For the next year, things were more or less the same. Lupe was still my closest friend. She and my dad would still fight sometimes, but he spent less time at the bars. By the end of 1965, I’d grown to accept that night he’d come home drunk as a fluke. Even if he was never fully present in the way a father should have been, he made a point of telling us that he loved us. We were his girls. Maybe everything was going to be okay.
In the meantime, I’d only fallen in love with Paul more deeply. I hadn’t been allowed to see A Hard Day’s Night, and no way to buy the album myself, so the only one I still had was their first, Please Please Me. Still, I listened to it so often I was surprised I hadn’t worn it out.
That Christmas morning, they presented me with a wrapped package suspiciously shaped like a vinyl record. I knew that the Beatles had come out with a new album, and I knew it was called Rubber Soul, but that was it, and I never would have dreamed of asking them for it.
They both smiled as they watched me hold it in my hands.
“Open it,” Lupe said.
Sure enough, there it was.
“Look at the back,” she told me.
So I did. My eyes drifted to it immediately on the tracklist. Michelle. I bit my lip.
This couldn’t be. They’d written about me. Well, obviously not me, but if there was already a Michelle in Paul McCartney’s life, maybe there’d be room for one more.
I sat limply with it on the living room before they told me it was okay if I wanted to listen. Then. Lupe and my father stood up and announced that they were going to go for a walk.
“We’ll leave you two alone,” said my father.
I supposed he was trying to be funny, but it came across as condescending to me. And I didn’t understand why they were leaving me alone on Christmas mornings when we were having a good day.
Still, as soon as the music started, I forgot all about it. It was all brilliant, just like everything they’d ever done had been brilliant.
And then, after a few songs, Paul McCartney’s voice called to me.
“Michelle, my belle…”
Even though I logically knew that the song wasn’t about me, that Paul didn’t know that I existed, it was easy, comforting even, to imagine that he was there in this room with me, him and his guitar, singing to me and only me. No, this was their best song.
While I was getting to the age where my classmates were starting to hold hands and kiss boys, there was no one I wanted to do that but Paul McCartney. Maybe he’d come to Wyoming on tour and we’d meet somehow. John, Paul and George could play Michelle at our wedding.
It wasn’t until that spring that a classmate named Linda crushed me and told me he already had a girlfriend. An actress named Jane Asher. She was pretty, smart, and was an activist in London. It was apparently pretty serious and they’d been together since 1963, a year before I even saw him on TV.
And while, going forward, I never really stopped being upset about it, I told myself that the unfortunate fact wouldn’t stop me from appreciating his face and his voice. Besides, by the time I turned eighteen, he could be single again.
It would be another three years until Lupe left us. It was 1968, the same year that a lot of things happened to a lot of us, it seemed. By then, my father had been sober for six months, and things were better than they’d ever been, at least that was the way it all seemed to me. I’d become fast friends with a girl named Kaya that year, who’d left Wind River with her family because her father had gotten a job in Cheyenne. The first time I’d been over to her house, her family had treated me as if I’d always belonged. Their house was warm and inviting, which is a far cry from our ranch.
But that afternoon, we were in the living room when my father took the phone call. It was the hospital in Boulder, calling my father to inform him that Mom had tried to overdose on her medication. She was in terrible shape, and confrontational with the other patients. Both Lupe and I watched his face fall.
“I have to go to Boulder,” he said once he hung up the phone.
“To see Elina?” Lupe asked.
“What do you think?” He spat.
“Have Michelle go with you,” Lupe continued.
“No, she’s not going with,” said my dad. They continued to go back and forth about this as if I wasn’t right there.
“I want to go,” I said.
He looked at me, and then back to Lupe.
“I have to take care of this.” Without another word, he took his car keys, slammed the door, and we watched as the car drove off.
Lupe sighed. Before I could say anything, she disappeared down the hallway and closed her door. I didn’t want to be alone, but I sensed she didn’t want to be bothered either.
I woke up in the middle of the night to hear my father come home drunk. Lupe was in the living room apparently because the two started shouting. I heard him slur his words. I covered my ears with my pillow and it still wasn’t enough.
When I woke up the next morning, the two were having a silent breakfast. Both had their faces buried in the paper. They tried ignoring me but I was at the point where I was tired of them continuing to treat me like a child.
“What happened last night?” I asked.
Neither said anything. I turned straight to my father.
“Did you see Mom?”
“Yes,” he replied.
It was then that I noticed the bruise over Lupe’s eye. “What did he do to you?”
“Nothing,” Lupe said quietly.
“Tell me what’s going on!” I shouted.
My father stood up, and I knew that I’d made a mistake. He got in my face and stared at me for a minute before he shrunk back. “Stop worrying about your mother.”
“But she’s my mother.”
“Why don’t you go feed Bambi?” He spat.
“I don’t want to,” I said.
That was the first time he slapped me. His hand stung. I saw Lupe open her mouth to say something, only she stopped. Then I turned to her. “And you. You let him treat you like this!” I wasn’t sure where it was coming from. I wasn’t mad at her, not really. Before either of them could do anything, I grabbed my coat and walked out the front door, all three miles to Kaya’s house, nearly in tears by the time I got there. I wasn’t sure what she’d think about me showing up announced, but I explained everything and they told me I could stay as long as dinner if I wanted to.
I called home first, wanting to speak to Lupe, telling myself I’d hang up if my father answered. Luckily, it was her.
“Where are you?” She asked.
“When will you be home?” I expected her to be angry, but she seemed tired, resigned. I told her after dinner sometime. She said okay and hung up the phone.
We ended up spending the whole day together, watching the Monkees on TV and talking and eventually riding bikes into town to see Romeo and Juliet. By the time I got back it was after 9. Lupe was gone, and my father said she’d gone into town, but I didn’t think much of it. I had a horrible time sleeping that night and I didn’t until around two in the morning.
The next day, I went into the kitchen to find him reading the paper.
“That bitch is gone,” he said without looking up.
I said nothing.
“I’m surprised she didn’t tell you. Since you two were such good friends.”
I was still too scared of him to say anything, so I went in the kitchen and started to fix myself a bowl of cereal. I expected him to say something, but instead he kept his face buried in his paper. The funny pages, it seemed like. I finished my cereal quickly and put it in the sink. Then, I snuck back into my room. There was still a week and a half left of the summer, and I desperately wanted to go back to school.
I looked through my records and put on Rubber Soul, hoping it would relax me. I hadn’t listened to it in ages, and now, I couldn’t listen to it without thinking of Lupe. I kept it on though, because it was better than the silence.
As I started to cry, I realized I was angry at her. Angry at her for only thinking about herself and leaving me with him. I was angry at both of them for not ever telling me anything. I ended up turning the record off and putting on my coat. “I’m going for a walk,” I announced.
“Okay,” he said, still without looking up from his paper.
It was April and still almost freezing, but I didn’t care. The cold was refreshing. It kept me alert. I walked aimlessly around the ranch. I wanted to go into town, but I didn’t know how to drive. I wondered where Lupe had gone, if a boy would ever like me, if things would ever be different from the way they were.