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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24. Love From A Boy

A week or so had leaped on at the Baniszewski household, however not a lot changed. The same routine and the same aching feeling of homesickness - that was what I was thinking as I glared at myself through the mirror in the bedroom; staring at the black eye I had gotten after hitting the floor. It still stung whenever I put pressure down onto it, but thankfully the pain had ceased slightly over night. For the first time in my life, considering the amount of times I had found myself in a new place, I felt so alone I could have cried right there; a huddled heap of despair and regret. My mama wasn't there to soothe my fears. It was just me, alone in a strange place with strange people.

I began brushing out my soft curls, but I couldn't escape the memories in my mind. I hadn't forgotten anything that had been done to me, though I wanted to desperately. I didn't want to dwell on the past. I had to look to the future, no matter how grim it would have been - and by looking to the future, I had to think about my education; another day at the new tech school in Indianapolis. Girls had told me that the dresses I wore were beautiful, the teachers had all helped me catch up on work, and I didn't feel like I needed to pretend to be someone I wasn't in that school. Even if I no longer had Paula as a friend, I still hung on to the small circle of girls I had been fortunate enough to have found myself with at school.

Noticing the time on the clock, I placed the brush upon the desk and reached for my books. If anyone were to see my black eye, it would be the same excuse.

________________

It was around midday and it was my free study period. I adored my free study - I normally used that time going into the library, but instead of reading, I would just gaze at all the different people. It was quite fascinating if you did it long enough. As I sat down, my chin slumped on my hand, I tiredly flicked through pages of a Shakespeare book; 'Macbeth' to be exact. It seemed most of his novels and stories were ended in tragedy, which made them even more depressing to read. As my eyes travelled across the pages, I soon caught the sound of a quiet voice speaking my name. Excepting it to be a teacher, whom I saw in reality stunned me.

"You OK?" A voice, nervous however confident in his approach, spoke from across the table.

I pathetically adjusted my head, until I was facing a young boy beaming down at me. I began feeling the same horrible, hot clammy feeling I had felt before. I quickly tucked my head back behind the book. My mind was confused. Why would he want to speak to me? I mean, I was just a girl who nobody knew; the quiet type, I guess. I knew I had to make an attempt to speak. It was best to make a mumbling nuisance out of myself than to create an awkward silence.

"Hey!" I pretended I was confident, however confidence never seemed to work around new people.

The mystery boy took a seat opposite me as he reached out his hand. What a charmer, I thought to myself. As I gazed at him - his brunette combed back hair and his dark ocean blue eyes - I had recognised him from church. We had even smiled at each other a few times. Fate, perhaps?

"Sylvia, right?" He questioned.

I ponderously placed my hand upon his. It felt like magic; a blooming chemistry which I had never felt before. I had never looked at a boy and gazed at his beauty. There was one guy in California but it never felt special. As crazy as it may have seemed, when my eyes met this particular boy, my life seemed... better.

"Yeah." I answered, automatically admiring his looks as though it was second nature. I supposed I had looked rather dumb and odd just staring at him the way I did, but he didn't look startled.

"I'm Benny." He smiled.

Benny, I repeated in my mind; I couldn't help but relate the name to my brother. 

"Yeah, I've seen you at church." I awkwardly smiled back.

"Yep, that's me!" He chuckled.

That was a first, having a boy trying to make me laugh, even if he failed terribly. I couldn't help but giggle back like a stereotypical teenage girl. Mama always told me that if a boy makes the effort to hand a joke, then you must mean something special to him. Maybe they were just silly words, but they seemed real to me.

"I just wanted to say..." He paused for a second, burying his head in his hand. I prayed in my head for him to say the words I wanted to hear, "- there's a picnic this Saturday at the park, so loads of guys are going..." He hesitated, looking away awkwardly.

I could tell he was equally as nervous. It made it feel better, having someone who understood.

"Do you want to go with me?" He asked quickly, as though he thought I would have rejected his kind offer, "it's fine if you can't, I just - -"

"- No!" I eagerly interrupted, "- I'd love to go with you."

I was on a high, or so they say. My heart really felt a flutter - pathetic words, I know. Benny gave a gentle nod; his smile spread larger than it already had been. But what caused that smile to die down was when his eyes met with the swelling upon my face.

"What happened to your eye?" He suddenly asked.

