Written by Jenni L. Walsh
Show of hands, who has seen the television show Timeless? If you haven’t, I’ll give you the gist. It’s a time-travel drama where the main characters go back in time to stop opposing characters from changing a moment in history that’ll impact the present day. It’s a lot of fun. One of the episodes (Timeless Episode 9: Last Ride of Bonnie & Clyde) features none other than Bonnie Parker, the protagonist in my novel, Becoming Bonnie, and it got me thinking: What if Bonnie never met Clyde Barrow?
It’s plausible, if one little moment in time never happened. As a boy, Clyde suffered from a sickness, either malaria or the yellow fever. As a result, his hearing was impaired. As a result, in the 1920s, when teenager Clyde tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy he received a medical rejection. As a result, as depicted in Becoming Bonnie, Clyde realizes that, in life, he’s going to have to take what he wants.
Now, before this medical rejection, Clyde had already been arrested. He was headed for a life of crime after a tough upbringing, one where his family lived under a wagon for a period of time. But considering Clyde had USN tattooed on his arm before he attempted to enlist, it’s likely he saw the U.S. Navy as an escape from his hardened life. So, what if Clyde Barrow never got sick as a boy?
Let me quickly tell a different story.
Nineteen-year-old Clyde Barrow shows up at the enlistment office. He’s nervous, his hands sliding in and out of his trouser pockets, but he’s there. He’s got all his paperwork. He’s passed his medical exam. A tattoo even peeks out of his sleeve, making him look every part of a naval officer, committed to defending his country. Then it happens, Clyde gets a pat on the back and a strong voice tells him, “Welcome to the United States Navy.”
This is it. Clyde is getting a fresh start, and he’s going to make the most of it. He likes using his hands, he’s had practice working on cars at his father’s service shop, and he takes a job building battleships and airship carriers. He eventually works on the ‘fast battleships,’ the ones that are used to run down and destroy enemy battlecruisers. Clyde always did have a thing for speed, and it’s satisfying work.
Then, when his country needs him, he takes part in the second World War. During his service, he meets a naval nurse by the name of Constance Miller. It’s love at first sight for Connie and Clyde. When the war is over, they can’t bear to be apart. Instead of returning to Dallas, Texas, Clyde settles in Connie’s hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and they start a family. Two boys and a girl. Their kids have kids. And many years down the road, at a ripe old age, Clyde passes in his sleep, Connie by his side. For a man living during his time, his life is ordinary. It’s a happy one, but nothing remarkable, nothing anyone would think to write a story about.
And it’s certainly not a life where Clyde spends twenty-two months on the run as a fugitive, with thirteen deaths to his name, and a girl named Bonnie at his side, whispering into his good ear.
But, in Becoming Bonnie, after Clyde gets sick, after he receives a medical rejection, after the name Clyde Barrow equates to nothing but criminal, after the stock market crashes, he meets Bonnelyn Parker—a wholesome young girl who was promised the American dream but is given the Great Depression—and the start of a twenty-two month crime spree is exactly where Bonnie and Clyde’s future is headed.
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