Growing up, I would definitely say I was sheltered, but that changed pretty quickly when a new family moved into the Lintons’ old house. I don’t remember much about them, except that my golden retriever, Sam, invited himself to their son’s fifth birthday party. He then proceeded to massacre a pack of newborn wiener dogs in front of a class of kindergarteners. I was told Sam had to go live on a farm after that, which was the same excuse that my parents gave me when our previous dog got the mange.
Did either of them actually go and live on a farm? That’s a question that you’ll have to ask my lying snake parents.
I don’t think I even knew that the Lintons moved, considering they couldn’t look any of my family members directly in the eyes after that event. It wasn’t until I saw a different teenage girl standing outside their house one day, that I put two-and-two together. She was dressed like a young boy and wore a plastic headband, which I later learned was a part of her image. It stuck out like a thin black stripe across her poorly highlighted, short, tough, Troll doll hair.
If a person ever looked like a stray calico cat mixed with a human Cabbage Patch Kid, it was her.
We quickly became friends, considering that she was the only other kid around my age in the neighborhood. Until then, my best friend was a 50-year-old woman named Anita.
Needless to say, my social life was suffering a bit during my early teenage years.
See, I found Tiffany interesting, like something out of a R-rated movie that I wasn’t supposed to see. She was tremendously extroverted, confident, and talked to adults like they were her own age. She had a bit of an edge about her, but I thought it was just because she was almost two years older than me.
She was also the proud caretaker of a pet rat. He was albino and had red eyes. Sometimes, she’d let him out and he’d crawl up to her shoulder, shitting up a storm atop her arm, while making direct eye contact with me.
It was nothing short of utterly disgusting.
Aside from the rat, it was kind of cool hanging out with her, because she was a bad kid. I had never been friends with a bad kid before. No one had to tell me that she was, I just knew. Up until this point, all of my friends were good kids from good families. I went to a small private Lutheran school, where we had the same students in every class each year.
Everything was vanilla and predictable.
The moms were sweet and participated in bake sales, while any of the dads would’ve been the guy you’d want your mom to marry if your parents ever split up.
Which they inevitably would. Might as well pick while the pickin’s still good.
Tiffany wasn’t like them, though. That much was apparent from the first time that she showed me the girl-on-girl scene from Wild Things.
She was about to give me a crash course from the School of Hard Knocks.
Let’s face it. Tiffany had a horrible home life. I am not trying to be mean when I say this, it’s just an unadulterated description: Her mom was the closest thing that I’ve ever met to a real-life zombie.
Glazed over eyes sleepily slurred their way through her wired-rimmed glasses. Due to her straight-up lifelessness, this woman could’ve seriously been featured on an episode of Ghost Hunters. Even her skin looked dead. Yellow in color, bordering sickly green. Her feathery hair looked like someone glued-sticked a crewcut made out of brown cotton balls to the top of her head. I avoided her at all costs, but sometimes ran into her as she sort of just shuffled and floated over their linoleum kitchen floors like a haunting sea crab making its way across an endless ocean.
Around this time, another family moved into the neighborhood. Unlike Tiffany’s family, who would quite possibly burst into flames if the Holy Spirit even remotely thought about entering their home, (because holy shit was her mom an actual ghost?) religion ruled every aspect of this family’s daily lives. Strict, pious, and country, the Stancils were sure to lead their three girls on a straight and narrow path.
This worked on 2 out of 3 of them, which is not bad if you ask me.
I quickly became friends with their eldest daughter, who was in my same grade. We met when we were eleven and had much more in common than me and Tiffany. We would both occasionally hang out with her, but she became sort of a past time, like a forgotten lover. When we got sick of each other, we’d venture into Tiffany territory, but rarely did we ever separate.
Little did we know the scandal of the century was about to happen in our tiny rural neighborhood. If I have one distinct memory seared into my brain, this one has to be it.
It must’ve been a Friday, because I was at school upstairs in the library. The stairwell led directly into a small room full of books, which led into a another room full of computers, where I was playing either Mavis Beacon or The Oregon Trail.
Honestly, Mavis Beacon is such a strong female lead. When is someone going to make a movie about her? Does Corporate America really need another Lego Movie?
All of the sudden, our new, immensely hated by all, principal, Mr. Lange, came walking in like the Homo Sapiens celery stick that he was. Mr. Lange was from Omaha, Nebraska. The only reason I remember that is because he loved to tell the story about when he was caught in a tornado there. It was like his go-to at dinner parties.