There I was - just about to lie for the first time to a boy who liked me. In my mind at the time, I thought it would have been better than to have gotten him worried. I needed to think of a quick lie to give him, as I tried to avoid talking about irrelevant things.

"I...I walked into a door."

He laughed, and we both seemed to stare into each others eyes. He seemed perfect. I still hadn't figured out why he would have liked someone like me. There must have been a reason, and whatever that reason was, I was most certainly grateful.

Sadly, that feeling was soon to be extinguished. From the corner of my eye, I seemed to notice Stephanie observing me in the background. As soon as she noticed I had seen her, she turned away and quickly carried on placing books back on the shelf. With the nerves beginning to twist my gut into knots, I gradually rose up.

"I'm sorry, I better go."

I didn't want to go, but whatever the reason was for Stephanie's harsh stares, it was clear to see there was only one person she was angry at...me. As I grabbed my books, I headed towards her; my mind set on asking her about her odd looks.

"Stephanie?" I called.

She turned around to face me, though her face was nothing less than mean.

"Don't act like you don't know." She stiffly replied.

Confusion buzzed around my mind like an unwanted pesky bee. What was I supposed to know? Remaining silent, I looked at her - I was sure I had confusion written on my face.

Stephanie scrutinised me, "...people have been talkin', Sylvia - some worse rumours goin' around..."

"Rumour?" I repeated.

She screwed up her face, as though puzzled as to why I hadn't heard what had been said.

She inhaled deeply, "...sayin' you've been sleepin' with men for money..."

My heart began pounding away, and the anxious nerves rattled me around as though I was trapped in a box, and I was being shaken and thrown. It was as though the nerves and the worry had taken command of me. Who would say that about me? My mind tried to dissect the mystery, and yet I knew the mystery was the last thing I should have been thinking about.

I tried to harden the invisible shield around me, and looked Stephanie straight in the eye.

"I don't know who said that rumour...but, I swear I didn't -"

"- You're just gonna' have to tell my mama that then, aren't you?" She snapped, and she turned away from me - without even the slightest clue that I had no idea what she was talking about.

I couldn't understand - and yet as if it was second nature, I knew I would have to have stood up for whatever had been said I had done.

And yet the endless thoughts hadn't disappeared out of sight. Who would spread a lie about me? What had I done to them?

________________

There I was - face to face with the door.

3850.

I breathed deeply, understanding what should have been expected. I knew that they would have been sitting there, staring at me; eyes filled with rage. I had came to the steps, making my way up them - again, tripping and wobbling as I went. With one hand, I carefully pushed open the door. I knew straight away that there was no escaping it, and as soon as my foot etched into the room, an atmosphere unlike any other hit me in the face; the kind of feeling that made me wish I was invisible.The air was so brittle it could have snapped. No-one spoke, what was there to say? I slowly shuffled in; nothing but nerves beating through my body. To my exact thoughts, I saw Paula and the other 6 kids. Gertrude stood at the stairs, puffing away at a cigarette. It seemed all eyes were on me, like I was the lead in a freak show. That all too recognisable voice had soon spoken.

"Shut that door."

I turned, and as my hand closed the door, I had noticed each finger was shaking. Was I really that nervous? Gertrude's eyes were stuck to me; her piercing gaze seemed to look through me. I had noticed that there were more faces there that day - Randy, Ricky, Coy. Jenny was on the couch; not making eye contact, as tears continuously flooded from her eyes.

You don't realise that seeing a loved one cry feels like getting your heart ripped from your chest. It was simple; when they cry, you cry - when they laugh, you laugh and when they smile, you do.

"I take you in for your daddy, and this is the thanks I get." Gertie muttered, and she rolled her eyes with frustration.

I forced myself to breath, something to remind me I needed to stay calm. I could feel the fear in my chest waiting to take over. It sat there like an angry ball propelling me towards an anxiety I couldn't have dealt with. The air had been sweet outside, the weather was fine, there were birds in the sky and I felt so relaxed. But standing in that room made me numb; forgetful of the outside world.

My eyes sincerely looked at Gertie, and I was startled that she didn't see the truth behind this 'rumour'.

"I don't understand?" I pleaded; begging.

