Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for mature content.
AN: Hi friends! Many of you know I am working on a short film. I've written four short essays relating to each lead character, and I would like to publish them and send them out to people before I do. In theory, these are essays each of the narrators would have written for publication in newspapers/magazines etc after the crimes of the lead characters become known to the world, so they're not supposed to be all encompassing and aspects of the characters of the narrators themselves left vague. The biggest thing I need help on is making each voice distinct and ensuring that the essays (which can't really get to be in any longer than they are) make you want to know more about each character.
When I think of Alex, I think of a warm summer day in 1963. The week before, her father had given us both money so that we could spend her thirteenth birthday together. We ended up spending most of it on burgers and milkshakes at Kingston’s Diner, a small establishment on Main Street that still played The Chordettes and Nat King Cole.
After, we bought Cokes at the drugstore and rode our bicycles to a park, where we sat and talked. We’d wasted away many days like this before. But that summer in particular, there was a sense of wanting to hold onto something that was desperately slipping away. The world was changing in those days, and it wasn’t just because we were getting older. The social order, which would burst wide open with Jack Kennedy’s assassination mere months later, was beginning to crack. And it was happening at a time when were just old enough to understand.
Alex and I had been friends since we were five and I was in her mother’s kindergarten class. Alex had another teacher, the elderly Mrs. Gulch, who everyone always joked was probably really the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. One day I saw her eating by herself at lunch and introduced myself. We’d been inseparable ever since. On the surface it didn’t make sense. I was always the first to raise my hand in class. By fourth grade I’d started to harbor dreams of being an actress, spurred by my recurrent casting as Mary in our church’s nativity scene. At parent teacher conferences, Alex’s mother had told my parents that I was smart girl, but I had too much energy. Alex, meanwhile had always been painfully shy. But we both loved books and movies and were artistic ourselves, so we connected that way.
When her mother was in the hospital, I, at the suggestion of my father, hand drew a card. “Be Well, Mrs. Altman! Love, Carolyn” it said in big, colorful block letters. I’d decorated the background with palm trees and spotlights since Alex had told me once her parents had spent their honeymoon in Los Angeles. Mrs. Altman had called me later to tell me that she loved my card, missed having in me in class and hoped that I was well. She sounded weak, but my nine year old self didn’t understand then that she wasn’t going to get better.
That summer day, Alex and I sat in the park, drinking our Cokes in silence. By then her mother had been gone nearly three years. Alex had always been quiet, but never to the point where we didn’t know what to say to each other. I felt us drifting apart, and I didn’t understand why. The previous fall, her father had begun dating a woman named Marcia, who Alex did not like. I’d only met her once, but she had none of the warmth or care of the first Mrs. Altman.
“My dad is getting married,” she finally said.
Alex nodded painfully. “I don’t know why he likes her.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“I wish we were older, Carolyn. When I graduate high school I want to move far away from here.”
I hadn’t thought about it before, but in that moment, I began to picture it too. I realized I probably didn’t want to stay in Montana forever. Especially not if I wanted to be an actress. “Where would you go?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Los Angeles, maybe. It’s warm in California.”
“Maybe we’ll live next door,” I said. “I’ll be in movies, you’ll write.”
“I’ll be married to Richard Beymer,” she added.
I laughed. “And me to Sean Connery.”
The sun beat down on where we were sitting just then, and we both laughed. It was a nice moment. Just the two of us. "Do you want to see Bye Bye Birdie?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. I loved Bobby Rydell, and I'd heard nothing but good things about the movie.She stood up from the bench and started to walk towards her bike. "Race you!" She said, laughing as she took off and I followed behind.
Our friendship stayed strong into the following year, when we both heard the Beatles on the radio and like every other girl our age, became hooked. I was in love with Paul, and she with George. We played their records on endless loops, much to the annoyance of our parents. In 1965, they came to Helena, and when were the only girls in our class who didn’t get to go, she slept over at my house, we painted our nails, watched Gilligan’s Island and ate ice cream and laughed so hard that we forgot, momentarily about what we were missing out on.
That same year, we were both at the bookstore when she started reading a collection of poetry called Ariel by one Sylvia Plath. I remember her standing there, paging limply through it, as if the book had transported her to another place.
“Alex,” I said.
She didn’t look up.
“Alex,” I said again.
Then she did.
“Just a minute. I think I’m going to buy this.” From then on, she read the poems inside and then read them again, and she carried it with her always.
“Listen to this,” she told me one day at lunch. “Dying is an art. Like everything else, I do it exceptionally well.”
