The release of Manson's prison photo rekindled interest in slayings of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and six others in a two-night rampage that terrorized the city of Los Angeles in August 1969. Yesterday, his last hideout, the Barker Ranch in Death Valley, burned to the ground.
She is running, running. It's night, and she is running across the frozen, stubbled cornfield. She is running hard, panting with the effort, and she must be cold because she has on no coat and no shoes. She sees the Manson murderers and knows they are after us. She is sure they will slit us side to side and cut out our babies. I know she really sees them because she’s tripping, but I’m not, so I’m chasing her, trying to get her back to the cabin before her feet freeze or she falls and hits her head.
Katy is 16, like the other four girls with us at the cabin, and I will be 16 in a month. It's January, and Angela's parents have dropped us off at their cabin in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by woods and fields, trusting us to be safe alone for the weekend. Katy is obsessed with the beautiful Sharon Tate and the horror that happened to her just months before. She talks about it all day, and we try to ignore her.
We tromp through the field and slide and make snow angels on the frozen pond. One of us, Annie, squats and pees, the yellow urine steaming and melting the ice. It's natural, like the rest of the things we do. We dress alike, in plaid flannel shirts and jeans. We do not shave our legs or under our arms. We do not wear deodorant or bras. We join the college students who demonstrate against the Vietnam war and hang out at the SDS house on campus, where the Trotskyites try to get in our pants. We are a clan, a tribe moving through high school, trying to make sense of ourselves and the late 60s.
When we get cold and tired of playing in the snow, we go inside and build a fire. We eat guacamole and chips and put on Tommy, by the Who, turning the volume up all the way on Angela's parents' stereo, and we dance. The music is in us, in our lives: Hendrix, the Stones, Led Zeppelin.
Of all the girls, I know Katy the least. She isn't in class with the rest of us, college bound. Instead, she takes courses with the work-study kids who are headed for clerical jobs or Kraft or their father's drywall business. The bus brings her from the children's home, and for some reason, Annie's mother has made a project of her, taking her on shopping trips and inviting her home for dinner. Annie jokes about it, claiming her mother just wants someone she can dress up in Bobbie Brooks.
And now I’m sprinting after Katy over the frozen field, leaving the others in the warm, familiar comfort of their drug-induced haze. Damn you, Mary. You swore you’d help me watch the rest of them, but at some point you changed your mind and dropped a half a tab of the purple microdot we brought. "Only a half," you explained, but now you're just as fucked up as the rest of them, no use to me at all.
Ahead of me, Katy falls, and I'm finally able to catch her. We are both breathing heavily, and I lean over her and say, “Katy, get up. Get up now, Katy. That’s over. It’s not real.”
I'm trying my best to convince her that everything is all right, but I know in my heart that Katy is broken. I know the rest of us are broken, too. Janine is screwing our chemistry teacher, a prematurely balding 24-year-old who lets us copy off each other's papers. Alice's sister hasn't been eating lately, just a glass of juice or a tiny square of cheese, and her clothes hang off her skinny, scarecrow body. I am habitually truant, spending my afternoons at my boyfriend's apartment. So far I have managed to keep my grades up and not get caught, but it's only a matter of time. I know our lives are full of danger. I know we are spinning out of control.
Now, over and over, Katy is moaning, "Helter Skelter, Helter Skelter." As the freezing air hits my sweat, I shiver. I think of how many times I've heard that song played in the background of our life. The stars in the cloudless sky are infinitely cold. Suddenly dizzy, I can see the Sharon Tate murderers too, girls not much older than we are. They are part of a different tribe, the Manson clan: Krenwinkel, Atkins, Van Houten.
Katy has cut her foot somehow, and now there is the thing she fears so much, the blood. I grab both her arms, and even though I pull and pull, I can’t get her up off the ground. She is a big girl--too big for me.