Here at 25YL, we love The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer. Jennifer Lynch gave us a masterful glimpse into Laura’s inner life that enriches any viewing of the series and the prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Over the next few weeks, we will be doing a deep dive into the Secret Diary as part of our month-long celebration of all things Twin Peaks. This week, join Laura Stewart as she looks Laura Palmer’s life growing up in an abusive home, the psychological trauma it caused and how she herself may have created BOB.
Approximately 20 percent of girls (1 in 5) and 8 percent of boys (1 in 12.5) will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday (Pereda et al, 2009).
95 percent of sexually abused children will be abused by someone they know and trust (NAPCAN 2009).
There’s a good reason why so many people fell in love with Twin Peaks. What, on paper, appeared to be at first just another ‘pretty dead girl’ trope became so much more than that to thousands of fans. Yes, of course, all the weirdness of the Black Lodge, strange people talking backwards and all that jazz certainly gave it that something extra; but it wasn’t that which really reeled us in. Laura was, and still is, The One.
Through three seasons of the TV show, the film Fire Walk With Me, and the novel, The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, we really got to know the pretty girl that was murdered and in doing so it blew the doors wide open on homes across the world, where Laura’s story was playing out for real, day after day, time and time again.
Just looking at the statistics above paints an awful picture. But it’s still something we don’t largely talk about in society. If we haven’t experienced it personally, the chances are we know someone who has—even if they’ve never told you. What the Secret Diary did, however, was give some people the power to speak up about what happened to them. Laura wasn’t a shameful character—even if she felt that way about herself—we could see that she was a hero and for once we could look in the mirror and see a hero, and a survivor looking back, not the face of our demon.
I first read the Secret Diary at the age of 13. I was given the book as a Christmas present by my parents. They had no idea of the content and probably wouldn’t have let me read it if they had. They probably thought it was going to be all about crushes on Bobby Briggs (whom I was so in love with back then) or something akin to a Judy Blume novel. The book was first published between Seasons 1 and 2, prior to Fire Walk With Me, so this really was the first account of what Laura Palmer was like when she was alive. The book does not reveal her father to be her killer—those pages are ripped out of course—so viewers were still left speculating until mid-Season 2. Surely those who read it then must have been pretty sure? If this survey is anything to go by, apparently not.
Jennifer Lynch’s telling of Laura’s story in the years leading up to her death (or her running away from home as it could now be seen as now post Season 3/The Final Dossier) is about as hard-hitting and honest an account of familial sexual abuse and the trauma it causes to a child, that you can get. At the first reading, I didn’t understand most of what was happening in the book. It was later on in my early 20’s that it really made the difference.
I lost my best friend to suicide a few years ago. She’d lived a life strikingly similar to Laura Palmer, and I suppose I was her Donna, at least at the tender age of 12. That all changed by 14, but I won’t go into all that again here, as “Being Donna” tells that story. The Secret Diary helped me understand more than anything just what my friend was going through; why she behaved the way she did, and sadly how I just I knew she would die young—she needed to be rid of her demons. We all have our demons, we all have our own ‘BOB’ on board, our Shadow Selves, and we all battle them constantly—some we beat, others are just too powerful for us.
Laura Palmer’s diary begins on her 12th birthday, yet even by this age, she had already been having visits from ‘BOB’ and for goodness knows how long. It is my belief that Laura created BOB—at least her BOB—because the truth of what was really happening to her was too much for a child to bear.
Creating The Monster
The bond between parents and their children is considered sacred. Any doting parent would tell you that they’d give their own life to protect their child, which is why its so hard to understand how anyone could repeatedly do harm to their own flesh and blood, or how any parent could stand by and allow this to happen to their child. It is easier to rationalise this type of behaviour as a demon taking over—something otherworldly, inhuman—for most of us cannot even comprehend carrying out such atrocity and its a tough thing to admit that us humans are the worst monsters of all.
