to shut up about it forever. Each word was just testimony against herself. She’d tell him one day—the day she saved his life by driving him away.

 

“They read all her statements for her,” she complained to Mom as they painted a bedroom. “She won’t even comment, just shakes her head.”

She was still searching for things in Dad’s books, but they could be very cryptic: “You are not usually looking at Him. He is always acting through you.”

“Anyway, Charlie made the best statement recently,” she added. “He told Nixon to start driving the roads of America gathering up all the lost children.”

 

“It’s clear what’s about to happen,” she wrote that night.

 

Mom threw herself into the wedding with all her might. Taking a seam-ripper, she defiled her old dress, with prejudice. Afterward, not a frill, puff or paste-pearl remained. The white shell with straight neck and short sleeves was severe and plain and perfect. Terry would wear a white tux coat and bowtie, black trousers with a red stripe, and white patent leather shoes.

The days started to fly. The wedding photos would later show a church basement done in fall colors, pumpkin centerpieces and gold-leaf rosettes on the cake. Her shots were all over-the-shoulder, as if checking behind her for someone.

She unwrapped American Beauty-style everything, towels, sheets, flatware and dishes, all from Dad’s side because they just felt so bad. The punch was Hawaiian (cherry Kool-Aid and 7-Up) and Terry danced with her wearing the ice ring around his neck.

She kept on with Dad’s books. One asked her to imagine Eve rejecting the devil’s way of thinking. How might things look now? It didn’t matter. Eve didn’t, and now the world was diseased by this passionate, Teutonic intolerance.

Terry, on the other hand, was all you could want. He drank and carried on and made people nervous, but never vomited or fell down stairs. He was a bully at times and could run his mouth like a big fool, though nobody ever cried or turned white or tried to hit him. There was that time he rode his motorcycle up onto the porch, yet everybody came back the next year.

She made two scrapbooks, one each for Charlie and Patty. Terry didn’t know they existed. But if looked at in the right way, they told her story, the whole truth of her formative years.

“Patty’s story will keep going,” she told Mom while stripping wallpaper. “We’ll ignore it when we can, but it never really leaves us alone.”

Her own also persisted, in livid exclamation points. The air around her rang with expectancy for his return. And on that day, she’d get up and go with him. But the house where he processed her was empty now and egg-stained by kids. She’d been formed there while Charlie was on trial, and his jurists were given papers with big holes where his face had been.

Patty issued no statements. She’d gone by many names, but was plain Patty again.

“Charlie never really got the hippy scene,” she told Terry as they forked the garden.

“His thing was stealing you from them, the unclean ones, hiding you in his fortress. Branding you with his X.”

Mom could relax now, because she was “with” somebody, at last, no longer inside something crazy. But in certain ways this was almost worse. She felt unguarded, like anything could happen and would. She’d run, eventually, and find him, or commit herself, or maybe just disappear. “I get it now, I really totally do,” she told Terry. “About my dad, I mean. Why he couldn’t do any of this.”

Terry wanted her to talk to somebody, but she wasn’t just crazy about the idea.

“Patty’s in the same fix,” she wrote. “First Donald broke her, then the courts did, and still she’s not home.”

Dad’s books chided her, saying to open herself to the one man for whom, and in whom, IT was fully present. And by IT the writer meant REAL reality, not this stupid let’s-pretend she clung to.

Patty would understand. She’d had a gun, either in her face or her hand, for five long years. She’d taken arms against her sea of troubles. But it didn’t necessarily get you home.

Terry finally found out about Charlie’s thing for the White Album and wouldn’t play it anymore. That was fine. The Beach Boys and Mamas and Papas also filled the house with Charlie’s sound and that helped her somehow.

“This book is saying errors come into the world in pairs,” she told Terry in the checkout line. Out in public, she was always looking and could always spot the ones caught in the thrall of a Donald or a Charlie. They stared right back at her, too.

“Patty took a hostage once,” she wrote. “But instead of collapsing in terror, he fell in love with her, so she had to let him go.”

And still the world’s order remained, frustratingly.

“I mean, look at Susan,” she told a morose Terry. “A killer, right? But also a Bluebird, a Campfire Girl, a Job’s Daughter, a member of the Audubon Society.”

Terry brooded a lot because she wouldn’t stop taking the pill. All she could swallow.

