I’m pretty sure I spent thousands of dollars in therapy to get over this. No, it wasn’t just this, but being a suspect – despite how ludicrous it seems now – was really awful. Therapy can be a real pain in the butt as you go through crap from the past that frankly, you want to leave in the past. But I knew if I wanted to be a good parent one day, I had to get my shit together. I always felt so much shame that folks thought I could do something so heinous. It wasn’t until my therapist re-framed it, that I finally got it. “Jen,” she said, “What if you thought about it like this? Could it be your dad treated you so badly it would have made some kind of sense?” Whoa. Me a victim? Not my jam. But taking it in and thinking about it really did make a difference.
Deep down inside I was crushed that someone – anyone – would think I was capable of murder. My god. Two people were dead. It was a messy, complex crime scene. It was an act of brutality. At this point, they hadn’t even told us Charlene was raped. I was convinced they thought I was a horrible person who was capable of this kind of thing. It was so inconsistent with who I was that my friends and I started making jokes about it. Now, as an adult, I get the value of dark humor. I understand irony and how being absolutely twisted is a reasonable way to deal with the unreasonable. As that eighteen-year old, it was the only way I could cope.
For a short while, after the murder, I wore a log necklace. It was a little tiny stick that I attached like a charm to a chain. I know. What the hell? My best friend, Kristin, thought it was hilarious. Or at least let me think she did. I wore it around town and to school. I was no longer a student at Buena High School. I had graduated mid-year because I was so over being in high school. I enrolled at Ventura Community College and was attending classes when the murder happened. I don’t think I ever went back. Somewhere I have a report card from that semester. I can’t remember if I finished those classes. Chances are the teachers knew who I was and just gave me a pass.
My sanctuary was Buena high school.
I had been class president for two years, which meant I was in leadership. This was quite possibly one of the best things that ever happened to me. Our advisor, Bob Cousar, was extraordinary. He believed in young people and he taught us how to govern. We had regular cabinet meetings using Robert’s Rules of Order and we made important decisions about what happened at the school. It was amazing. As a member of leadership, I practically lived at the school. I was always working on projects or events and they let us have run of the place. Needless to say, most of the teachers knew who I was. For sure the administrators did. The Dean of Girls, Lois Shaffer, hated me. I’m not sure why exactly, but I bet it’s because I knew she was a fake. She didn’t care about the students the way the other teachers and staff did. She was a bitter, unhappy person.
Mr. Cousar let me come back to Buena – even though I had graduated – and just hang out that spring. It was incredibly kind and probably saved me from getting in a bunch of trouble or being depressed. I found things to do and was able to spend time with my friends. I also wore my log necklace to campus and it caught the attention of one adult. Lois Shaffer. Apparently when she saw what I had on, and yes, you can now say “Jen, you’re such a dumb shit” with me, when she saw the log necklace she called the investigators. They showed up at campus and asked to see me. I met with them in the Student Center and showed them the necklace. They took it. It was put into evidence. That stupid log necklace is sitting in a box somewhere in the bowels of the evidence room thanks to Lois Shaffer. Lois also blocked me from being Girl of the Quarter and Buena Hall of Fame. It was an honor I had earned and to this damn day I’m still bitter I didn’t get those awards because of that hateful woman.
And then we were done.
When the polygraph test was over, and I passed with flying colors, I was relieved. Intellectually I knew taking the test was a bad thing. I had read stories of people who’d been convicted on bogus lie detector information. There’s one article in the Ventura Star Free Press where I was asked about being a suspect. Of course, I can’t find the darn article but in there, I’m quoted as saying the whole thing was “So Dragnet.” As you might imagine, with some locals, I still haven’t lived that down.