Laura’s demon was spawned the moment her father began taking her into the woods at night, making her do things no little girl should. A seed was sown in Laura’s psyche then, borne inside of her mind. Tiny at first, like a niggling bug which lay dormant most of the time, but she could hear it scurrying, always there in the back of her mind. Never letting her forget; only allowing her to dread the noise getting louder.
She gave it the name BOB as a means to separate the truth from reality. BOB is a metaphor, the face of evil, and has the potential to take over any one of us, but BOB does not really exist anywhere other than in your mind. You are BOB and BOB is you—the evil that men do. Every act of evil carried out against another person has the potential to create a black seed. It’s an endless cycle, perhaps one that can only be finished by ending the life of the host, something Laura figured out in the moments before her death. But the question is: did her demons die with her?
Laura was just like so many other girls (and boys) who are sexually abused by people they know and trust, people they love. She displayed all the typical signs right from the beginning, but no-one could have imagined what was really happening to her and more upsettingly—no-one even noticed. All babies are born innocent. Laura was a product of the trauma inflicted upon her.
Sex & Drugs
At just 12 Laura was already wanting to dress provocatively, more like her older cousin Maddy. Like most girls her age, she longed for a boyfriend, but not like the sweet and innocent Donna, who dreamed of being taken out on a picnic and going as far as kissing with tongues. Laura knew that the way Donna felt was typical for a girl her age, and this was devastating for it made her feel like there was something wrong with her—that she really was dirty like BOB told her she was. Laura’s thoughts and fantasies became darker and darker as she grew older, as she started to believe she was rotten inside.
Rough sex and rape fantasies are common among people who have been abused. Far from this meaning that they enjoy the abuse, it is actually a way of compartmentalising the trauma done unto them. You are in control of your fantasies, no-one else. Even if you aren’t the one in control within them, if it goes too far you can stop it. Plus your fantasy partner(s) are of your choosing. Playing out these scenarios in your mind gives you control. Laura’s mind had been invaded though, she couldn’t keep any secrets safe in there as BOB was lurking, knowing every thought the second it went through her mind. For most people, the mind is where this kind of fantasy remains. Laura, however, couldn’t leave it there, she needed to experience and take control for real. A brave act of defiance against her tormentors, both the one in her head and the one in the real world, the man who wanted to keep her all for himself.
What Laura didn’t realise is that she wasn’t battling the man who was abusing her. Her father had no clue of her extracurricular activities, at least not most of them. All she was doing was unintentionally feeding the dark side of her mind, the further she went, the more risk she took, and the more she hated herself for it, the bigger BOB grew.
Her first chosen sexual experience happened when she was with Donna. The pair had met some young men and joined them, getting drunk and high in the woods by the lake. Donna paired up with one guy who treated her kindly; Laura took the other two on at once. Unafraid of them seeing her naked, unafraid to touch them both—strangers, totally in awe of her, giving her the power that had been stolen from her so many times before. Laura was like Venus herself in this moment:
“I had the sexiest thought that he was nursing on me. Like inside me was all of the warmth and nourishment he would ever need…this older boy, needing me. I felt strong and almost like I was making a fantasy for them.”
“I went into a dream for I don’t know how long while this was happening, and it was like nothing bad ever happened to me ever. Everything disappeared and suddently I didn’t care if I never saw Donna, Mom, Dad, anyone…ever again. This warm feeling of being needed, wanted and special, like I was a treasure…was all I wanted to feel, forever. I had no age, and there was no time or schoolwork, or troubles or chores or anything to cloud my mind or bring me back to little Laura. I was ageless, and I was everything these boys wanted. I was something from their dreams!” — Laura Palmer, October 20th 1985
This was a wonderful awakening for Laura. Being adored and desired—holding an immense power, rather than being belittled and abused was a new way of experiencing sex, but disturbingly even during her first encounter she associates giving and receiving sexual pleasure with that of mothering these men. While Laura and Donna experienced these moments together, their friendship began slowly unravelling afterwards. Laura felt ashamed of her behaviour, and Donna wished she was as naturally good with men as Laura was, not knowing the reason why she was so experienced already. This is why Laura would get so upset with Donna if she wore her clothes or tried to be like her; Donna wasn’t like her, for good reason, and she definitely didn’t want her to suffer in the same way. The demon was beginning to affect Laura’s relationships in the real world, making her push away the best things in her life. Just what he wanted: for her to be all alone, and with no pure good around her, allowing the dark thoughts to penetrate deeper.
