A Pretty Picture

Tabitha was two years older. Not that a two year age difference means much, but back then it was kind of a big deal to have a best friend that was thirteen. It made Chelsea feel good. Cool.

Truth be told, hardly anyone could tell their age difference. They were two peas in a pod. Intertwined. More than friends, closer than sisters, they had known each other since Chelsea was two. Their houses were on the same street, just a short walk away. Their moms and dads were friends.

And though they were growing up, their interests and bodies changing, the transition was reassuringly gentle. Yes, they were watching horror movies now, but Scooby Doo was still their favorite.

Sometimes, like when they were in the grocery store line or at the beauty shop, they might hear their moms talking with other moms. The other mothers would say stuff about their daughters like “she’s eleven going on eighteen” or “mine’s thirteen going on twenty-two.”

Not their moms. Their moms just laughed.

Tabatha and Chelsea still liked to play hide and seek, though they were beginning test the boundaries of their world a bit. It was only natural; they knew all the hiding places their yards accommodated–the shed, behind the shrubbery, beneath the the hull of a battered boat. Sometimes they took their outdoor games inside. Neither mom minded. Everybody knew they didn’t live in the best neighborhood. They felt better when they could lay eyes on the girls, fast.

One blonde. One brunette. Both with freckles. Tomboys.

The house is small–two bedrooms, one bath–covered in white clapboard with low ceilings and a front porch only a few steps from the most narrow block of Lillian Street.

Just the right size for Tabitha and her parents, Bo and Debra. Cozy.

Tabitha especially loved her lavender painted room with gleaming white trim. It was a haven where she diligently kept up with homework, listened to music and doodled the names of boys she thought were cute. But it was also a fortress of girly trinkets and stuffed animals–some old, some new—a sacred few baring scars from the rough but loving hands of the child she’d been.

Bo and Debra Tuders worked hard to provide for their family. Debra rose early to make it to her job at Tom Joyner Elementary on time. She worked in the cafeteria. Bo got up a little later, but not much. He was a short haul truck driver. He could have made more money driving cross country but that would mean not being home most nights.

Tabitha was the youngest of three children and her parents doted on her. She was an easy child to deal with even though, there toward the last, she was a little put out with the situation at the little house. Her big sister Jamie and her two children had moved in. Naturally they slept in her bedroom. They got into her stuff too.

And, naturally, she had to babysit.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love them. She did. No question. It was just that they were cramping her newly emerging style and invading her time and privacy.

Sometimes, after the little house had settled and everyone was sleeping, Tabitha would gather blankets and pillows and creep into her parents bedroom. There she would make a pallet at the foot of their bed and sleep.

Life wasn’t perfect. It never is. But, according to her family and friends, for Tabitha it was good.

The Neighborhood

Lockland Springs has traditionally been a working class enclave of Nashville’s east side,  the eclectic epicenter of artists, laborers, LGBT activists, churches, sprawling Victorian homes and humble GI bill cottages.

Nowadays, gentrification has pocked Lockland Springs; a host of its cottages have been razed and replaced by modern module condominiums and single family homes–many of them luxurious. But some of the cottages have been lovingly restored or–in today’s parlance–flipped. Depending on size and condition, many of these humble abodes are fetching between 400,000.00 to 600,000.00.

Some, more than that.

In 2003 the little cottage at 1312 Lillian would have sold for around 70,000.00. Bo and Debra Tuders still live there. They have chosen to stay put and not cash in on Nashville’s housing boon. It is their home, after all. But most importantly, it is the only home Tabitha has ever known. They want to be there if and when she returns, though they never say “if”. For Bo and Debra it is always when.

It’s a straight one mile jot from the door of the Tuders home to the the door of a similar cottage on Granada Avenue. Just take a right from the driveway, then an immediate left on 14th and follow it north to the intersection of Granada and turn left again. The house is right there, one house from the corner. In the spring of 2003 that’s where Leslie Paul Duke lived with his mother.

Sonny, as he was known, was at one time a friend of Bo Tuders brother. Both Bo and Debra knew him. To them he was just one of many east Nashville hell raisers. Of course they had no idea how Sonny was, or what he did, behind closed doors. If they had known, surely they would have been shocked and appalled.

Surely they would have called the cops.