Have I ever told you about my completely and utterly unhealthy obsession with Charles Manson? No, well. There you have it. I'm weird.
I made The Husband stay up until almost midnight a few nights ago because I didn't want to miss a minute of the new History Channel program, "Manson," (because HC always has the creative names, you know) and wouldn't risk moving into the living room to watch. By the way, if you are wondering, I was disappointed in "Manson" as I felt it made too much of Charlie's failure in the music biz and too little of oh, I don't know, the total and complete INSANITY of the whole thing. Poor Charlie, never got a record contract and so, understandably, became the poster child for crazy. Whatever.
Anyway, I digress. It all started when I was in high school. I bought a copy of Helter Skelter to read on a flight and I was totally sucked in. I could sympathize with these girls. These girls were just like me. (Except for the brutal murder part, you know.) And I felt like everyone who had ever felt like an outsider (in other words, everyone) has been in that weak emotional state where you could be manipulated. In other words, I read it full of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God moments.
As an adult, I've reread HS and added other books and websites and articles and first hand accounts and court transcripts and whatever else I could get my hands on. I don't have those moments anymore. Because, well, because I grew up. Just like most of these girls have. They grew up in prison, with all this crap weighing on their consciences, and no end in sight.
It's been a big year for Manson news. There usually isn't much. You know, they're all still in prison. UPDATE: still in prison. UPDATE: still in prison. There's a few parole hearings here and there and everyone gets denied. (Except for Squeaky Fromme, by the way, who is out now and quite possibly the craziest this side of Manson himself. She didn't go in for the Tate murders, but for trying to kill Gerald Ford. While Manson was in prison. And she was a nun in his own made up religion.) But this year there's been some real news.
Squeaky Fromme getting out for one thing. And Susan Atkins trying desperately to get out. She'll probably die before year end and that'll be even more news. Charlie did a television interview this Spring. The first in a while. He pretty much looked like your grandpa except for the swastika on his forehead (and the crazy, crazy eyes). And Barker Ranch burned to the ground. Probably arson.
Every time one of these things hits the news, I get re-addicted. I do Internet searches, I read blogs, I pick up HS (still the best) and read specific sections. And I wonder why I care. Why I have this weird obsession. Why this crime of all the crimes in history has me so engrossed. I actually have a thing about serial killers. Son of Sam, Ed Gein, H.H. Holmes. I'll read about any and all of them. I'll watch the movies and compare them to reality. But I don't stick with them the way I stick with The Family. And I wonder why.
Is it because it only took one dose of crazy to infect a whole community of people? Is it because of how close the authorities came to unwittingly preventing it time and time again? It is because of Manson's Kentucky connection? Is it because of the family kids, a story still mostly untold that intrigues me? Or is it something simpler? That it was the first true crime novel I ever read? The first movie to ever give me nightmares?
The story will always be with us. It's just that kind of story. The reality of it will fade as the family members die (in or out of jail). Charlie is in his 70's and has never lived a particularly healthy life. The victim's families will fade away. The places will be razed, rebuilt, converted. Most of them already have. And all of those things will make it seem more like a story and less like reality. That's a scary thought. The Manson murders will one day inhabit the same place in our mythology as Jack the Ripper.
And I believe that THAT is one of the things that keeps me tethered to the story. After 40 years (the anniversary was last month) it's still raw in many ways. It's still real in a way that it won't be forever. It's less real for me than for those who remember the news. It's less real for them than for those who had been visited by the creepy crawlers. It's less real for them than for those close to those killed or those who did the killing. And for my kids, when they are older and learn about it or see a movie or pick up Helter Skelter from mom's bookshelf, it will be less real than it is for me.
I feel the need to pin that reality down. To hold it firm, lest we forget. Lest we forget the fear and uncertainty. Lest we forget the shock and revulsion. Lest we forget the desperate need to talk to our kids. Lest it becomes nothing but a story. A movie. A dramatization. Lest we think it's ever over.