Sarah Smarsh | Longreads | July 2016 | 20 minutes (4,886 words)
Betty was in the bathroom dyeing her platinum hair black while the kids played with her teenage sister down the hall. Betty had recently left Bob. He’d beaten her, which was officially a crime, but there wasn’t any use in calling the cops. A hometown boy and typesetter for the Limon Leader, Bob knew everybody in their small Colorado burg on the plains, from the police station to the butcher. Betty, my future grandma, was a 23-year-old outsider from Wichita—a social challenge likely not helped by her unapologetic wearing of miniskirts in 1968.
Two years prior, Betty had blown into Limon, 90 miles west of the Kansas border, with her four-year-old daughter, Jeannie, and a pair of go-go boots. Her mom, Dorothy, and little sisters, Polly and Pud (as in “puddin’”) were along, too. Betty and Dorothy both had just washed their hands of Kansas men. Back in Wichita, Dorothy’s third husband, Joe, had strangled her. Betty’s jealous first husband, my biological grandfather, routinely beat her up and, Betty suspected, had paid someone to throw gasoline on her male friend’s face and set it on fire. So Betty and Dorothy piled the kids in a jalopy and headed west, destination unknown, to start over.
“Why Limon?” I asked her once.
“It was where our car broke down,” Betty said with a shrug.
Betty and Dorothy took jobs working in diners along the highway that cut through town. Betty waited tables, her mom cooked specials. Before too long, Betty hooked up with a customer named Bob. Then she got pregnant. She drove past the chapel the first time and left him at the aisle, but on the second try they got married. She gave birth to a son, Bo. Then Bob hit her and snapped his belt at Jeannie one too many times. After just a couple years of marriage, she moved out and filed for divorce.
Now Betty had a 6-year-old daughter with a dangerous Kansas man, a 2-year-old son with a dangerous Colorado man, and a divorce decree pending at the courthouse. Custody of their child, Bob had assured her, would go to him. He’d make sure the judge knew what kind of woman she was.
She had the dye worked into her hair when the phone rang. A voice warned that Bob was on his way over, and he was mad. There wasn’t time for Betty to rinse her hair. She wrapped a towel around her head. Dark dye dripped down her neck as she and Pud put the kids in the car. They rolled through town until the road turned into a highway.
Then, sirens and flashing red lights. Read more…