Sylvia

Based on the true story that shocked the world in 1965.

In the early summer of 1965, 16 year old Sylvia Likens stepped foot into 3850 East New York with hopes and dreams. She left the house three months later, emaciated with burns, bruises and scratches. What happened in those endless months would later be described as "the worst crime ever committed in the state of Indiana". This is the story of a girl who had hopes and dreams.

This is Sylvia's story.

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13. "I Want You To Punish Her"

I wish I could say Paula and I had resolved it all during the night, and yet we hadn't even spoken. I pretended to be asleep by the time I heard Paula coming up the stairs. I didn't know what she had told Gertrude, and yet I could have only hoped that Gertie would have understood.

It was the next morning. There hadn't be any talking, no good morning or how are you. There was nothing but a dead friendship between Paula and I. It was silent - Gertie sensed it. I stood at the top of the steps, clutching my school books against my chest as I heard the children chatting. The fear looped around in my mind until there was no room left for anything else. The "loop" played the same thing over and over again - 'what had Paula told Gertrude?' I was, undeniably, frightened to go down. I knew that no matter what I would have said to amend things, Paula wouldn't want to hear it. As worried as I was, I couldn't have blamed her if she didn't want anything to do with me after that night. And yet I hoped she knew the reason why I blurted out her secret. I knew, by looking at the time that purposely seemed to tick faster than usual, that I would have to meet with Paula sooner rather than later. I would have to risk the harsh glares and to hopefully, possibly at school when nobody else was around, sort the mess out that it had become. I took my first step; the whole stairs seemed to creak from under me. The house fell silent, as it seemed everybody's once lively conversations had stopped. I took my second step. Then my third. Paula's eyes had already begun stalking me; a gaze so piercing. I made it to the last step, thinking nothing more would be said. But Gertrude had been told about my outburst the night before, and yet it seemed she had also been told a lot more than I had anticipated.

"Before you all go -" She announced, and her fingers immediately clutched around my wrist.

Gertrude turned me to face the children who had all taken a seat on the couch. The only people standing were myself, Johnny and Paula, yet Gertie merely stared down at my size.

I knew what this would have been about.

"I want you to apologise to Paula." Gertrude finally said.

I looked at her for a while - then to the floor. I guess I had expected it, but it wasn't how it had been told. I turned my head reluctantly to face Paula, and yet there was no friendly smile anymore. She looked at me like I was...nothing. I had never seen her like that before, nor had I seen Gertie. I couldn't have blamed them; it was my fault for giving away a secret that Paula trusted me to keep. What friend would do that?

"I want you to apologise." She ordered yet again.

Her voice was controlling; manipulative. I would have to say sorry, whether I wanted to or not. I wondered if Paula had even told the full story of how she was being attacked by that bully she called a 'boyfriend'.

I swallowed hard, and felt the strands from my hair sting at my eyes.

"What did she do, mama?" Marie asked.

They all stared at me, looking at me like I was so small compared to them. Then again, I felt like I was at that moment.

Gertrude didn't look away, in fact she stayed fixated on me, "- she's been spreadin' lies about your sister."

I allowed a shaky breath to leave my parted lips. The dread deadened my mind and body. I had to apologise. I turned around to face Paula, but she only held a face that would be unwilling to accept any apology. I sucked in a breath, and powered through the embarrassment that seemed to light my cheeks up like two raging fires.

"I'm sorry." I said; sincere as I could have possibly made it.

Paula only shook her head, only to grow angrier at my attempt to amend things; just as I had thought.

"Good." I heard Gertrude's voice yet again, "Paula? You can get your own back. What do you wanna' do?"

My eyes almost instantly gazed up to Gertie who mercilessly held me by my shoulder as though I was bait. I couldn't believe it - Gertie was actually giving Paula an excuse to get revenge. I had no idea whom to turn to. The children just stared at me; hate in their eyes as I had apparently told a lie about their big sister. Gertrude only towered over me. Jenny seemed confused; too nervous to defend me. Paula carried on scowling at me, never taking her eyes away; with eyes that felt as though they were burning a hole through me with each second.

"I want you to punish her, mama..." Her voice growled from across the room.