I felt so exhausted, and the 'punishing' game with Gertrude was becoming far too frequent. Heavy was the only way I could define it. I had to carry it around even though I never wanted to. It was always over me, casting its shadow on my life; Gertrude's shadow. It was hung by a thin thread, too fragile to hold something so heavy.

"So you braggin' to everyone about how much you get with them men is all lies?" She scoffed, shaking her head sarcastically as though mocking my attempts of dismissing the lie that had been spread.

I let out a slow controlled breath and attempted to loosen my body's movements. My eyes moved with the alertness that came from heavy stress, and my hands remained clenched by subconscious demand.

"I - I didn't say anythin'..." I repeated my pathetic words; the defensive mechanism you could say.

But all Gertie did was grin a wide smile.

"See, girls..." She called, and she turned to face her children as though parading me around, "- if you do that with a boy, who are you gonna' end up as?"

"Like Sylvia?" Shirley asked.

The answer from Shirley was with no hesitation at all, and it was then that I realised just who those children were going to believe. I could only have held my head in shame that I didn't even understand.

"That's a good girl." She praised her daughter; a praise you would give your daughter if she had helped do the dishes for you.

The melancholy tears began to track down my cheeks as though each tear was in a race. I didn't understand - what had I done again that was caused for punishment? It crushed my ribs, made it hard for me to breathe. I wanted to scream; a cry for help was of no use. No one else could have seen it - the weight that was crushing me slowly.

Gertrude took another satisfying inhale of the cigarette, though a cough soon followed. I kept my chin pressed against my chest, unwilling to look at the different faces glaring at me. In fact, that is all I can remember - an image of the floor, as it was all I had the courage to look at.

"Girls loosin' their virginity is just gettin' younger and younger these days and after all, look at you - pretty girl, a lot goin' for her." She said; the way her eyes trailed over me.

I refused to even look up. I didn't really know what to say back. Anything I did say just made her temper boil. Was there anything that I could do right with making her mad?

"Well of course not!" She threw her arms up as though announcing something. The children only watched; watching their mama ridicule me, "- I mean Sylvia's a lady, why sure she is."

Her eyes fixated on me as I felt myself cave in. I didn't want to be there - I just wanted to leave. I felt the obnoxious beat of my heart stop momentarily, before thumping yet again.

"- So what the hell do you think that makes me?" She hissed, and the room had seemed to become even more silent, if that was even possible, than it had been before, "what - you suppose I'm not a lady?"

Gertrude was forcing words into my mouth that I hadn't even said. Nothing was true.

"No, I just - -"

"- Yeah, you better say no to me." She warned, "- last thing I need is some kid runnin' round thinkin' she can do what she pleases, when she pleases -"

"I haven't been sleepin' round!" I finally raised my voice, just so she wouldn't have had the chance at interrupting me. The amount of times I had repeated those words made me surprised - I guess, surprised that I had the energy to even speak to her.

I was tired; irritated by each lie that was thrown at me. Couldn't Gertie see I was telling the truth? Then again, maybe she did. Maybe she just chose not to believe it.

"But girls like you, Sylvia, are always the weak ones..." Her voice turned eerily deeper, and she turned to her children, "...another lesson."

Her finger waggled at Paula, and with the command of her mama, she strode towards me; her height advantage was already intimidating enough. I cried silently through my tears; the streams blurred up my eyes until the only thing I could see was a distorted figure in front of me. I wished for Paula to stop walking closer; to stop and to think about what she was doing. But before I could have even gotten one chance at explaining myself, Paula had already hammered her leg between my legs. I felt a sharp kick of pain attack my abdomen, as my legs buckled and I fell to my knees. I let forth a cry, clutching my stomach as I wasn't so much crying about the pain, but about why it was being done to me. I hadn't done anything, and yet I must have - for there I was, lying on the floor gasping for air.

"Are you sorry now, Sylvia!" Gertie barked.

All I could have done, with the sour tears flooding into my mouth, was apologise.

"I...I'm sorry..."

But Paula's face was merciless and unforgiving.

"No," she muttered, "you ain't sorry."

And another kick delivered more pain, as my body automatically held itself in a ball to shield myself from the pain. The tears I had grown so used to feeling began trickling down my cheeks. The pain was only for a minute or so, however I couldn't understand why Gertie had inflicted it onto me.

A punishment for something I hadn't even done. What was happening? I didn't know - I just didn't.

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