In fact, she threw a blue fit in the drugstore one day when they messed up her prescription, and she made them call her doctor at home, on a Sunday.

Terry accused her of hating life, of being afraid. What scared her, actually, was that she’d kill him one day with a lethal burst of honesty. She tried never to look anyone in the eye, fearing what might pass to them.

“Patty has stopped saying she’s an urban guerilla,” she wrote. “Now, if forced to, she just says she’s not employed.”

One of Dad’s books said she was nothing, basically. Just a bundle of self-centered fears, empty hopes, greeds, jealousies and self-conceits. Doomed to die. Of course, lots of teachers and coaches had told her that already. And now she and Terry should send a child into this, this system.

“Stravinsky says just to feel and to express it, that’s the main thing,” she told Mom at the farmer’s market. “But I worry about the repercussions.”

What had freed the Manson girls, initially, was nudity. He let them take off every stitch in broad day, every day. It was revelatory. They’d do anything for him after that. He had a special bond with women, having also come up under the heel of society.

“We had to take Patty back at gunpoint,” she told Terry. “The use of force is key.”

Naturally, Patty’s comrades had denounced her as a traitor and left her with nothing and no friends. Just a shaky provisional self, in limbo. Not even a pig anymore.

Later, she’d read how Squeaky’s father had designed guidance systems for smart weapons. And how she failed to shoot the president by not handling her weapon properly.

 

She and Terry tried but could not bridge some gap. He kept waiting for the sentence that refused to form in her brain. Her personal space was growing, not shrinking, and could soon engulf the house. One of Dad’s books said part of her wasn’t real and this was the part that hated the world. This was her “after” and it was cold and furious at being able to see but not feel the sun on her skin.

Reading between the lines of history, she learned that the real inventor of America, the one who really nailed it, was a Russian Jew and lesbian named Gertrude Stein.

And still Patty was not home. Meanwhile, her former comrades shrieked from both sidelines that she had to hold her tongue, must fall bravely without a sound.

“We had no royal family to massacre,” she argued with Terry. “If you need reasons for Charlie, for what we did to Patty, it’s as good as any.”

 

“Western decline is no myth,” she told Mom, picking out paint for the baby’s room.

“Susan roamed around loose for years with her dad begging them to lock her up.”

And Patty said she wasn’t sure anymore, what had truly happened or in what order. If people wanted to say she aided and abetted her own undoing, she wouldn’t argue.

But according to Dad’s books, a turning point was coming. One day soon, we’d all awaken in horror to who and what we truly were. Except what if this great moment had already come and gone?

The Manson girls continued to insist that Charlie was the faun and they the wood nymphs, like in a Shakespeare play. They seemed to struggle with concrete concepts, such as the murders of actual people, in Los Angeles.

She drank coffee with Terry very early since he never slept. One morning, as she rambled about the trial, she was looking right into his mouth when it said, “you need to stop this it happened okay are you gonna go nuts just to prove something to people.”

Patty, in custody a while now, was getting careless. She was actually curt with a reporter. And her tongue sort of slipped, saying “—you know, I never got—” But she caught herself: “—my politics are real different from way back when.” She was twenty-nine.

 

Dad’s books told her, when in doubt, to ignore her conscience because a conscience always wants more, no matter what. And Susan’s problems were at last diagnosed as rage from being excluded all her life. Most people got absorbed, but Susan never did and she became this bizarre, modern monster.

Terry kept urging her to forget, move on, but that wasn’t it. He’d put something inside of her and it wouldn’t leave. Hollywood loved the concept, but got it wrong of course and she and Mom had to walk out of The Exorcist in the middle. But at least they had tried to address a real problem.

And Patty started attracting groupies. Some old vet, once a POW in North Korea, said he didn’t think she was lying, faking or exaggerating what Donald did to her at all. Not at all.

She and Terry began fighting over her pig-headed secrecy and hours-long walks. And why must she squirrel away three entire years of newspapers in the attic?

 

Finally, one day, Patty said to ignore everything she’d said so far in life: she’d been outside reality til just recently, she realized.

And she couldn’t tell if Dad was for or against the Christian concept of being saved. His books said it would feel like a constant torture, like living in a concentration camp. Anyway, she’d been through all that. He’d “saved” her through torture followed by death and rebirth. That girl who walked into his house never walked out again.

Sometimes, a Susan resulted, suffering Early Deprivation Syndrome and Hysterical Personality Type. Other times, a Patty.