Paula's words seemed to choke the breath from my lungs and left my body dry heaving, and yet I simply lowered my head to my chest. It seemed salty tears had already begun spilling over onto my cheeks, as each eye began to feel with pathetic tears that I tried to contain. Gertrude was thinking. She seemed unsure about whether to go ahead or not. Maybe she would stop it? I hoped anyway - and yet hope just wasn't on my side. I looked up at the woman who had authority, begging her to leave the situation. But she had other plans.

"Christ sake, Paula - you need to learn to fight your own battles!" She demanded - and suddenly, I felt a tough push against my back as I was immediately shoved into the centre of the room, "- Johnny, grab her arms!"

"I said I was sorry!" I pleaded, trying my best to wriggle free from the little boy pinning my arms behind me.

What was happening? I didn't know, and no matter how hard I tried to understand it, I couldn't. Slowly but surely, Paula began walking towards me; her right fist bawling as if planning to hit me with it.

"Go on, Paula." Gertrude insisted, "she's got it comin'."

Paula stared at me, unsure about what to do, and yet her face seemed determined and ready. I flinched as she reached up her right hand. I knew she wouldn't stop. I clenched my face, and closed my eyes - I guess, trying to enclose my mind from what was truly about to happen. And with a loud thud, I felt the brunt of Paula's fist crunch into my cheek. I luckily broke free from Johnny's grasp and my hands instantaneously caught her arms, in my best efforts, to stop her. She was far too strong. Her strength and weight crashed into me as she snatched at my hands and shoved my back against the wall. I felt my face burn with an intense stinging as it slammed hard against the couch. I felt myself being tugged and thrown like a rag doll, as Paula forced me to the floor; pinning my arms against the ground. I gave a yelp as I surrendered my head as far back as it would go; her mouth so close to my cheek as I felt the constant spit hit at my face. Nothing but tears continuously rolled from my blurred eyes.

"I'm sorry!" I shrieked, but Paula was on top of me; her weight pressing down upon my chest as I struggled to breathe.

Her nails pierced my wrists as she pinned my arms against the floor. I felt her breath on my face as she repeated the same words over and over again.

"I am not a slut! I am not!" Paula spat; her teeth clenching as it felt as though I had some ravenous dog on top of me trying to tear at my face.

"She's not!" Gertrude angrily followed.

I cried and prayed for it to be over. Paula's face grew uncomfortably close to mine; her breath hitting my cheek. Thankfully, with one last second of numbing pain to my arms, she removed her nails from my wrists.

"Dammit!" She squeaked; pain in her voice as Gertrude quickly ran over to her, carefully helping her up.

With the help of her mama, Paula stood up, grasping her wrist with her left hand. It seemed she had hurt it in the bid to hurt me. Yet I was only hurting more - ten times more than she was. And it wasn't just the pain of my arms and back, it was the sheer shock that Paula, my friend, would have felt the need to do what she had done. All because I was trying to protect her.

I laid on the floor, moaning with a pain I had never felt before. It felt as though someone had tried to suffocate me, and my head thumped with each second I was still. I wanted to scream and cry, but Gertrude was hasty to stop me. She reached down and hoisted me by my arm. It hurt so bad, but the goodness of the beating stopping made me breath an unusual sigh of relief. I got to my feet, however I was close to falling again but thankfully held my balance. The pain had a hold on me, throbbing in my gut as though someone had squeezed each organ and refused to let go. Each time it waned, I couldn't move - I probably could have, though I felt I couldn't. I stood still, just to breathe a single breath until the pain would pass.

I felt Gertrude's hand lightly pat me upon the back as though it was a reward for getting beaten. I couldn't understand what was happening; by the look on Jenny's face as I saw her, it seemed she was equally as confused.

"She's learnt her lesson." Gertie insisted, as her hand carefully pushed me around by my back, "- that's what happens when you tell lies."

There was a deadly silence. I was in pain - the kind of pain that makes you almost paralysed, that was how I felt. But I thankfully controlled my crying, and held back the softness of my face as I remained silent.