My mind had been far away. I’d been concentrated an audition for the school play that was happening that afternoon. It was for The Philadelphia Story, and as a desperate admirer of both Kate Hepburn and Grace Kelly, I wanted the role of Tracy badly. I didn’t want to hear any more about Sylvia Plath. I didn't like who this woman, who wrote nothing but sad things and had killed herself at the age of thirty, had turned my friend into. She'd become morose, and wasn't any fun to be around anymore. We'd used to laugh and joke about so many things, and I realized, sitting across from her at lunch that day, I didn't remember the last time I'd seen her smile. So I said nothing. Still, Alex waited for a response.
“Is that why she stuck her head in an oven?”
From the way she looked at me, I knew that I’d immediately made a mistake. But I was too proud to admit it. “She writes about death and dying all of the time. It’s morbid.”
Alex took a deep breath. She stood up as she tried to hold back tears. Then she stormed off. Lunch was almost over, so I had no choice but to go to class. I spent the whole afternoon feeling terribly guilty. I realized I'd been rude, that Alex found a lot of value in the books she read and that Sylvia Plath wrote about of the same things she was experiencing herself. After school let out for the day, I was able to find her before my audition and before she left for home.
I apologized profusely, and she did the same.
“It just feels like you’re not very interested in my life,” I told her. “When I’m in a play, you never ask me how it’s going.”
“I’m sorry,” Alex said again. “I’m sorry, all right?”
We hugged then. It was hard to stay mad at each other for long, because we’d been through too much.
“I’m going to start working at the bookstore,” she said.
“That’s great. I’m happy for you,” I responded.
Alex smiled. “Good luck at the audition.”
“Thanks.” We then walked our separate ways.
I wish I could say that we’d stayed friends. There was no one fight, one incident that ended it. No conversation that led to us not spending time together anymore. Much of it is my fault. I was cast as Tracy in The Philadelphia Story, and with the play my free time disappeared. I fell in love with my Dexter, a handsome, dark haired senior named Paul. At the same time, I felt Alex growing more and more distant, and I did not know how to help her. Paul told me that she was too needy, and that it wasn’t my position to save her from her problems. That only she could do that. I felt as though she was resentful of our relationship, even though, as my friend, she’d ought to have been happy that I’d found love. I understood that she was lonely, but her anger towards me was something that I felt was unfair. She once asked me if I wanted to see Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner with her, and I really did want to. I hoped it would be just like old times. So I agreed, but at the last minute, a girl who I had been giving voice lessons to had to cancel on our original time and reschedule. I was no longer able to go the movie.
When I told Alex, she curtly told me that she was going to go by herself.
That was the last time we really spoke, other than the most casual of nods when we passed each other in the hallway. Months later, when she disappeared, I didn’t think much of it. Her father had called me when it happened, hoping that I could make sense of the note she left. It had been vague and broad, saying that she was not happy and leaving to find it. I explained to him that Alex and I had not spoken in months, but that she’d always talked about wanting to leave Montana, so I was not surprised. Her father thanked me and never called me again.
After high school, Paul and I married and we moved, not to Los Angeles but New York to start our life. In 1970 our daughter, Juliet, was born, and being her mother became my full time job. And while I never really forgot about Alex, things changed so much in those few years that the memory of her seemed to belong to a different life, a distant version of myself. I sometimes would wonder where she was, how she was doing, if she was happy.
I remember, distinctly, hearing the news that Margaret Kelly and two of her friends had been murdered in her home. Paul was holding Juliet as they watched television and I began to serve dinner.
“I hope they find whoever did this,” I said.
Weeks later, when an arrest had been announced and I saw Alex’s mugshot on the news, I nearly passed out. I didn’t want to believe it, at first. But as everything slowly came out, I found myself coming to terms with the fact that the girl I’d laughed and talked and gone to movies with, the girl I’d trusted with my deepest secrets, was a killer. Because in the years following her disappearance, when I thought of her, it wasn’t of our fights. It was of watching Gilligan's Island, listening to Beatles records, riding our bikes on hot summer days and envisioning our futures married to famous movie stars.
The girl the news describes is someone that I do not recognize. And yet, when I see her face, I know that it is very much her. How do I live with our memories, knowing what she became? As an adult, I have the foresight to realize ways that I was selfish, mean, and a bad friend, and I wish I could have done so many things differently. I feel immense guilt about everything. But maybe this was Alex's destiny from the beginning. Maybe nothing I did would have made a difference.
There are many such questions for which I do not currently have answers, but I write in the hopes that I will be able to find them. My sincere thoughts, love and prayers go out to the victims of this terrible tragedy, and their families.