“Charlie has this knack for reproducing,” she explained to Mom as they dug holes for tulips in the side yard. “When he’s finished with you, you basically are him.

America always wanted to be different, of course. But the Chinese who built the railroads (she read) had lived in evil slums with one water tap and one toilet for dozens of families.

So why wouldn’t she simply accept salvation? The nightmare might end. Spring might finally come.

 

The next morning, Terry said, “I can’t take this. This living with a ghost. So if you won’t get help . . . I guess I have to look at my options.”

On some level, she was waiting for Patty’s next move. Luckily, Terry didn’t know everything. For instance, he’d be stunned to learn that, after she dropped him at work, she went and parked on a side street about a block down from a boarded-up house. The proximity alone made her heart pound. It took her back to each scalding day of tears and soul-wrecking tests and cruel awakenings. There inside that station wagon, she was “out” of that and yet had never felt worse. Because the pigs were out here, too, and she was defenseless and would never make it alone.

She often thought of Charlie’s favorite, Sandra, who had only ever wanted to save kids and kill pigs, nothing else. Why was the judge so stupid? All she wanted was justice for the innocent and to liberate kids from the pig’s system.

She told Mom, “Terry’s leaving. I have to get well right now, or else.”

“But you will get well!”

She would, maybe. But for now, she would pretend to get better and to feel love and other things again.

Once more, the chest-high wildflowers took over the yard. She enjoyed mowing them with a curved blade bolted to a greasy handle. Like some absurd reaper. Then going after the stubble with the Lawnboy.

This latest book of Dad’s said no sane person would want or ask to become what God would make of her. Nor could she stop it from happening.

As for Patty, she kept repeating over and over why she joined the SLA—to save her own life. And no, she couldn’t join halfway or fake them, because they would have known and killed her.

One of the Manson girls, Leslie, told the entire jury that their children hated them and wished they were dead. The murders were the line drawn in the sand.

And Terry had drawn his line, too, and was refusing to accept her silence.

On the whole, Dad’s books said her life was not her own and that she’d been made for a higher purpose. God had gouged and trampled out a place for Himself in her and was coming home—soon.

In the final days of her flight, Patty’s comrades sensed the impending crash, and told her to just go home. But she couldn’t and they knew that. She needed the raid, the gun in her face, the cop saying he’d kill her if she didn’t give up.

“The ultimate trip is fear,” she told Terry, “and nothing knows more terror than the shattered Self. I think I’m what Dad was, a bad machine of mismatched parts that keeps breaking down.”

She offered theories on Donald and Charlie, too, about them being embryotic parasites that need a host to survive. “Once they’re with you, then it’s war. It’s Palestine. You never get them all the way out and they’re never completely in.”

It would take forever, the book said. The process was slow and wouldn’t be over even when she herself was.

“These guys. They always think they’ll free themselves,” she told Terry. “Donald gets a bunch of guns together and who does he go after? The gas company, phone company and electric company. But his masterpiece is Patty. He made himself into the monster she needed to defeat and survive.”

Everybody got who they needed, it seemed. Someone to cry torrents over. Someone to fail. And Dad’s book said not to make “good” into “God” because virtue was weak and would let her down every time.

Next, Terry offered her his gun. Would that make her feel safe? “No, but thanks. The time to get a gun is before you need it, not after. This is definitely my after.”

Patty’s old comrades said it was a shame she’d run back to the same pigs who had brainwashed her to begin with. But when the pigs got to you as a child, the processing was just too good.

Back in prison again, Charlie could face up to what he was. He said fearful people have a need to terrorize others, decrease the isolation. He said prison showed him beyond any doubt that nothing is real, thus events have no consequences. In fact, he’d even discovered that events have no sequences.

Patty’s lawyers tried this logic, too: if Revolutionary Patty was a figment of the nation’s fears, then her crimes were committed by a ghost, a shadow on the culture named Tania.

“They’ll keep on with this til they’ve got her running again. This time, away from herself,” she predicted.

And Patty did seem to steadily approach a break. She kept collapsing into a ball and sobbing when pressed about the timeline of her ordeal.

But Terry wasn’t interested in Patty, anymore. He was older, and mostly intact, so it was too late for him. He had a free emotional range and seemed almost another species.

