Donna Hayward in Twin Peaks is a bit like Marmite, you either love her or you hate her. I disliked her initially, which is pretty ironic as, looking back, she’s the character I can relate to the most. Played by Lara Flynn Boyle in the series and Moira Kelly in Fire Walk With Me, Donna’s character is more complicated than she initially seems.
As I have grown up, my understanding of Donna has changed; I feel we have been harsh critics of the girl. A girl is all she was, after all—aged just 17 when her best friend was murdered and her life thrown into disarray. This is where my empathy with her begins.
Growing up, I had the best friend a girl could wish for. We were inseparable. We had been serendipitously thrown together by our nursery teacher, aged 4. I was new to the town and was paired with this girl, and we remained joined at the hip for the whole of our childhoods and teenage years. Little did anyone know then just how important our friendship would become.
While being her namesake, I was not much like the beloved Laura Palmer, no I was quiet and nondescript, lanky and awkward, not particularly brilliant at anything. Then there was Claire—pretty, small and cute with long flowing brunette hair. Good at sports, good at all her classes, effortlessly. She was bossy, manipulative, confident and loved by all who knew her (despite no one really knowing her). Remind you of anyone? I rode in the flow of Claire’s coattails throughout my childhood, just loving being the friend of Miss Popular, getting to experience hanging out with boys that I was far too shy to talk to without her. Remind you of someone else?
I was fortunate though, much like Donna, I had the kindest, warmest parents. A mother and father who genuinely cared about me. My Dad was calm, made silly jokes and danced to entertain us. Watching Will Hayward’s befuddled magic trick reminded me so much of my own Dad. In fact, it was my own Dad that got me into Twin Peaks! He was a big fan of Julee Cruise more than the show itself, which was perhaps a little too weird for his tastes. I was also fortunate to have a very chilled mother, who wanted to hear about all my hopes and dreams, enjoyed hearing me coo over boys. She even almost enjoyed me living a somewhat wayward youth, experiencing through me what she could never have being a girl of the 1940s/50s.
In stark contrast, Claire’s parents, while they undoubtedly loved her, were dysfunctional, to say the least. Her father was violently and mentally abusive to her mother; her mother was a secret raging alcoholic, we would often find empty gin bottles in the washing machine. Every visit to the house was like walking into a bull pit; they all argued all the time. The atmosphere was electric, and there was a constant feeling that the whole place could explode at any time. Claire’s father was loved as a cool Dad, the kind of Dad who would take you to the pub as kids, let you drink a shandy, give you a few quid for some sweets, drive too fast, and make the car exhaust backfire to scare pedestrians. Of course, in retrospect, that’s absolutely terrible parenting, but as kids, we thought he was the greatest. Sounds like he was cool and laid back? Not at all. When it came to boys, he was crazy strict; Claire couldn’t tell her parents anything. They would care about the little things she did wrong and not give a toss about any of the terrible things they did.
Then it happened. We used to help out in the local community shop; we were 14 years old by now. The shop owner offered to take us to the ‘Cash and Carry’ where they’d get all their stock. We were excited to do something different, but he didn’t take us to the store. He took us to his house, through the woods, where he kept us locked up for a few hours. Claire didn’t speak throughout the whole ordeal. She just held my hand in quiet fear. For the first time in my life, I found MY voice and somehow managed to convince him that this was a very bad idea, that he couldn’t possibly get away with it. He reluctantly let us go, but not before he made me make him a cup of tea. Despite everything he had done to us, that felt like the ultimate insult.
I am happy to say that we managed to get away pretty much unharmed physically, mentally, not so much. Things spiralled downward from thereon in. We never told our parents, we never told a soul, it was our secret. It had opened up the horrors of the world to us; our childhood was over, innocence was lost, but our friendship was stronger than ever. We learned at that moment about the evil that men do, and there was going to be hell to pay.
In the Summer of ’94, Claire and I went on holiday with my parents. They were totally naïve to what we were like now, what that man had done to us, they let us have free rein, treated us like adults because we were such trustworthy, good girls. We spent the week hanging out with men, not boys, drinking white cider and taking LSD and saying a big ‘fuck you’ to that shopkeeper. Not that he would ever know it.