“Did you ever hear about the time I was in a tornado?” he’d pose to an unsuspecting guest.
“Damnit, Lange. Yes, for the 50th time, we all know you were in a tornado, I just heard you tell the story five times in a row to someone!” I imagined another guest chiming in before another person succumbed to his boring-ass story.
I mean, I was in a tornado, too, but I don’t go around shouting it out to the world. It’s really not the important. Now, go dip yourself in a ranch sauce somewhere, you waterlogged snack.
He gingerly tugged at my shirt sleeve and asked me to come with him. As he led me down the stairs, he began sort of explaining in his best way, but the most horrible way possible, that the police were here to see me.
“Hannah, there’s been an…accident… and some police officers are here to talk to you about something,” he immediately professed, as we began walking down the stairs leading into the gym and an ex-lunch room.
The rail of the stairs was made with this thick, dark polished wood. Smoothing my hands over it, I felt a tiny amount of comfort as I headed into what I thought would be a scene straight out of the movies. In the span of about four seconds, I was about to become an orphan and the police were here to break the news.
I walked into the classroom where I attended preschool as a four-year-old. There were about four police officers some standing, some sitting, in various places in the colorfully decorated, baby-esque room. They all looked uptight and alarmed. Talk about the worst place in the world to find out you’re an orphan. How could I even take the police officer across from me seriously when he was sitting in a chair made for a toddler?
This is what I got for playing Orphan with my brother, a game I created, which featured me as like a mean headmistress. Part of this game was to dump condensed Campbell’s Chicken and Stars into some tin pans that my great grandfather gave my mom from what appeared to be either the Great Depression or Petsmart.
This was perfect for the old timey, poor-people effect I was looking for. Even at a young age, I can say, I was quite the visionary. I’d slide the cold, slimy, waterless soup across the table to him. He’d look up with bright eyes and happily eat all of the slop I just served him, just like Oliver freaking Twist.
Needless to say I wasn’t the little girl who obsessed over Disney princesses. If anything, I was more like Jafar from Aladdin.
Mr. Lange led me to the officer sitting down. I blinked at him nervously, while he gave me a very firm handshake, something I wasn’t quite familiar with. Let’s keep in mind that I’m eleven.
“Hi, Miss Miller. We’d like to ask you a few questions about Tiffany,” the stiff country officer twanged.
“So, my parents are alive?” I suffocated out, breathing like Sid from Hey Arnold.
“What? Yes, they are fine to my knowledge?” he questioned.
“Okay, good…Yeah, I know Tiffany. She’s my neighbor. We used to be friends, but not so much now,” I told them, wisely automatically disassociating myself from her.
“Did Tiffany ever talk about a man named Phillip to you?” he began the interrogation. All I needed was a spotlight on my forehead to complete the look.
“Yes sir (I was really polite back then), she did. She told me that she had a crush on him. She thought he was really cute and she liked him,” I informed the officer.
“And do you know anything about… well… anything about them together?” he continued, beating around the bush.
“Ummm… well she said he’s a really cool guy and they are friends. They hangout. She invited me over to his house once to hangout over there, but I didn’t go,” I answered.
Turns out, I’m a snitch.
“Did Tiffany ever talk about things like sexual intercourse with you about Phillip?” he finally just bit the bullet.
My heart stopped. Sexual intercourse?
I died at least one thousand deaths of embarrassment hearing those words from an overweight police officer.
“NO! She never talked about that,” panic started setting in again.
The officer then explained to me the meaning of statutory rape. Boy, did I have a lot of questions for my parents when I got home.
He concluded by asking me if I knew of anyone else who might be able to assist in the Tiffany investigation. I told him to go visit my best friend, who also lived in the neighborhood, knowing that she needed to also survive through this exact horrifying moment.
What a way to bond.
“Oh, we already got her. She actually gave us your name and where to find you,” he provided.
If I could’ve run home that day, I would’ve. Instead, my mom picked me up and I told her everything. I then got home and called my friend, in which we immediately discussed our interviews at length.
Statutory rape? This is a really heavy subject for adults, much less eleven-year-olds.
When you’re young and innocent, a 20-year age difference doesn’t even register to you. When she told me about her crush, I think I just giggled or something. I didn’t think, “Oh, these two are about to get real hot and heavy! Better call the police!”
But, it was only about to get 9000% weirder. The next few weeks were followed by stories from the actual event, symbols graffitied onto the rocky pavement of our county road, and a whole lot of prison time.