Hours earlier, my stepmother raced past us sobbing, whispering her apologies as she left us behind. “I can’t let him beat on me again.” Daddy, drunk on Jack Daniel’s and wearing only tighty- whities, chased after her, the door slamming behind him. Despite his inebriated state, he got into his car and drove to her best friend’s house, shouting threats, ordering her to return home where she belonged. She refused and the police were phoned. Hoping to evade arrest, he got back in his car and raced towards his apartment, only to find himself now in a stand-off with the police. Inside the apartment, Heather and I huddled together, desperately willing him to return.
Too terrified to call for help while we waited, it was hours before we phoned my mother. With my father in police custody for drunk driving and disorderly conduct, and unable to remember that he even had children, my mother was forced to make the four-hour drive to Austin to pick us up and ensure we didn’t wind up in the care of Child Protective Services. Despite my parent’s divorce, custody had been amicable— until that night. That was the last time my mother allowed my sister and me to visit our father unsupervised.
This wasn’t the childhood my mother envisioned for her children. Not even close. She knew about my father’s tormented past but hoped her love and his sense of duty to family would keep him on the straight and narrow. She was wrong.
Born in poverty in Austin, Texas in the 1940s, my father, Darrell Overton embraced the outlaw lifestyle. Led by his older brother Timmy, “The Overton Gang” were gunrunners, drug dealers and proud Texas outlaws. When my father shot and killed a man in a gun battle over a married woman, the courts ruled it self-defense. My father spent seven years in prison for manslaughter. After his release, he was determined to turn his life around, marrying my mother, Betty, and landing honest work in construction. Unable to have children of their own, they decided to adopt. Heather and I were six days old when Mom and Dad carried us home in matching red Christmas stockings. No amount of treatment programs or pleading would change my father. Despite my mother’s best efforts to keep our family together, his violent and unpredictable behavior made it impossible and they divorced.
The challenges of a raising two daughters alone were immense but my mother never wavered in her efforts to give us the best life possible, encouraging us in school and nurturing our passions. Heather and I had huge imaginations. We were a united force, enamored with movies and TV and the theater. Growing up in a small Texas town, our dreams seemed lofty at best, but at eighteen, with our mother’s support, Heather and I packed our bags and moved to New York City to study acting.
Our paths diverged several years later when I headed to Hollywood and found my calling as a TV writer. We may have been on opposite coasts but that didn’t lessen our bond. Heather and I consulted one another on everything from clothing choices to boyfriends to job opportunities. After several years, I finally convinced Heather to relocate to LA, where she landed a job working in TV development. It seemed as if all our dreams were coming true. Then in 2013, the show I wrote for was cancelled. I had spent years struggling to get this latest job and then, just like that, it was gone.
Frustrated and unemployed, I interviewed for numerous jobs but couldn’t seem to get that next break. I spiraled, sleeping all day and staying up late into the night, binging on nightly news and true crime stories. The Ariel Castro case broke in the summer of 2013 and I found myself obsessed with the three Cleveland women who had been abducted and held captive for ten years. I couldn’t imagine enduring something so awful. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered how I would cope if I lost my sister Heather—my twin, my best friend, my other half.
Inspired, I wrote feverishly, night and day, for two weeks. When I was done, I had completed ninety pages. I knew that this wasn’t a TV show or a movie but writing a novel seemed so daunting. Fortunately, Heather saw something special in what I had written. “Take a class. Keep writing. Tell this story,” she said. I took her advice, and in less than a year I had completed Baby Doll, my first novel.
For me, the heart and soul of my book was always the twin relationship. I wanted to give readers an inside look at the messy, complicated and unique bond I share with my sister. The struggles that the twin sisters endure in Baby Doll are obviously a much more heightened experience than what Heather and I went through in our lives. But the message is the same: together, with my twin by my side, anything is possible.