Everything. And nothing. Let me explain. Trigger warnings galore. I also cuss a lot.
Just finished Ted Bundy: Falling for a Killer on Amazon Prime, directed by Trish Wood. And I’ll be thinking about this series for a long time. Told from a female perspective, from the detectives who helped bring Bundy to justice, to the friends and family of the murdered women and girls, to the few victims who escaped, and finally, weaving it all together, the story of Bundy’s longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Kendall and her daughter Molly Kendall. Somehow spared (spoiler: somewhat) from the worst of Bundy’s violence, the mother and daughter lived for years as many trauma survivors do: drinking, getting sober, getting therapy, trying to understand this story and the myriad ways it affected their psyche and their relationships.
Let me be clear: I’m sick as fuck about hearing about Ted Bundy. His story has been told, and doesn’t interest me at all. But since I read Kendall’s book The Phantom Prince I’ve wanted to know more about these two women. As I’ve said until I felt hoarse, if you want to understand bad men, interview the women in their lives. I understand something of the horror of Elizabeth Kendall’s predicament; though I made different choices, I can’t judge hers. She was also a victim of a very skilled social predator, as was her daughter. He used them, just as he used everyone he came into contact with.
One moment of the series that keeps re-playing in my mind is this: Trish Wood asks Molly Kendall if she thinks Bundy loved her and her mother, and Molly, in the most punk af way, says, “I don’t give a fuck whether he loved us or not.”
YES girl. Why do we get so stuck on that question? I understand it deeply, personally. You want to know, was any of it real? Was it all a manipulation? Both answers create a different kind of pain. If the answer is yes, he loved them, he still had no trouble abusing them, lying to them, manipulating them, and murdering women and girls just like them right before dinnertime. If THAT is love (and thus, the whole premise of this website), I’ll bow out. So yeah, obviously, that’s not love. People who truly love you, respect you. They don’t act like that. There’s nothing loving about duplicity and violence. On the other hand, let’s say the answer is no, he didn’t. Then you were just used in the most Machiavellian way. You could have been anyone. Not even the good memories meant anything. That hurts, too.
In the end, the answer is unknowable. Do you want to live inside the mind of a psychopath? We can’t know for sure. We can only speculate. But in the final analysis, the harm this asshole caused so many families overrides any question of love. His brutal acts reverberate through time. Bundy’s own brother, Rich Bundy, in one of the saddest moments of the film, looks at a photo of himself camping with his older brother, his “hero,” and reflects that there’s no joy in that photo for him. That no matter how many photos there are of good times, that none of them equal even one of the lives that were taken. And to me, that crystallized this whole story. While photos of a seemingly happy American family indicate there were some good times and some tender moments, while cognitive dissonance remains for some who still knew him, none of these balance the ledger sheet of the harm Bundy caused (and still does).
We can talk about the complexity of human beings all we want, but in the end, our lives amount to our choices. They are the only things we really own, our legacy in this life. It’s not given to any of us to know how much time we have. Part of the reason I write here and focus so much on survivors is because I don’t want my life to be reduced to having been a victim. I want it to be about healing and teaching others how to heal, and if I can, to prevent other women and girls from going down this terrible road that we would all undo if we could. You’ll never really know if your abuser felt actual love for you, but I can tell you this for sure: He/they did not act lovingly toward you, in the way that you deserve. And if you get stuck in this rabbit hole, did he love me, did he love me not, healing has a way of eluding you.
Put it down. Move forward. Watch the documentary. These women are all kinds of inspiring.