[I apologize for the length, although it appears my longer posts entertain some people more. I have removed all stage directions from this piece; I hope it stands well without them.]
Do you know that shock you get when you see someone after real long time? Where it's all different but all the same at once, you can kinda feel the different times all smashing up? When I saw my cousin on TV, in her orange prison clothes, trying to look not scared and not... I don't even know.
That's a bad place to start. I'm real sorry.
Well, I don't want to be coy about this, so I'll just start with the big one:
When we was 10, me and my cousins, ah, we murdered a boy.
That's no secret— I've had my share of cameras in my face. Microphones down my throat. Just saying. I don't want you to think I'm confessing this to you.
Sandra and Sissy, they're sisters, and me, Debra Lynn. Debbie, at the time. I was staying with their family for the summer, Mom left me with Aunt Hattie and Ronnie for a few months.. Sandra was my age, just little younger, I think nine and a half, and Sissy was the oldest, she was eleven.
Y'know, I'm not really ashamed of it— No, I am, but...
I don't exactly relish talking about it, neither. It's hard for me to think about. It’s not a simple thing.
....Still, I guess this is good for me, right?
They was alright, really. To play with. that summer. Mostly it was fine. I got along best with Sandra, mostly 'cause Sissy had a habit of being so bossy. But we was always best-friends, worst-enemies between all three of us. We was always getting into some big row, kicking each other's teeth in, then making up and going out and playing again. You know little girls.
Sissy was something else, though. She could fight, could start fights. I seen her damn near give Ronnie a shiner, before he got the better of her and gave a few good ones. I didn't really understand where she got that fire when I was little. I guess I knew a little bit of it, I saw some things happen in that house, and well... they was probably just keeping it down since I was a guest and all.
A lot of that came out in the trial.
Which don’t excuse anything, but it’s all gotta come from somewhere. Things happen to people, and sometimes you don’t come back.
Anyhow, if I've learned anything, it's not to judge.
His name was Norman. The Cliffe's boy. he was... four, or five, I think.
We had been talking, I guess Sissy had been talking about killing people for a little bit.
No, we all had been talking. About being murderers.
We would talk about the best way, and how we would run away from the police, and how we’d hide the body and everything. And we're out playing in the woods past the Henderson's and she has this bag, I remember it had sewing things in it, scissors, some cloth, and yellow ribbon and she says, Sissy says we're gonna murder someone with it.
Those two got in a fight real quick, because Sandra gets real punchy when she’s scared. But we all went along with it, so… Sandra gets up and she’s got a bloody lip, but she still goes. We went with Sissy and we was going to kill some one.
I used to make it sound like we couldn’t help it, and it was all Sissy’s idea, and we just kinda happened to be in the same place. I remember telling it like that. I remember remembering it like that. I don’t think I wasn't scared like Sandra, just... fascinated, I guess. I wasn't real sure how Sissy planned to pull it off, and it was just amazing. It was this feeling where instead of talking about all the things we seen in movies we were in a movie and we were gonna do something. That feeling stuck around for a bit for me, even after the cops came. I know it did for Sissy too.
At the trial I told everybody I had been scared, and crying, but I was scared Sissy would give me a good one too, or murder ME with those scissors. And I was just pouring tears when I’m telling this part. I wasn’t lying, though. I mean, I wasn’t planning to. I was really crying, and… See, there, at the trial, with everyone staring, and listening to me, I really believed that. No, I know I did.
It's taken a long time to remember things.
How we did it, was she asked him to lay down on the ground. Sissy did. She told him we was playing a game, and then she sat on top of him, on his chest, and Sandra and I took off his shoes and trousers. We had found him out playing past their backyard a little bit, where it attached to the creek, it wasn't hard to get him to follow us, we were girls and older. I think he was kinda crying by the time we got his pants off, but Sissy was still being real nice to him. She had his hands tied up with the yellow ribbon, but she was talking real sweet to him. So Sissy tells Sandra to hold him and she starts touching him and then she asks me too, and she helps me hold his legs down. Then she takes the scissors and starts poking him with them. Still, down... without his pants on. Not enough to hurt him or make him bleed, just touching him. And he's really crying by now, and Sandra kicks him to shut him up, but he doesn't do it at first.
Then Sissy tells me to hold his legs real good and she takes the cloth and pulls it over his face, tight. Sissy wasn't really good a tying knots, because his hands had come all undone as he was kicking around. I don't remember exactly what all happened but I remember Sandra tried to punch his face and she hit Sissy, so she kicked him instead. But Sissy gets real tired, and she takes the cloth off to catch her breath, and this time... Norman, he really starts crying this time, and we all start hitting him and I stuff the cloth in his mouth and tell him to shut his face. Sissy tells me that was a good idea, but we need something else to finish him with now. So I run off to go get something and I ran back to their backyard and I found a trash bag and I brought it back.
