Lynette, Linda, and our brother Wayne were all less than 36 months apart and shared friends. When they’d sneak into bars using fake IDs, Wayne would be in the middle wearing his cowboy hat, Wranglers, boots, and too tight t-shirt. Mother called them, simply, “the Threesome.” Lynette and Linda would be on either side, one wearing black and red, the other wearing white and blue. Sometimes the girls would alternate. The three of them were the life of the party wherever they went.
Had they been in high school a few years later, Lynette and Linda might’ve been called ‘the Wakefields’ after the twins in the Sweet Valley High series. Same height, same size, same hairstyle, same eyes, similar personalities; Lynette a little more bookish, Linda a little more fun-loving. They would rock out in Linda’s bedroom, the last one down the long hallway, listening to Michael Jackson, coloring black velvet posters, and etching the backside of mirrors in the shape of unicorns and KISS logos. Their voices were so similar that when boys would call our home, one girl would take the other’s calls just for fun and flirt dangerously.
Linda had many admirers, all of whom I admired, too. A little boy-crazy and attention starved, even at five, I worked hard at being the persistently adorable little sister capering around seeking their boyfriends’ attention. I remember Rodney and Rick and Michael and James and Tim. They seemed to come through our lives at a blinding rate although maybe I remember it wrong or maybe that’s about the right pace for a 17-year-old girl. All I know is that I was in love with each of them and I was just biding my time until they noticed their girlfriend’s much younger sister.
Jay was one of my favorites. He was slender and curly-haired, older than Linda. Intense and fun-loving, he’d grab and tickle me when he entered our home. Sometimes he’d pass me contraband candy or sneak me into Linda’s room where I could listen to forbidden rock music. I was thrilled. He’d wrap himself around Linda like Voldemort’s Nagini, intimately and possessively. Though often laughing, he had no patience for Lynette’s and Linda’s boy games. He picked up Linda every day from school and dominated her social schedule. That seemed to me about right. Mother was rarely without Dad around. Possession seemed to be 9/10th of the law of romantic relationships.
Over a period of weeks, we saw Linda less and less. She had a room at our house but was never in it. Lynette would try to take her out, to reunite “the Threesome” but Linda was rarely available. Besides which, Jay normally took her calls. The upside to this arrangement was that my access to Linda’s shampoo was completely unfettered so I took a bubble bath in it every night, to say nothing of using her eye shadow and perfume. On the other hand, the hallway was very quiet with Linda gone. No muffled music and the mirrors with her etching tools sat gathering dust. It was a little lonely and Lynette and Wayne felt it, too.
After three or four weeks of radio silence, even the most absent of parents could get concerned. But with Linda’s 18th birthday coming around, Mother, Dad, and Lynette thought it would be a great time to have a ‘family only’ dinner with Linda and make sure everything was well. Lynette called Linda to make the arrangements, finally making it through Jay to speak to Linda personally. We would pick her up on Friday at 7:00 and take Linda to her favorite Mexican restaurant.
Sometime after 7:00 on Friday (Dad was never on time) we arrived in our Thunderbird. Dad didn’t want Jay to know we were parked nearby so we drove the last three blocks slowly, silently, with our headlights off. Lynette and Wayne were ahead of us in her Jeep and parked by the front door. Lynette went to collect Linda while Mother, Dad, and I waited in the car a stone’s throw away. Jay answered. I heard him murmur that Linda wasn’t there, she couldn’t go.
Lynette asked with a forced laugh, “so is she not there or can she not go?”
Jay said, “she can’t go. I gotta go now. TV’s on.” He closed the door.
Lynette knocked a few more times, calling out Jay’s and Linda’s names. We all saw the horizontal blinds wave a bit but no one came. Lynette returned to our family Thunderbird, Wayne getting out of the Jeep and following her to our Dad’s car window.
“Dad, Jay says Linda’s not home.”
Dad inhaled on a cigarette. “Do you think he’s telling the truth?”
Lynette shrugged. “I don’t know. Where else would she be? I’m kinda worried about her though.”
He put down his cigarette in the car ashtray. “I’ll go up and see if she’s there.”
Mother put down her own cigarette. “Honey, I don’t think that’s a good idea. Why don’t you call the cops if you’re that worried?”
Dad looked at her incredulously. “I’ll take my pal with me,” he said, reaching into the glove compartment where he kept his .357 Smith & Wesson. “Wayne can go too.” He looked at me in the backseat. “Climb under a blanket, turkey, and stay away from the windows.” He got out of the car tucking his pal in the small of his back as he walked, Wayne just to his left taking long strides with a hand nestled in his padded vest where I suspect he was keeping his hand warm with heat he was packing, too.
Lynette and my mother sat in the front seat, each sucking in deep gulps of nicotine. I watched out through the door window from underneath my blanket.
I remember Dad knocking and Jay answering. “I want to speak to my daughter.” Jay murmured something and tried pushing the door shut. That didn’t fly so Dad and Wayne forced their way in. There was scuffling, the horizontal blinds moved again, a lamp fell. Mother and Lynette got increasingly distraught.
A few moments later, Dad and Wayne came out with Linda who stumbled along between them. I wasn’t sure if they were dragging her out forcibly or if she wanted to come. Jay followed them. Dad turned, leaving Linda on Wayne’s arm and pulled his gun on Jay. He used a line I’d heard him say many times before only this time it was first person: “I don’t shoot to scare or hurt people. I shoot to kill.” Apparently that line takes on a less hokey meaning when it’s laced with a cocked firearm. Jay must’ve thought so, too, because he went back the way he came.
Dad opened the Thunderbird door and shoved Linda in the backseat with me. Lynette and Wayne went back to the Jeep and followed us away from Jay’s home. As the passing street lights flickered through our car windows, I could see Linda’s dazed face. Her clothes were torn, her neck was purplish, one eye was streaked with red and the opposite eyelid was puffy and green. I remember thinking that she was sick and was wearing the ugliest makeup I had ever seen her wear.
I don’t remember that we took her to a medical center. I doubt it. That’s not my parents’ style. Medical centers are expensive and my parents wouldn’t have wanted to answer any questions they found embarrassing or uncomfortable. Perhaps we took her home and Lynette cleaned her up. I don’t know.
A few days later, Jay showed up at our home, pounding on our door late at night. Our front door was right next to my bedroom where the doors were made of floor to ceiling glass, Jay mere feet away from where I slept. I remember waking up in a wet bed, terrified that Jay was going to kill my parents or hurt my sisters. I figured I’d be fine. He liked me. But that was slim consolation.
Years later I learned from Linda that this hadn’t been her first violent experience. It certainly wasn’t her last. When I was 12, I got to scrape her broken body off the floor after her then-husband and his best friend had turns making her into a side of beef while her 6-year-old son watched from under the stairs. We took her to the hospital then.
I think about Linda a lot, Linda who is now 45, in a more-or-less stable marriage with a man who is possessive but doesn’t beat her, living obscurity in rural Washington. We’re not close but I care about her and I wonder what impact her life has had on me.
When I was 18 and introduced my then-boyfriend-now-husband to Dad, he said, “he seems like a nice guy. Not your type though. What do you like about him?”
I thought about it for a moment and said, “well, he’s a really nice guy. He doesn’t try to hurt me, he doesn’t do drugs, and he’s really caring.”
Dad shook his head. “That’s all good, honey. But those are the basics. Does he know how to use a gun?”