________________

The school corridors were crowded with the usual chaos; it seemed perfect, in a sense that it reminded me of those film sets in high-schools. There was always the couple who made-out like mad on the left side of the hallway, and about ten feet from them were the cliquey girls; girls who would occasionally look over at those rushing past to get to class and laugh. Opposite them, the typical jocks that each girl would worship until the day school would end. In between them, the parade of band enthusiasts with their huge instrument cases that would make any supposedly easy transition from each class much harder than it needed to be. Also was the aerospace tech kids, who never did anything but make paper aeroplanes and continuously chuck them around the classrooms. Not forgetting the fashion groups that wheeled mannequins and clothing racks down the halls that would have you rammed up against the walls just to let them pass. I used to belong somewhere - with Paula, and her friends if they ever came to hang around with us. But I was alone that day; no groups to fit into, and no one to turn to if I needed a chat.

As I walked through the corridor, I noticed a familiar group of teenage faces; boys whom I had seen hanging around with Coy. Even given just a script for their conversation, with no context or voices, I would simply know what they would be talking about; typical boys who thought a lot of themselves, much like Coy when I first met him. Their conversation seemed to be interrupted only by jokes, often at the expense of one of their friends. Yet from the dialogue that followed, it was clear to see that their attention had wavered onto me.

"Is Paula really out spreadin' her legs?" One of the boys shouted. I even questioned if he was intending to speak loudly just so everyone else in the corridor could hear.

The group began to laugh, but I continued to walk; quicker if my legs would have let me.

"Do you know how much she's askin' for, 'cause I want a go!" Another joined in, and more laughter surrounded my ears. I hoped that Paula was not nearby; she shouldn't have had to hear what was being said.

"Hey - you said it not us!" He insisted, and his words couldn't have made me feel any more guilt than I was forcing myself to feel.

I couldn't help but feel confused. I had never said anything about Paula sleeping around? Someone else must have said that. I kept my chin to my chest, but my eyes allowed themselves to look up at the group of rowdy teenagers. I needed to set the record straight.

"I never said that about Paula..." I quietly corrected, but I only seemed to make them chuckle even louder.

I had never seen a rumour spread around so fast before. I couldn't help thinking that my name was being thrown around the school as the person who had supposedly spread it. It wasn't just Paula's name being dragged through the dirt, it seemed to be mine too.

________________

I had arrived back from school, and I was sitting up in the bedroom. It felt awkward around Paula; the way she would just glare at me. I knew it hadn't been my place to have told Bradley, but I had to protect her. Would that have made me a better friend to have let him attack Paula? Whatever I should have done, I didn't - I would have to learn from my mistakes and hopefully make it right with Paula; no matter how hard or long it would take me.

It was a typical hot, breezy summer day; usual for Indianapolis during early August. The warm weather was still baking the side-walks outside like hot metal; I even thought attempting to stand on it bare-feet would have resulted in burning them. I had been back at home for a good hour or so, and I was playing The Beatles aloud; though not so loud that it would disturb Gertrude - or Paula. 'Twist and Shout' was playing, and it was my ultimate favourite record from them. It was so upbeat and happy, and even though I was sitting down, I couldn't help but sway my legs back and forth. I loved the way music could escape you to some different universe or world; in my mind, anyhow. Though my musical imagination was suddenly cut short, as the door carefully creaked open. My eyes quickly looked up, though thankfully not seeing Paula but instead, her sisters - Stephanie and Shirley. To my luck, Jenny also stumbled in. It seemed she had only just arrived back from school.

"Oh, I love this song!" Shirley cheered, as her hand gently reached over to Jenny, "- let me do some braids in your hair."

Jenny obliged, and sat at the dressing table with Shirley eagerly beginning to brush her locks out thoroughly. I didn't think anyone would have wanted to spend much time with me then; only for the reason that I had apparently told lies about their sister. I was grateful.

Stephanie skipped over, thudding onto the bed beside me as her hand sneakily turned up the volume on the record.

"Guessin' you like The Beatles?" I smirked.

She nodded back, rocking her head back and forth - only for her whole body to join in with the motion. It was strange at how easily a beat could take hold of you. Maybe that was why I loved music so much.

