The day Bonnie Parker lived her last poem.
April 5, 2016
EVERY CHARACTER, real or imagined, has two sides, the good and the bad. You can’t explore one without touching on the other. You can’t explain either until you take the time to understand both.
She sat in the darkness of a somber afternoon. Autumn had come late to the empty landscape of a country that welcomed only a few and resented those who arrived with downcast eyes and somebody else’s name.
A dry chill chased the heat from the arroyos, and a contemptuous wind stormed down out of the rock canyons. The creek beds were dry, and only one road led into town, and if a car passed by, you knew the driver was either lost, misplaced, or on the run. Nobody ever came to Valentine, Texas, for very long. The lucky ones were only passing through.
The girl glanced into the mirror beside the sagging bed of a two-bit motel room that was overpriced at two bits. The mirror was cracked. Her reflection was shaded, but not enough for her to realize that she could no longer consider herself a girl. The wrinkles on her face looked like scars.
One she had been beautiful.
Those in school called her bright.
Now she was alone. She was always alone.
She picked up an old bankbook, one from the First National Bank of Burkburnett, Texas. She thought for a moment, opened a page, and began to write:
No one must know how I tremble
When I hear a siren moan,
Just fearing for you, darling,
And hoping you’re safe at home.
She smiled and read it again. She smiled and had no idea why the tear was creasing her face. There had been a time, not so many years ago, when she had been an honor roll student in school, a sassy young lady, brimming with confidence, who won top prizes in scholastic contests for spelling, writing, and public speaking. She even made several introductory speeches for politicians. She was that popular.
Everyone knew she could write. Everyone had long been impressed with her creative mind.
She’ll go far, they predicted. She has the world in the palm of her hands.
But life was hard then as it was now. Her father had died when she was four-years-old. Her mother worked as a seamstress. She tried hard. She really did. But money was so scarce, and hardly any of the loose change ever found its way to their home.
She grew up wanting more. She grew up dreaming of a better life.
But it always seemed to be just beyond her reach.
And she wrote:
I’ve seen the world from the gutter up.
It leaves you with a bitter taste.
The multitudes staring down at me
As though I was human waste.
God, she loved poetry. She had written it all of her life. But only recently had begun to sound so much like her own life.
She heard a car stop outside.
She looked up to see if the door would open
She should have stayed in school. She knew that now. But she had grown weary of trying to struggle in a world without money, without hope, without a future. Roy Thornton had been her ticket to the good life.
She married him six days before her sixteenth birthday. They gave each other Tungsten wedding bands. And she pictured herself as living, where she always belonged, within the pages of a romance magazine. The romance faded before the magazine subscription ran out.
Sure, she was beautiful. But Roy Thornton has his pick of beautiful girls, and he wanted them all. She spent her days alone and her nights lying in an empty bed. She worked as waitress. She cleaned houses. She was poor, maybe, but she could hold her head high in a world where poverty was the only promise anyone had. By the time she was eighteen, her husband had broken one law too money and was on his way to prison.
Get a divorce, her mother said.
That would be so unfair to him, the girl said. I can’t leave him while he’s locked away.
She would never divorce him.
But she did find a measure of love in the presence of a young man who said he was going place and wanted her to go along with him.
He loved her. He was faithful. He never left her alone, not for very long anyway, and the first time was when he found himself thrown into a jail.
Made a mistake, he said. It happens.
She forgave him. She loved him back. It was a simple relationship. She walked down to the jail and visited him as often as she could.
She brought him smiles.
She brought him letters.
She brought him her poems.
And one day, she brought him a gun.
And now they were in Valentine the way almost everyone came to Valentine. They were neither lost nor misplaced. They were on the run. They had robbed a fruit stand. That’s all. A lousy old fruit stand. And then, of course, there was a bank or two. By then, the Lord had turned his back on them. By then, the boys with badges and guns were shooting at them.
The light in the sparsely furnished motel was growing dim. And she wrote:
Some day they’ll go down together.
They’ll bury them side by side.
To a few it’ll be grief.
To the law a relief.
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie Parker put her pen away and closed her eyes. She waited for the somber afternoon to turn to night. She always felt safe in the darkness.
She heard the key in the lock and saw the doorknob turn.
And she smiled.
All was right with the world again.
Clyde Barrow was home.
On the morning of May 23, 1934, six lawmen from Texas and Louisiana, led by Ranger Frank Hamer, ambushed a Ford V8 headed at high speed down a rural road in Bienville Parrish, Louisiana. They had been waiting two days and were armed with pistols, shotguns, and military-styled Browning automatic rifles, powerful enough to pierce armor. It was estimated that the first shot fired hit Clyde Barrow and killed him. Someone heard Bonnie scream when she realized he was dead. A total of 130 rounds tore into the car as it lay in a ditch. Smoke rolled from the Ford so thick that it appeared to be on fire. As Bonnie had written, it was death for Bonnie and Clyde, and they would be buried side by side. Bonnie was wearing Roy Thornton’s Tungsten wedding ring when she drew her last breath. She had lived her last poem. She was twenty-four.