October 13, 1956 – August 29, 2014
I found out today that R.S. Linville died on August 29th of this year. I was sent a link to his guest book, which has three signatures. The first, five days after his death, is from the funeral home offering their deepest condolences during this difficult time. The second, from a woman in Idaho named Dawn who considered R.S. “an amazing man!!!,” was added six days after his death. The third signature, added two months after his death, is from his nephew, who said he’d miss his uncle. There is no obituary, nor cause of death listed, but it is my greatest wish that he died alone, in pain, and after a long period of suffering.
R.S. is the man listed as my biological father on my birth certificate, though it turns out that during one of the many times my mother left him after he’d nearly beaten her to death in a drunken tirade, she had an affair with his younger, red headed brother, Gary (a very nice man, I’m told), and thus I was conceived. However, R.S. was the first person I ever associated with the word dad, a word that, when coupled the pronoun “my,” tastes like the electric end of a 9 volt battery.
R.S. beat all his wives, and he had many – sometimes more than one at a time, though he wasn’t always upfront about that. He raped women. He stole. He drank. He snorted coke. He had a laugh that consumed a room, and a holler and hammering fists that leveled one. When I was three years old, he made me try to bite through the cob of an ear of corn because I couldn’t get all the kernels off. He finally allowed me to go to bed after my gums started bleeding and it was clear the task was impossible.
The summer when I was twelve and my sister was thirteen, we moved to Las Vegas to escape a whole different world of violence and poverty of wealth and spirit in southern New Mexico. R.S. lived in Vegas with his second wife and two small children. He owned a refrigeration supply company and sometimes I helped him file invoices in his office. I loved the smell of carbon paper and the responsibility of a real job.
I wanted to be an actress more than anything else in the world when I was twelve – to escape into another world as another character, any other one. I was passionate about it. At a talent show a couple months after I moved to Vegas, I performed a lip-sync version of Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All” while clutching roses that R.S. had brought me to my chest. I belted out I believe the children are the future; treat them well and let them lead the way with all my heart, focusing intently on the power fist and the chin wobble that Houston displayed in her video.
No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity! Power fist. Dramatic flourish. I think I did a great job.
R.S. thought I did a great job, too. Or, at least, that’s what he said a couple weeks later when he arrived home from work early one day. He told my sister he had some work he needed me to do, and needed her to take the two younger kids to the park. It was 120 degrees outside and he was putrid with sweat. Moisture pooled at the pits of his work shirt and his forehead glistened. My sister and I were both a little confused, because how was I going to file from home? But still, she said okay, gathered up the little kids, and headed out. R.S. sat me down on the couch.
“You know, you did a really great job at that talent show the other day,” he said. “I think you’re a really great actress.”
“Thanks!” I said. I loved the attention, but I also couldn’t wait to get to work on whatever filing he had for me.
“That’s actually what I need your help with today,” he said. I didn’t understand but remained upbeat.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, you see honey,” he said, putting his hand on my leg and smiling. “Unfortunately, I’m not making enough money at my company, and I’m going under if I don’t find some way to get more money. I know this man who buys really high quality child pornography. I think you and I could make a great video and I could sell it for a lot of money and I could save my business.”
He kept smiling and I felt a dense fog overtake my brain. I thought I understood what pornography was; after all, hadn’t I secretly been watching the Playboy channel through all the snow when I could get the TV to pick it up for a few minutes here and there? But I still didn’t comprehend what I was supposed to do.
R.S. went on to explain that it would all be role playing – acting! Just like I did on stage! He explained that we wouldn’t actually have sex, because that would be wrong. He loved me, didn’t he? He would never hurt me. I remembered the corncob when I was three, the times my mom had been sent to the hospital with broken bones, and the fear I’d felt being alone with R.S. without her body to shield me. I thought about the wad of my stepmother’s hair she kept behind the hutch and added to every time R.S. pulled more out when he was beating her. I thought about everything, all at once, and my stomach churned.
“Listen, I’m not asking you to do this for free,” R.S. told me. “Obviously, this is work and I will share the money with you. I’ll give you $500, but you have to find a way not to tell anyone you have the money. We can’t let anyone know about this. People wouldn’t understand, and I just want to save my business. For my family.”
I hesitated, mumbling words of dissent, shifting uncomfortably on my cushion.
“Glory bee,” he cooed, smile softening. “I know how much you love the water park. Don’t realize that with $500, you could be there every day this summer?”
And I did love the water park. In that moment, I was able to envision its cool blue waters and miles of tubes that swooped me away and dumped me into pools. I wanted to be there worse than anything. Finally, I agreed.
R.S. escorted me into his bedroom and showed me a selection of his wife’s lingerie that he’d already laid out on the bed: a black slip, high heels that didn’t fit, a black lace camisole. He instructed me to put it all on, and to “put on a bunch of makeup, really heavy.” He had this laid out, too. While I did as he asked, he blocked the scene in my bedroom and turned on the video camera.
The whole act was over fairly quickly – maybe only ten minutes of footage, all one take. R.S. told me to go get cleaned up before my sister got home, and as I walked through the living room toward the shower, he sat on the couch watching the video we’d just made. I felt sick.
I couldn’t eat. I lost weight. I cogitated, anxious and quick to tears. I knew I’d done something bad. I knew I regretted it. Finally, one day a week or so later, I told my stepmom what had happened. She kicked R.S. out of the house and took me to the police station to file a police report. It was in that cold, sterile, brightly lit room while sitting on a plastic chair in front of two grown men with pencils and paper that I learned the words “flaccid” (yes, R.S.’s penis had been flaccid) and “penetration” (no, there had been no penetration) and “molestation.” I explained in detail how I was instructed to moan and that I felt him moving and grunting behind me, but that had been it. Then the interview was over and I was terrified. I was sure I was about to be in trouble. I cried a lot for the next couple of days.
But I wasn’t in trouble. R.S. had a heart to heart with his wife and he explained to her that, you see, the fact that there was no penetration and that his penis was flaccid – just like Gloria said! – proved he was incapable of molestation. He told her that no, his business was definitely not going to fail and that he made up the story about the man who buys child pornography simply so that he could see if he was capable of doing something so horrible – which he clearly wasn’t, and that should be celebrated. This didn’t get R.S. back in the house, he never moved back in, in fact. But it did, somehow, magically make the pending investigation by the police end. “We can’t bring shame and public attention on our family,” R.S. and his wife explained to me. And no, there was not going to be $500 coming to me.
I spent a brutal year in Las Vegas living with my stepmom, my sister, and my step brother and sister. R.S. visited less and less frequently. Eventually, after 7th grade ended, I left Las Vegas forever and returned to my life with my mom and my stepdad. I never talked to R.S. again (though he did try to contact me once or twice.) I hear tale that he went on tormenting other vulnerables for many years afterwards.
And now he’s dead.
I would like to purchase a $500 tombstone for his grave: a marble compostable toilet with a hole that goes all the way down into his corpsey mouth. Let the worms eat through all of it and let something new and beautiful grow. I’d like to put an epitaph on it that reads, “Here lies R.S. Linville. What a shitty man.”
But instead, I’ll take that $500 and I’ll donate it to help other victims of rape and incest, in memory of a 12 year old girl who spent too many years of her life believing that she sold her body for money, that she could save the souls of men with her vagina, and that sex was a performance.
Goodbye, R.S. Linville. I hope beautiful things grow from your rot.
Photo credit: “Dead Tree” by 55Laney69 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.