And Dad’s books said she mustn’t misunderstand about Jesus: Jesus actually ran with a terrible crowd. Today, he’d be seen as the worst type, not the best.

Terry began to read up on the hippies and talked to any he met, but none could tell him for certain who the pigs were. He was her perfect cover, in other words; with a whole man beside her, nobody would ever guess what she really was.

She kept dropping in now and then at Mom’s. “Roman Polanski’s back in LA,” Mom said, nodding at the paper, “and renting a house near the crime scene.”

“I really hate democracy, I’ve decided,” she replied, still reeling from today’s staff meeting at work. “Everyone has a voice and its purpose is to shout each other down.”

But the answer was not more kindness, Dad’s books said. For a nice world needed smashing as much or more so than a miserable one, so a more vital reality could emerge. You could not fix things by dragging some things up and pushing others down.

She talked about Charlie at school, but never for long. Long enough for the other person to accuse him of turning Campfire Girls into killers. Meanwhile ignoring their sexist assumption that girls couldn’t arrive at murder on their own.

 

A year passed, and another. Sometime in there, they let Patty out. Saying she’d been both punished and rehabbed enough, in their opinion, and could go now. Excuse me? She sat there in the teacher’s lounge staring at the TV.

Was nobody going to say sorry or even hint that a mistake was made? “Hey, sorry,

Pats. Sorry you got brainwashed and tortured and caged like an animal. Sorry about Donald, too. Real sorry you got raped.”

But they never apologized to Charlie, either, for the reform schools and boys’ homes and prisons. Nor did he say sorry for stopping the Sixties in its tracks.

Dad’s books said the big change was still coming, though it would hardly stir the dust as it entered and few would care. She planned to keep listening to Charlie. All his life (he complained) people had pushed him into roles they needed somebody to fulfill, that was all.

Her GED exam asked her to state her reasons for WWI. In one complete paragraph, with a thesis statement, she argued that Germany had suffered from that dreamer’s disease, Utopianism, and simply chose to shoot first.

Patty’s parole board said her suffering was far from over: she was free, but only as a parolee and must always behave as one.

Dad’s ultimate message to her, all told, was that Humanity would keep killing what Jesus started each time it took hold. But everybody feared the strong stuff because it took away desire for everything else, including Life.

At school, in the lounge, she was some sort of pariah, offering no views on either Militarism or Socialism. In her last theme for her diploma (“on any topic”), she argued that a chain of logic consisting of Luther, Kant, Fichte and Hegel had given rise to both America and Hitler. When she got it back, it was curiously blank, just a small ‘p’ at the top. Free to go, but under a (p) parolee’s conditions.

Patty married her bodyguard, on Valentine’s Day. It was sweet, but neither she nor Patty would ever go to sleep without wondering if they’d wake up on a dirty mattress in a closet.

She went to look for the house again, only to find it gone, the girls too. A small item Mom had clipped said he himself had been dead a long time due to a “gun accident.”

She thought a long time about his terrible power and decided it derived from making you terribly afraid it was you: you were the pig and source of the stink.

Dad’s books said that a change would finally come, eventually, but only if she looked and looked for it and never stopped.

 

At her hearing, Patty actually thanked the board and didn’t spit at them or curse. It was finally over (they said) her years of trying, crying, running and hiding, her long days and nights of horror and torment. How did it feel?

 

She never stopped digging through the racks for signs of Charlie, any covers of his titles (Look at Your Game, Girl; Cease to Exist; Never Say Never to Always; Home Is Where You’re Happy). These were odes to Donald’s and Sharon’s and Patty’s earliest and suddenly shattered dreams—and maybe hers, too.

The saddest thing of all, though, would be Charlie’s sentence hearing, when he stood up before everybody and said he’d only ever had one father: the Court itself. Therefore, he would accept its judgments on him, completely, forever.

As for her, she’d keep looking in the five-year-old faces, and in every book, for the person she misplaced. All in all, Dad’s books said her real soul and real self awaited her in death and in Him.

He had most certainly shot himself. Or one of the girls did it as a joke, thinking the bullet would just bounce off.

She planned to go there one day to stand above his grave and to find the whole thing quite tragic. Not that the loss was so great, but it was just tragic how the clouds and cars would keep on and on forever, passing him by.

The last she’d heard of Patty, she had announced plans to take a very long trip, though she wouldn’t say how far, or where, or when she’d be coming back.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.