Holding power over those that desired her became an addiction. Laura began turning to people that could add more spice to her life, starting with bad boy Bobby. I always found it interesting that she would choose the boy with the same name as her demon. Which came first? Bobby or BOB? She’d known Bobby from a young age and he’d always been attracted to her—she already knew she could manipulate him from the beginning of their relationship. Dating a boy her age should have been positive, but she intentionally chose Bobby who would allow her to experience more of the dark side she craved. The boy who would introduce her to hard drugs and unintentionally to a world of sex hidden from sight, the sordid underbelly of Twin Peaks, deep in the woods at night. A place that had been Laura’s hell for years, became a playground for her dark side.
Disappearing at night through her window and running off into the woods became a choice; she did unto herself what her father had been enforcing on her for years. She felt like she deserved to be treated this way and allowed herself to become a source for others’ sexual pleasure, inviting faceless strangers to take her and do what they wanted with her body, as this is all she’d ever known.
Laura began a sexual relationship with Leo, Jacques, and Ronette Pulaski, and while this was definitely dark and dangerous, they had an agreement and it only went as far as they wanted. It was a way for Laura to play out her fantasies, be someone completely different. Fleshworld allowed her to release her fantasies to the world anonymously, and through this even began to realise that playing these roles didn’t make her a bad person.
“I like being taken by someone, but I like being teased and given dreams and ideas. I don’t like fears or lies and yelling. Darkness in sex is okay, as long as it is strange, mysterious darkness, and not the darkness of hell or nightmares or dying”. — Laura Palmer, Dec 21st 1987
All the while, cigarettes turned into weed, and weed into cocaine—a drug that could have been designed just for her. It would keep her awake at night, give her confidence to partake in risky behaviour both sexually and amongst criminal elements with which she should have been out of her depth in any other circumstances given her age. Laura became so far removed from reality as her cocaine addiction took hold that she barely even flinched when Bobby had to shoot a guy in a drug deal gone wrong. Barely recognisable from the sweet and innocent prom photos—two Laura’s existed now.
BOB’s voice only appeared on the pages of Laura’s diary when she started using cocaine. Before that the demon stayed locked away, but now it was spilling out onto the pages—the good and the bad Laura fighting for power. No-one but Laura was writing those words, grappling with herself. She did her very best to stay on the page, but the good Laura was losing her grip. Cocaine was a form of self-medication, a way to numb the pain.
Dreams & Nightmares – The Black & White Lodges of your Subconscious
From the very beginning, Laura documented the strange dreams she was having. The dreams reveal more about what was happening to Laura than anything else and are often tied to her mother, Sarah, and cousin Maddy.
In what she believed was a dream, she was visited by BOB, who sang “Waltzing Matilda” to her, but in her mother’s voice.
“And then the man looked at me and smiled this awful smile, and in Mom’s voice he sang, “You’ll come a’waltzing Matilda with me…” And I tried to talk but I couldn’t, and I tried to move but I couldn’t do that either, and he said, “Laura, you are home“. — Laura Palmer, July 23rd 1984
Did Sarah know what had happened to her and Laura heard her singing to soothe her during or after it had happened? Laura’s relationship with Sarah was always tough. Subconsciously Laura was aware that her mother knew what was happening. They shared dreams, were able to have conversations without speaking—they had an understanding. It is very likely that Sarah Palmer experienced some kind of abuse when she was a child. In Part 8 of Twin Peaks The Return, a niggling bug, just like the one that had settled in Laura around the same age, crawled through Sarah’s window and took her on as a host. Sarah, like everyone, had a demon on board. Read more on my thoughts about Sarah here.