Claire met this guy, 12 years her senior at 27 years, and she fell head over heels. He was tall, with long dark hair and scruffy clothes, and his name was Jay, just like in Laura’s last diary entry (I know, you couldn’t make it up). Before we knew it, the holiday was over, but the party was not. Jay followed us home, camped out in the forest by her house, sneaking moments with her every day for a few months. Her parents knew nothing. I kept her secret. I disapproved because I knew he was no good for her, she was underage and very vulnerable, and this would end in tears; I told her so. We fell out over it in class. And then she was gone.
This was my moment, like Donna’s, the moment she heard in school that her best friend was dead. Claire wasn’t dead; she was missing. She didn’t return home from school the day we fell out. The Headmaster called me into his office, and there was no compassion. He was angry and didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t know where she was; I really didn’t.
The police were at my house almost every day when I got home from school, and they were much kinder. I told them everything I knew because I was scared to death for Claire. While I was pretty hopeful she would be ok, that she was a runaway and nothing more, I couldn’t quite shake the awful feeling I had about Jay. I told the police what I knew about him and even managed to find a roll of film I hadn’t processed from my camera, which had pictures of him. Just like Donna, I started my own investigations, piecing together all the little things I knew about him, but these were the days before the internet; catching him would not be easy. This is what you do when something like this happens when your best friend is taken away from you. It might not be the right thing to do, but you deal with grief and fear in your way. Having to put your frantic mind into positive action is why I understand Donna’s ‘meddling’ in her friends’ murder investigation.
Donna was perhaps one of the few people who truly loved Laura for precisely who she was, even at her worst. She wanted so much to protect her, as we saw in Fire Walk With Me. She even joined in with things that were way out of her comfort zone, just so that she could be there with her, never wanting her to be alone. Even dating a guy she couldn’t stand (Mike) so that she had reason to be in the gang with Laura and Bobby.
Claire was gone for ten days, and in those ten days, my life (as well as hers, I’m sure) was turned completely upside down. All of a sudden, everyone wanted to know me; I was harassed constantly by people asking me where she was, telling me I was a bitch for not telling her parents where she was, that I was breaking their hearts, that I would be held responsible if she was found dead. Children can be so kind. Then there were the others, the ones who pretended to be nice to try to weasel information out of me, wanting to bask in the ‘glory’. Then others pretended they knew Claire so well and would stand in the yard crying over the loss of ‘their friend’. Every time I see that scene of the girl running screaming across the schoolyard in the pilot episode, it makes me think back –we never learn who that girl was, did she even really know Laura? Was she a glory-basker, or is there another untold story there?
Back in my life, not a single one of those school ‘friends’ had any idea about Claire — and it would turn out that neither did I to some extent. Just like Laura Palmer said, “No one knows me, not even Donna knows me“, but Donna did know her better than she thought. Laura thought that Donna was all naïve and sweet and wanted boys like Mike to write her poetry, but there was always more to Donna than that, hiding underneath that innocent exterior. You see, what Laura didn’t know about Donna was that she was a Horne. She shared similar traits to her adored half-sister Audrey. Always investigating, manipulating their way to the truth.
The press kept calling the house, and my parents were devastated. The Sun newspaper even covered the story; somehow, they found out she’d run off with an older man. The headline read, “Paedophile lures missing schoolgirl with drugs”, it was true, I guess, but it didn’t feel like that in my reality.
Claire was eventually found in Southern England. Wasted on heroin in a bathtub, but alive. The police brought her back home. I had never felt more relieved in my life. She hated me for telling the police what I knew, for breaking her and her man up, for taking her away from her new captor, the white horse. She could not see that she had been groomed, even though she knew the next step for her was prostitution as they were running out of money — yes, all in less than two short weeks. She didn’t even wonder what life had been like in her wake. I wasn’t about to give up on our 11-year friendship that quickly though. I knew she needed help.
After Laura’s death, Donna was caught in the most beautiful dream and most terrible nightmare all at once. She fell for her lost friend’s secret boyfriend, James, a young man way more suited to her than he ever was to Laura. Just imagine that, falling for the boy knowing that he had already been there with your best friend first. And he too was caught in a terrible position of not being able to grieve for her as he was a ‘secret’. They found solace in each other and started a genuinely loving relationship until Maddy arrived.
