Longform

Heaven on Wheels

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But he did let her strip at private parties -- as long as he was there to supervise. And when she wasn't taking her clothes off for money, Peggy was sitting on a bar stool next to her husband. "We were there from the time they opened until the time they closed," Peggy says between drags on her cigarette. "I used to drink Jack Daniel's straight."

The biker club her husband belonged to was the kind that gives bikers everywhere a bad name. One of its rituals called for the wives and girlfriends of new members to sleep with all of the brothers. "To them, you weren't a woman; you were a piece of property that could be traded or sold," Peggy says. "I told him I wouldn't sleep with the other members, and that made him really mad."

One day shortly after refusing her husband's request, Peggy went outside their house to get something from her truck. She was grabbed from behind, blindfolded and driven to a house. There she was brutally raped by her husband's biker brothers. "I don't know if it was hours or days," she says. "All I remember was a guy coming downstairs and saying, 'That's enough, let her go.' And I remember hearing my husband's voice saying, 'Don't you ever disrespect me again. This is payback.'"

Out of fear, Peggy says, she stayed with her husband for another month. During that time, he got it in his head that she'd been cheating on him and beat her so badly that she was left with three stitches in her head, a concussion, a broken rib, two black eyes and rug burns from being dragged across the carpet. She finally left him after that, hiding out at her parents' house until she felt safe enough to move out on her own.

The rapes still haunt her, and she's only recently started talking about them. She stopped trusting men after that, she explains, and no longer wanted to look feminine. "I used to be pretty," she says. "But after the rape, I stopped looking like a woman. I stopped curling my hair and wearing makeup and dresses. I started wearing T-shirts and jeans. I didn't want anyone to look at me."

Although leery of men, Peggy eventually started dating again. While shopping at a Safeway store, she met the man who would become her second husband. He was not in a biker club, nor was he violent, but he had a string of bad habits -- stealing cars, driving drunk and dealing drugs -- that made him a frequent guest in the Big House. During one of his jail-free periods, he and Peggy, then 23, conceived a child. The baby was due in late October 1987, and Peggy's mother-in-law, a woman who considered herself to be devoutly religious, feared he'd be born on Halloween. "She told me I was going to have the devil's baby," Peggy recalls.

Instead, David was born three months early, severely underweight as a result of Peggy's coke use and barely clinging to life. "I made every promise in the book to let my son live," she remembers. "I told God I'd stop drinking, smoking and doing drugs, and I didn't keep any of them, but He let my son live anyway."

When she was finally able to bring David home two months later, he weighed only four pounds. "I carried him on a pillow," she says.

Peggy's brother Steve died in a car accident seven months later. "The first thing my mother-in-law told me when she heard that was, 'The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,'" Peggy says. "She said that God took my brother to save my son, and I believed it. For a long time I blamed my son and myself, because my son was not supposed to make it. My brother was the straight-A student in school and he'd just been drafted for the Philadelphia Phillies. He was the apple of my father's eye. I thought it should have been me in that car instead of Steve."

Peggy's anger, sadness and confusion over her brother's death stayed with her for years.

After divorcing her second husband, Peggy found love again -- and this time, it was real. She was waitressing at a Waffle House when she met Armand Papineau, who came in to eat with his roommate. He didn't just seem different; he was different. He liked to ride motorcycles, but he wasn't in a biker club. And he liked to have a good time, but he wasn't into drugs or heavy drinking.

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Julie Jargon
Contact: Julie Jargon