That really didn't help me. They would ask me, if you're really sorry now, if you were so upset and scared, and you didn't want him to die, why didn't you stop? Why didn't you go get someone. And that makes me kinda mad.
Actually, it makes me real damn mad. Because I was sorry. I am sorry! I turn myself inside out trying to find something good left to give to that Boy. But I… right then—
People don’t realize, but the past changes with you. It looks just as different in the mirror as you do.
You get swept up.
I mean, every day, almost all the time, we do things without thinking. It’s how you get by, you just DO things. And, you maybe… maybe what you do is just this frame, a wood frame that gets pushed around by that moment? Like a wave, that’s what I mean, swept up. And when that moments leaves, all you have is the frame, and you… You’re not sure how you did that.
Don't, don’t sit there, with all your wide eyes and tell me there's nothing you've ever done that you only realized after that it was a horrible idea.
My brother told me, this is years later, he said that's exactly how he felt about cheating on Sharla. Swept up. So he said he knew just what I meant.
I told him he probably didn't.
So Sissy, she takes the garbage bag off of his face, but Sissy says he's not dead yet, he's breathing. So she gives the garbage bag to me and I try, and then I give it Sandra, and by the time Sandra got done his face had turned colors, and his spit was all frothy like foam so we kinda knew. You would think that was when everything would come crashing down, he was dead, we’d killed him, but we were still in our movie I think. Even if they never showed this one part in the movies.
They asked us what he looked like later, and remember that part was really hard for people, everybody made a lot of faces. It was something about those faces staring at us on trial that killed that movie feeling me and Sissy had right away. Someone had to explain it to me later, that it was just hearing us explain it like little girls would. Explain something no one wants little girls to see. Let alone make, I guess.
Sandra and I kept in pretty good touch for years after. I didn't see her, my family wasn't real keen on us being friends anymore, but we wrote letters. I think it kept from going crazy in the first few years. Crazier than we were. I did not write to Sissy. Sandra still was though. If I blamed anyone for a long time, I blamed Sissy, which isn't fair. But if you met the girl, well... my lawyer told me once that she had a real problem getting people sympathize with her. And that was pretty hard for all of us already.
See, for a long time, I real swore I was innocent. Or that it wasn’t my fault. And that I was sorry, and all of those all at once. I think that gets a lot of people through getting locked up. But after a while, you just realize that all those people are lying. And I was one of those people. It breaks you a little bit to figure that out, but… I guess I consider myself lucky, still. Too many people lying to themselves still.
So I would start trying to really remember, to stop lying. And now, I think I can, but it’s like… I watch it all on TV now. I told myself it wasn’t me. I didn’t do those things. So when I really remember those things, without all the lying, I can’t remember how I got from there to here anymore. A lot of me is lost in there somewhere. See, now, I’ll just find myself doing something, nothing, doing the dishes, but I’ll be watching it. And sometimes I’ll be watching someone else watching it happen.
Kinda just watching that frame be built, and it’s gonna go where it wants to.
Norman’s mother was on TV for a while there. This was when Sandra was maybe gonna get out early. I had got accessory to manslaughter thanks my lawyer, and with good behavior and all I served only twelve years before being let out. Norman’s Mother, Fanny, I think her name was, she didn’t know about this, and she was real unhappy. So when Sandra tried to apply for the same, Fanny got in front the cameras, and called all us girls monsters, and waved pictures of Norman, and cried. Cried really angry tears, and she talked a lot about “justice.”
And I understand. We killed her baby. You can’t apologize for that. and she didn’t want to even think the girls who lived down the road and killed Norman would ever have the chance to look her in the face again. To look anyone else in the face.
They showed Sandra on TV too, in those little clips of her walking to and from court in shackles. She was twenty-two, I hadn't seen a picture of her for at least two years. She was a beautiful girl. She had seen more of a jail cell than of Ronnie's shitty double-wide. Her face looked worried, maybe scared. And I cried at the TV.
And that was that feeling, of everything mashed up. If I'm gonna try to be poetic, I guess, ah, I guess that's the same kinda face Norman made for a while there.
Sandra did not get out. She died a few years back, I guess she stopped reading her bible, and when she got the chance she stepped off a chair when they weren't looking. ...The thought has sure crossed my mind once or twice.
Sissy's still in there, somewhere. I heard for a while there she was gonna ask for early release too, but that was a while back, and I haven't heard nothing since. Anyway, I heard she's not sorry, still. And that makes me sorry for her.
I don't really understand 'Justice.' Justice seems to me like "Well, we can't make up for this one thing, can't undo it, so we'll just do this other damn fool thing instead." And I know, I know it'd be different if I was sitting on the other end here, if maybe I was staring at some other girl who said she was real sorry for what she did to me or my boy, but...
I just don't believe in Justice anymore.
I just believe you gotta go on.