My parents raised me to be independent, responsible and make good choices.
I didn’t always.
Two years before graduation, at the age of sixteen, my girlfriend, Debi, called to tell me she’d gotten a summer job cleaning cabins at a resort in Homewood, on the west side of Lake Tahoe.
“If you get a job there,” she said, “we can spend all summer together. Just don’t tell them you know me ‘cause they don’t hire friends.”
I found my mom in the backyard hanging sheets on the clothesline. The cats scampered over the woodpile as I slammed the backdoor.
“Please, Mom,” I begged. “This is a great opportunity for me to get some work experience. And Debi is going to be there so I won’t be alone. Please?”
She conferred with my dad and they agreed to let me go. “Promise you’ll behave and listen to the adults in charge,” Dad said.
“I will,” I promised, not quite believing myself. My tendency was to say anything I needed to say, to get my own way.
I applied and they hired me as office help. I packed my ‘56 Chevy station wagon, a present my parents gave me for my sixteenth birthday. Veda’s husband, Paul, a mechanic, had painted it blue and added pinstripes. I stuck on five yellow plastic-flower decals and, filled to the brim with youthful excitement, drove myself to Lake Tahoe, some seven hours away.
I’d lied to my parents, telling them the resort owners knew I was only sixteen. I’d lied on my job application, giving my age as eighteen. I justified the lying as something I needed to do to be independent and have fun.
The summer promised to be liberating—with no parents, and no supervision. I lived next to a beautiful, deep-blue lake, amongst tall majestic pine trees, with warm weather and hundreds of teenagers. Debi and I worked and roomed together at Chambers Lodge.
One Saturday evening, we drove forty minutes to the Crystal Bay Casino at Stateline, the line separating California and Nevada, to gamble using our false I.D.’s. There we met Skip, a tall, handsome young man and his equally tall roommate, Hank, both eighteen. They parked cars for the casino patrons.
“They’re cute,” we agreed, giggling, as we left my car with them and entered the smoke-filled casino. Hours later, after having lost our first paychecks on the nickel and quarter slot machines, we returned to the parking garage to find Skip and Hank punching their time cards.
“Hey, ladies,” Skip said, his blue eyes catching my attention. “Where you two goin’? We’re just getting off work. Want to stop by our place in Kings Beach for a beer?”
We talked, flirted, accepted their invitation to hang out and drove home that first night feeling like we’d won the casino jackpot. Debi and I returned to visit them almost every day after work and within a couple of weeks—a lifetime for a teenage girl—I fell in love with Skip.
Debi dated Hank, and the four of us spent all of our free time together. We drove around the lake and visited tourist spots like Reno and Virginia City. We shopped, cooked meals, and partied. We played house, acting like adults.
Besides parking cars, the guys sold pot on the side. Skip, always protective of me, didn’t let me smoke it. He said he loved me and my life felt new, exciting and complete. He showed his love as he held my hand walking on the beach, or held me close in the car as I nestled under his arm. He whispered his love as we listened to late-night radio music. I was smitten and for the first time in my young life, I felt special and wanted.
The magical summer ended and I returned home a different person, no longer willing to be just a child. Hour after hour, I laid on my bed writing poems of love to and about Skip, longing to see him. I stared at the tall oak trees outside my bedroom window, aimlessly counting the acorns clumped on the tree limbs. I felt sad, moody and depressed as I waited for his phone calls. His love defined me somehow. How could I go on without him? He drove from Lake Tahoe to Redwood Valley several times, and I made the drive to see him whenever I could sneak away. I even joined the Ukiah High Ski Club so Debi and I could go on their ski trip to Soda Springs, near the lake—anything to get close to Skip. We planned to be together the following summer and counted the weeks and months.
That didn’t happen. The police arrested Skip for selling pot and put him in jail. He wrote to let me know and I drove the ten hours to Los Angeles to visit him.
“I’ll always love you and be here for you,” I promised, hating the thick pane of glass between us. “I’ll wait for you no matter how long it takes.”
I held the black phone receiver in one hand while pressing my other hand against the window pane, reaching out, wanting to touch him—like a scene in a movie.
“What did you tell your parents to let you drive down here?” he asked.
“They don’t know,” I confessed. “I asked permission to spend the weekend at Debi’s house in Santa Rosa, and then drove all night to get here. Thankfully, they didn’t check with her parents. She’ll cover for me if they call.”
“Will you be back here tomorrow?”
“I can’t. I’ll drive to Deb’s house tonight. And, Skip, I don’t think I’ll be able to make it back down here again. It’s too risky. But I promise I’ll write. . . every day.”
I drove away wiping the tears from my face. How could they have him locked up? He’s not a criminal, he’s my love. I kept my promise, in part, and wrote to him almost every day.
A few months later, on a warm Friday afternoon, I heard Suzy the goose squawking with indignation. Within moments came the sound of someone cursing at Suzy, and then a loud knock on our front door. I rushed to open it, wondering who Suzy was attacking now. Two men stood before me, dressed in black suits and shiny black shoes, official and stern looking. Suzy waddled behind them, pecking at their heels.
“We’re here to see Linda Cassells,” the taller of the two said, without preamble.
“That’s me,” I replied as my mom walked up behind me.
“What’s this about?” Mom asked.
“We’re from the FBI. Lincoln Phillips escaped from jail. We want to know if your daughter knows of his whereabouts.”
“What?” Mom said.
“Escaped?” I said.
“Who’s Lincoln Phillips?” Mom turned to ask me. I wanted to hide.
“That’s Skip’s real name.” I tried to stay calm as I faced the men who stood at the door. “I don’t know anything about him escaping.”
“Why do you think she knows something?”
“She’s the only one who has gone to visit him at the jail, and we have a record of the letters she sent him.”
“What jail?” Mom stepped closer to me and I cringed. Busted. I sensed big trouble on the immediate horizon.
“Los Angeles County Jail,” the shorter man replied.
“Los Angeles? You’ve gone to Los Angeles? When? How?”
The FBI men left, after warning me about the penalty for hiding a fugitive.
“Linda, what’s going on? What’ve you done?”
“Nothing, Mom. I just went to visit Skip once. I’m sorry, but I had to. You don’t understand. . .he needed me.”
She took away my car keys, sent me to my room to think about my actions, and grounded me for a month.
You’d think I’d learned my lesson, or that my parents watched me more closely. I didn’t and they didn’t.
Instead, I created a façade. I continued to do my homework and get good grades. I smiled and nodded in agreement with those in authority—but, I had a secret life. I snuck out at night to meet friends and experimented with cigarettes and pot, enjoying the feeling of independence. Sometimes, I’d lie, saying I’d be at the movies and instead drive the hour and a half to Santa Rosa with girlfriends to cruise up and down 4th Street listening to “Wolf Man Jack” on the radio, while checking out cute boys driving by in souped-up cars.
One night, Karen and I lied to our parents about our whereabouts and camped out at Lake Mendocino with some hitchhiking hippies. We smoked pot and lay outside under a huge star-speckled sky, stoned out of our minds. I loved the adrenaline rush of independence, never fearing where my risk-taking might lead me.
There were consequences for my actions, like being grounded or losing phone and driving privileges, but they didn’t faze me. I mostly did what I wanted. I did what I had to do to get my own way.
However, a few years later, huge consequences would catch up to me and affect the rest of my life. And, sitting in a Mexican jail was just one of them.