"I bet I could go on one of those talent competitions and win it with one of these songs," she proudly grinned, "- this record has my name written ALL over it."

I couldn't help but chuckle back at her certainty, "- who's your favourite member?" I asked; already having mine locked in my head. Paul McCartney, of course!

She looked deep in her train of thought, before finally setting her eyes on me, "...has to be John Lennon!"

I was sure my face looked just as baffled as I thought it had. I mean, sure John Lennon was pretty good in the band - but Paul McCartney? There was no comparison.

"So... you don't like Paul?" I questioned. I guess I was trying to change her mind about her chosen band member.

She cocked her head slightly, letting out a bemused laugh as she finally noticed my expression.

"I see he's your favourite!" She insisted.

I was sure my smug, frantic smile gave that away. If I ever owned a house - with my own bedroom - I would most certainly have stuck pictures upon pictures of him on my walls. I would have damn right made a shrine for him if I could.

"Jenny could easily look like that singer Petula Clarke - what do you reckon?" I heard Shirley ask.

Jenny was quick to shake her head; she hated compliments, but I guess I did to. I couldn't help but chuckle as she buried her head in her hands. I imagined that was what I probably looked like when I kept getting my appearance mentioned in a conversation.

"If only I could sing like her..." Jenny mumbled, whilst Shirley continued playing around with her hair. Jenny was a good singer - probably the best in our family. But what could I say? Musical talents just didn't seem to run through our blood.

"Yeah right!" Stephanie laughed, "- I heard you singin' in the bathroom one night!"

"You didn't!" Jenny gasped.

I couldn't help but erupt in laughter. Probably one of the most awkwardest things was to find someone had heard you singing - in the bath.

"Did to!" Stephanie objected, still swaying her head back and forth though I was sure she hadn't realised she was still doing it, "...you sounded pretty good to me."

"Well...I don't sound nearly as good as Sylvia!" Jenny declared.

I quickly retreated myself away from the conversation. I should have known Jenny would have shoved the attention onto me. I guess we were very alike in that sense; we both hated attention, and when it did come, we would continuously fight over who would have to have faced the horror of embarrassment. Needless to say, I always lost that battle.

"Oh, is that right?" Stephanie teased , and her head turned to me slowly.

I knew she expected me to sing for her. The thought of it made me cringe, to say the least.

I shook my head, and I noticed I was fidgeting with my fingers, "- nope, I'm terrible. Honestly, I'm really bad."

"Somethin' tells me that ain't all true!" Stephanie said, and I felt everybody's gaze lock onto me, "- come on! Sing us somethin'!"

"I'll probably turn you all deaf," I insisted.

"Sing your favourite song - please?" She persisted.

I knew I wasn't going to get out of it. It would only be one song, right? I thought hard about my favourite. I was a strong music lover; The Beatles, Petula Clarke, Bobby Darin. Endless choices, though I could only think of one special song that had stayed in my head for years. 'A Thousand Stars in the Sky' by Kathy Young. I had adored that song ever since its release. It made me reminisce about gazing up at the stars back in California on the Ferris wheel. You could see whole towns from up there; things that maybe you couldn't normally see. It would even feel like you could reach up with one hand and touch the moon, or the stars. The sky always felt so close from up there.

I cleared my throat; feeling as though I was about to perform in front of a stadium full of spectators.

"It goes somethin' like this..." I cleared my throat slightly, and then - I began, "...A thousand stars in the sky, make me realise - you are the one love, that I'll adore. Tell me you miss me, tell me your mine once more..."

The next thing I heard, surprisingly, was clapping. It was then that I understood what The Beatles probably felt like after every performance.

"Sylvia, that was amazin'!" Stephanie cheered on, as she continued to clap.

Was I really that good? I had never thought of becoming a singer before. I had never imagined I was good enough, or confident enough; confidence for a performer was pretty important.

"Didn't I tell you she was good?" Jenny grinned, giving me a beaming smile through the mirror.

It was amazing at how great you could feel just by being around people. Maybe I should have became some famous singer - then I could have achieved a never ending smile just from hearing thousands of people clapping all at once.

Could you have imagined that feeling?

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