THE TELEVISION WAS on. Blaring. It was tuned in to some entertainment news channel, and the program’s hostess sat at a desk as if that made her look smarter and made the show more credible. But her spray tan and her false lashes undermined both the desk and her serious expression, and he reached to turn it off. Then he saw his own face flash across the screen, and his hand fell limply to his side. He stared at a shot of himself smiling down into her upturned face. His arm was wrapped around her waist and one of her hands rested on his chest as she smiled back at him. The image then morphed into an old black and white photo, and he watched, helplessly transfixed, as the hostess of the entertainment show began to lay out her case:
Bonnie Parker met Clyde Barrow in Texas in January of 1930. It was the height of the depression, and people were poor, desperate, and hopeless, and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were no exception. Clyde was twenty years old, Bonnie, nineteen, and though neither had much to offer the other—Bonnie was already married, her husband long gone, Clyde had nothing but a rap sheet and an ability to survive—they became inseparable. Over the next four years, between stints in prison and life on the run, they would blaze a path through the dusty south, robbing banks, convenience stores, and gas stations, killing police officers and a handful of civilians, and never stopping anywhere for long. A roll of film and a collection of poetry written by Bonnie found at a hideout in Joplin, Missouri, brought the story of the young outlaws to life and cemented their place in the landscape of American history and in the imaginations of a world-wide audience. They were young, wild, and in love, with little regard for anything but each other. They ran from the law, knowing their deaths were inevitable, and in May of 1934, they met their fate. Ambushed on a lonely road in Louisiana, one-hundred-thirty rounds shot into their car, they went down together, their bodies riddled with bullets, their young lives and their crime spree brought to a close. Gone, but not forgotten.
So has history repeated itself? Do we have our own, modern-day version of Bonnie and Clyde? Two lovers, on the run, leaving chaos in their wake? Although not identical, the similarities between the two stories are notable. And one has to wonder if fame and fortune at such an early age aren’t partially to blame in this story. Instead of the poverty that was the backdrop for the Bonnie and Clyde of the 1930s, we have the opposite extreme. But in both cases, we have young people who grew up too fast, were exposed to harsh realities at an early age, and ultimately rebelled against the system.
We’ve seen it time and time again—such a promising career, such a stunning talent. And we’re all left asking, what exactly happened to Bonnie Rae Shelby?
Eleven Days Earlier
“I’VE HEARD EVERYONE screams when they fall—even if they jump.”
The voice came out of nowhere, making me jerk, making my stomach shudder and drop as if I’d actually just let go and was free falling through the fog. I couldn’t see anyone. The mist was thick, giving me the perfect opportunity to let myself slip into the velvety white without anyone knowing. The thickness was deceiving, the density lulling me into a false sense of safety, wrapping itself around me as if it would catch me, as if I could just hide in it for a while. It whispered wetly that letting go would be easy, painless, that I would simply be swathed in a cloud, that I wouldn’t fall. But part of me wanted to fall. That’s why I was here. And I couldn’t get that song out of my head.
Oh, my darling Minnie Mae, up in heaven, so they say
And they'll never take you from me, anymore
I'm coming, coming, coming, as the angels clear the way
So farewell to the old Kentucky shore
“Come on down from there.” The voice came again. Disembodied. I couldn’t even tell which direction it was coming from. It was low, gravelly. A man’s voice. If I had to guess from the timbre, it was an older man, maybe my daddy’s age. My daddy would have tried to talk someone down from a bridge. Or maybe sing them down. I smiled a little at that. His voice was central to my earliest memories. Rich and folksy, thick with the twang and yodel that had become my signature sound. In the beginning, I always took the melody, Daddy dropped to the tenor, and Gran would chime in with the high harmony. We would sing for hours. That’s what we did. That’s what we were good at. That’s what we lived for. But I didn’t want to live for it anymore.
“If you aren’t coming down, I’m coming up.” I jerked again. I’d forgotten he was there. That quickly, I’d forgotten he was there. My brain was as foggy as the air around me, like I’d breathed it in. He said “aren’t” without the ‘r’ and the ‘a’ flattened out—like he was saying the word ant. I couldn’t place the accent. My mind flickered in confusion for a minute. Boston. That’s right. I was in Boston. I’d been in New York City last night and Philadelphia two nights before that. Was it Detroit last Monday? I tried to remember all the stops, all the cities, but they blurred together. I rarely saw much of the cities I found myself in. One place just bled into another.
Suddenly, he was beside me, balancing on the railing, his arms braced against the trusses, his posture mimicking mine. He was tall. I took in his size quickly, peering around my own upraised arms clinging to the support beam above my head. My heart dropped and landed with a sickish thud at the bottom of my stomach. It bounced. My stomach was empty. But that was nothing new. I wondered if the man was a ra**st or a serial killer. Then I shrugged tiredly. If I was worried about being raped or killed I could just let go. Problem solved.