Imagine how Laura must have felt knowing pretty surely that her mother knew about her abuse and did nothing to stop it. Sarah turning a blind eye increased the helplessness, hopelessness, isolation and self-blame that made up the most damaging aspects of her abuse. Victims looking back at their childhood trauma are usually more embittered toward those who rejected their pleas for help than toward the one who initiated the sexual acts. When no adult intervenes to acknowledge the reality of the abusive experience or to take action on the offending adult, the child’s tendency to deal with the trauma as an intrapsychic event and to incorporate a monstrous apparition of guilt, self-blame, pain and rage. These components are what created BOB.
Laura barely mentions her father in the diary, other than some fleeting comments about her being, “Daddy’s little girl” and her feelings of betrayal that he’d led her to believe he’d bought her horse Troy, when really it was Benjamin Horne. Leland’s absence is telling—like she’d wanted to rid herself of BOB but couldn’t, it was easier to remove her father from the picture, replacing him with a vision of an owl in some of her dreams.
Screen memories of owls are commonly reported by people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens. Oversized owls that steal hours of your life away while they carry out experiments on your body. All memory of what happened is repressed, buried deep in the subconscious. Laura’s experiences were not dissimilar. She was abducted by a man alien to her, a man who did what he wanted with her, then tossed her aside.
“I am either dreaming him to life, and slowly killing myself, or he has told my parents of his visits and has offered, in return for their own safety, that these visits will continue without the possibility of interruption. They would simply go unnoticed. Junk mail, somewhere in the house. I imagine that they would have to hear me as I an led out. Is it possible they do not care?” — Laura Palmer, September 10th, 1986
Laura vs Laura
Laura tried so very hard to be good but so many of the choices she made turned sour.
Johnny Horne, in all his innocence and silence, was the strongest force for good in Laura’s life. He never judged her once. He became like a living diary for her but one that could totally keep her secrets, one that couldn’t have the truth ripped out of him like the paper version. He listened, and although she may not have known it, he understood way more than he let on. The only words we have ever known him to speak were “I love you, Laura”. The whole truth and nothing but the truth, he kept her pure core glowing bright whenever she was around him. It was the highest compliment she could ever receive for Johnny didn’t want anything but friendship from Laura. For once someone loved her for who she was and not what he could get out of her. Most of the good things in her life she tried to push away but not Johnny. He was a constant.
Laura even pushed away her beloved horse Troy because she felt he was better off without her. He wasn’t of course; Troy would end being put out of his misery by a bullet to the head after being found with a broken leg, 3 shoes missing, and severely malnourished. Laura’s self-hatred killed Troy.
Laura’s good intentions to give Josie Packard English lessons resulted in the pair becoming lovers, although Laura had so little respect for her “poorly executed seductions”. Josie certainly had her own trauma, and her own ‘BOB’ to deal with. It was perhaps inevitable that they would find the darkness in each other—they were very similar people, both trying so hard to be good. Without reading Josie’s story it seems we have a lot less pity for her. We didn’t like the way Josie manipulated our dear Pete and Harry, but Laura’s behaviour towards good people was just as bad.
“It makes me sick how every time I do something good I always end up—pardon the pun—getting fucked”. — Laura Palmer, June 4th, 1989
Take Harold Smith. Laura had the idea of Meals on Wheels to help those who found it difficult to leave their homes after seeing an elderly lady struggling at The Diner. A wonderful idea, but not born solely out of kindness. She needed the money for cocaine, and she wanted to spy on Leo’s wife, Shelly, whom she was admittedly jealous of. Laura happily encouraged/ignored Shelly and Bobby’s affair so that she could win the attention of her ‘fantasy man’ Leo. Harold became someone similar to Johnny—someone she could confide in—but she knew he was frightened of her and that made her feel powerful.
