Growing up I had a best friend. Her name was Susie.
Susie’s mom, Lynn, and my mom had been childhood friends, so we were kind of destined to be besties, right?
Susie was 2 years older than me. We both had little sisters, the same age, who were also best friends. We ignored and intimidated them as big sisters are wont to do. Our mission.
There were times that Susie and I would finish each other’s sentences, carry on conversations in our heads and have the same dreams. Close, we were, very.
As I said, Susie was 2 years older than me and it never seemed to matter. Until high school. At first it mattered in a GREAT way. I was a freshman and she was a junior and she could drive! It was so cool to be able to DO things, go to the mall or the beach, sneak out for a cigarette, and since I was with her it was as if I was older too. We both would occasionally sneak a beer when a parent wasn’t looking, but we made a pact, Susie and I,that we would NEVER do drugs. Drugs were awful and crazy and we were intimidated by them and the people who took them. It must be said that this story takes place in the years from 1967 through 69…..big drug taking years, hippie time, free love and lots of pot everywhere. BUT, we were not gonna do it and swore as much to each other.
One place we loved to hang out at in the summer of 1968 was Topanga Plaza, one of, if not the first, covered mall in the San Fernando Valley. We’d spend the whole day there; it was close to her house and my mom and sister would stay there with Lynn and Sally while Susie and I took off for the mall hang. Dressed in our hip hugging bell bottoms and crop tops we’d act older than we were and flirt with guys. There was one guy in particular that hung at the mall and was so cute and so cool and so much older but we didn’t care. His name was Bobby and we, along with any number of other girls, really dug him. He was always trying to get us to go to parties or to the beach or someplace…but we were supposed to stay at the mall and had not yet ventured into being places where we weren’t supposed to be. By the end of the summer that line had been crossed however, and we hit a few parties with Bobby. Wild and wanton and (for me) very scary. Not so much for Susie….the 2 year age difference was beginning to change things by now and she began goading me into doing things I wasn’t comfortable with. But Susie did them so I did; she was my guru.
One day near the end of summer Susie drove us to the beach. We had the added horror of having to take our little sisters, but we just ignored them, as usual. Lying on the beach Susie regaled me with stories of other parties she’d been too with Bobby and a whole bunch of new friends.How great they were, how fun they were, how they were like a family. So like a family that a lot of them actually lived together. She told me of a guy who was the coolest of all who she wanted to introduce me to.She told me we would be stopping on the way home at a campsite they had in Topanga Canyon and she’d introduce me. I was wary but game. On the way home we pulled off to the side of the road, warned our sisters to keep their mouths SHUT! and clambered down the side of the road and into the canyon. There was the site; a crazy place with a lot of people running around, playing guitars, eating, drinking, smoking pot and, and, and….naked. Naked? I was about to enter 10th grade and had never seen male genitilia so freely displayed (hell, I had never seen it in person period!) nor had I seen girls running around naked; it was wild and upsetting. I had no idea where to look or how not to stare. Susie took it all in stride, greeting folks by name. I had this picture of her there, with them, as naked as them if she hadn’t been saddled with me and our sisters. It freaked me out.
Soon she found who she was really looking for, the coolest guy, the man. His name was Charlie and he was also naked, so when I shook his hand I had to look him in the eye because anywhere else would have been too odd, but looking him in the eye was even odder, so very odd…I couldn’t keep eye-contact and he remarked that I was a little “uptight”. Susie mentioned something about all the naked people and I got a lecture about the beauty of the human body and how we should celebrate and share it and I said something about how we should get back to our sisters and we left. I was never so relieved or pissed; how could she be into these people and that creepy guy?
A few weeks later, after school started, I went to one more party with Susie and it was there that I saw the worst thing ever…Susie smoking pot. In direct violation of the sacred oath we had sworn to each other! Right then I decided I was not going to go to any more parties with her, and that one incident broke the thrall that she had over me. In retrospect? Thank god.
The rest of that year, my 10th grade, her senior year in high school went by in a flash, and we were just not as close. I mean, we hung out, we talked, but I didn’t trust her. She would tell me all these wild stories about what she was doing with these new friends, how they had moved out of the canyon and onto some ranch somewhere where she would visit all the time and I would listen and judge her for the bad choices she was making, but certainly never told on her. In early June 1969 I attended her high school graduation, on June 28 she turned 18 and disappeared. I knew where she was, living with her friends at the ranch, but no one was gonna get that out of me. I played dumb. She eventually contacted me and tried to get me to come visit, but…no. God, I was so naive.
And then something awful happened, something horrendous on the night of and the night after my 16th birthday in August of 1969.
A couple of months later I was on my way home from school and heard a report of arrests in the sensational Tate/LaBianca murders that occured in August of 69.. There were a jumble of words, but I heard names I recognized (Tex, Charlie, Spahn) and went cold inside. I knew that when I got home I would have to confess, tell where Susie was, what I knew. I was grateful that I was as stoned as I was (oh yes, I was regularly smoking pot 6 months later!), that might make it easier. But when I walked into the house I saw that Lynn was there,and she and my mom were sobbing quietly as they watched TV and heard the news of raids and arrests for themselves. And then I knew that Lynn had known all along where Susie was. And since they knew I was able to say I didn’t know, even though I had come home prepared to spill my guts.
Of course everyone knows what happened next. the arrests and the trial. I visited Susie once outside the courthouse during the trial. I had seen her picture, cross legged on the cement with a bunch of girls, crosses carved into their foreheads. It was just as awful in person. We had nothing to say to each other, we were completely different, changed. I sat through those trials and read all the articles and books and everything I could get my hands on. I wondered if maybe she had done some of this…but no, NO!! I don’t know and will never know, but, no.
I saw Susie one more time, several years later at a xmas eve party that my parents held annually. She was in town from Guerneville, where she had been living with another communal group of people, some ex-Manson folk. It was a last attempt at reuniting with her family; it didn’t work out. She had 2 small children, Hotep and Star, both by different men. And she had the scar of a huge X carved in her forehead.
There was still nothing for us to say to each other. And I haven’t seen her since.
(This is a story I want to develop into a 5 minute piece, one of my MOTH ideas. Putting it out there..feel free to comment, edit, whatever. I know it needs work, but these are the facts)