I just heard the news that Susan Atkins, one of Charles Manson’s followers has died of brain cancer. I understand that she was denied parole earlier this month which dashed her desire to return home to die. While I feel sorrow for her and her biological family, I have little pity for this woman who, as I remember, was the most vicious of the ‘girls’ who butchered so many people in 1969. Atkins was the member of the ‘Manson Family’ who cut the 8 month old baby from Sharon Tate’s belly. I didn’t live far from the site of the “Tate Murders”, and remember as a 12 year old child the strange and paranoid sense of impossibility that held us all. Of course, that was then, and so on. Today such a brutal rampage would attract little attention, if any. These insane behaviors seem to happen every other day in our new world. The world has become disturbingly immune since that horrible event 40 years ago, which troubles me. The late 50’s and most of the 60’s ushered in a major change in societal consciousness: the Vietnam War, the Beat Generation and their poetic meanderings, political and racial assassinations, rock and roller overdoses, the accessibility of television to (virtually) all, drugs, Hippies, and a burgeoning sense of global belonging and responsibility.
And L.A. was a city undergoing changes, admittedly, but during those 20 years it was still a relatively safe place to live and raise a family. At least until the Tate-LaBianca killings, that is. Perhaps it was the media attention that made everything seem so frightening, the body counts from the war reported daily on the national newscasts were particularly chilling. For a child coming to grips with the world at this time, it was all, well, too much. I remember Halloween that year, not longer than 2 months after the slaughters, was subdued. My mother served hot apple cider on our front porch and I was told to “…keep [my] trick-or-treating to one block,” with my best friend in tow “at all times…” Yes, Mama. And I did. Where the Halloweens of years past were times of freedom and childhood pranks, that one was bleak, even given my measly boundary limits.
So yes, it’s a pity that she had to meet with such a sorry end, but I find myself blaming people like Atkins with my cautiously ‘edited’ childhood. Two months after the murders my mother shipped me off to boarding school 400 miles to the north. To safety.
But that’s another story…