“I love Harold’s tenderness and most often feel wonderful when I am with him and when I think about him. But sometimes I hate myself more than you can imagine for the aroused feelings I get when I see Harold’s frightened face, which must be the same thing BOB sees when he looks at me. The prey, cornered…so degraded…made a toy. I am noticing more and more, and I think BOB is too, when he visits me, that I cannot hurt or be hurt enough lately.” —Laura Palmer, March 27th, 1989.
During the last days of Laura’s life, she had become too weak to fight and she herself became the abuser. She raped Harold, in his own home, his safe place—his refuge. She did exactly to him what her father had been doing to her for years. Laura realised then that she was very close to the end. Her shadow self had almost taken over completely.
The end of the Diary & Fire Walk With Me
The last page of Laura’s diary on an unspecified date, but around the 20th/21st February 1990, reveals she knows exactly who has been abusing her. She doesn’t say it is her father but we know that she knew, she saw his real face as he raped her.
In her final hours of life, she says goodbye to James, pushes him away—giving up the last hope of a better life. Resigned to what was going to happen, she heads off with Leo, Jacques and Ronette to the cabin. Her father follows and takes her and Ronette, hands bound to the train car. Death wasn’t inevitable for Laura though. She was terrified but she looked her tormentor in the face. The demon in the mirror was herself.
Despite this horrific realisation of what she’d become, the good Laura won the final battle. Seeing Ronettes angel show up for her made her realise there was still good in the world, your angels don’t leave you—you are also your own angel. In putting on the Owl Ring she sacrificed herself and sent her demon to the Black Lodge at the same time. She had protected her loved ones from herself. After what she did to Harold, chances are she would only have done worse and worse should she have survived. She knew this subconsciously; she’d ended a pregnancy because she didn’t want to inflict the same kind of pain on her own child. She’d known what she was capable of for a very long time.
“Sometimes I think there is someone inside me, but it is another, stranger part of me. Sometimes I see her in the mirror. I don’t know that I ever want to have children of my own. Something happens to parents, or people who have become parents. I think they forget they were ever children themselves and that things might embarrass or upset their kids sometimes, but they have forgotten or decided to ignore that. Too many bad things happen to me sometimes late at night, so I probably would not be such a good mother. This makes me sad inside.” — Laura Palmer, August 31st, 1984
The Missing Diary Pages
So what would have happened if Laura didn’t die?
In an undated diary entry just before her death, Laura wrote that she’d told Dr. Jacoby that she’d gone to the safety deposit box where the drug money was kept and she had fantasised about taking it and running away forever. What if she did?
Cooper’s battle against his own shadow self took him back to the place where it all began, but in a world where Laura Palmer didn’t die. It could have been a cold case: “Whatever happened to the missing Laura Palmer?” 25 years later he decided to find out. He found her, living in Odessa, under the name of Carrie Page. We know that Laura was able to do a very good job of denying what really happened to her—she couldn’t face the fact her father was abusing her for many years. Upon being presented with the knowledge, did she flee and repress all those painful memories? If she did then her demon wasn’t destroyed which may be a reason why there was a dead guy in her living room—a guy who appeared to have had his own demon seed on board if his swollen belly alludes to that. She willingly left with the stranger, Agent Cooper, because she was running away from trouble.
Laura didn’t remember much of the town she grew up in. On the journey there, one of the few words she spoke were that she tried to be a good wife. Laura always did try her best to be good. She didn’t remember the house, though she vaguely remembered the name Sarah. It was only when Coop asked “What year is this?” that it all came flooding back, the sound of Sarah calling her name to wake her up for school. A scream of recollection and the memories came flooding back, her demon along with them.