Of course, Maddy was wonderful and looked almost exactly like her cousin, Laura. Within days Donna’s budding romance was on shaky ground because James couldn’t get Laura out of his mind and felt allured by Maddy. Understandable, yes, but poor Donna! Always second best to Laura. No wonder she felt she had to step it up a gear.
In stepped ‘Edgy Donna’, wearing her best friends sunglasses, almost becoming Laura just by wearing them. But Laura never exuded that kind of sexuality publicly, all that was saved for night-time, her time. Donna wanted this; a woman scorned she wanted some attention of her own, just for her, not about Laura just for once. She certainly had an effect on the incarcerated James as she sucked his fingers through the bars. Cue the wolf whistles! (She’s still only 17 folks!)
There are a few reasons why Donna is so unpopular. The first is that she dragged poor Harold Smith, a reclusive friend of Laura, into a mess that ended his life. Now I have gone on about this quite a lot, and I don’t think anyone has ever agreed with me, but I don’t think Harold took his own life. My personal view is the Tremond’s put all the pieces in place. They knew that Harold had Laura’s diary; the secrets kept inside could have revealed the true killer BOB. They used Donna as a pawn, knowing that she was wired to find out who really killed her best friend and was desperately trying to get her new love off the hook. She played the part of human nature perfectly. In tricking poor Harold, along with Maddy (who no one seems to hate for this!), Harold was led outside. His arm starts to shake as he’s been plucked from his safe haven; BOB can see him now — he was marked for death.
The words the Grandson spoke, “She seems like a nice girl“, are so sinister. They were going to put a stop to that. Harold’s ‘suicide’ note read, “J’ai une am solitaire“, just as the Grandson had predicted. The Magician certainly could see the future’s past, and I believe it was The Tremond’s who left that note.
Donna would feel terribly guilty for the tragedy she thought she caused. How much grief could one young woman endure in such a short time? She lost her best friend, her love life was falling apart, her beau was also her only friend, and then someone so kind to her took his own life as far as she knew, because of her actions. She would be ripe with garmonbozia. A feast! Despite all this suffering, she was brave. She didn’t know who had murdered her best friend, and she put herself in harm’s way several times to save the people she loved while fighting for Justice for Laura.
Indeed Donna very nearly became a victim of BOB herself, saved by the timely visit by Sheriff Truman to the Palmer house, just as Leland was ready to ‘dance’. She learned then that Maddy was already dead and faced yet another tragedy. She told James, who callously rode off out of town, leaving her to deal with all this never-ending trauma by herself.
I often wonder what Donna and Laura’s friendship would have become should Laura have survived, would they have lasted? Claire and I remained best friends for 20 more years, but our lives took very different paths. She had two children; the youngest was taken into care because Claire never could escape the white horse. Unfortunately, that same addiction made it almost impossible for us to have a real relationship, but I still loved her with every part of my soul. I had my own family to look after. I didn’t know what went on in her world by the end, but just before her time, she told me her biggest secret of all.
The reason why Claire stayed silent when the shopkeeper took us is that was what she was used to, never saying a word, not being allowed to. Her father swore her to silence. It was a trauma she had already experienced time and time again. Claire’s cool Dad was not what he seemed.
Claire finally gave up the battle in the Summer of 2016 and took her own life. Did she win? Much like Laura Palmer, we may never know for sure; I can only pray that her angel came for her. I wish I could turn back the clock and save her knowing what I know now, but maybe that’s just the thing; she didn’t need saving, she’d already saved herself. She waited for her daughter to turn 18 before leaving, protected her from the same fate and broke the cycle of abuse.
And what became of Donna? The last we knew, she had found out her beloved Dad Doc Hayward was not her biological father. No, it was Benjamin Horne. Was this the final straw for Donna? In a few short weeks, her life went from pretty perfect to complete chaos. It would take some super strength to get over it all. We may find out next week when The Final Dossier is released as she has her own section in the book. I hope that she gets to be happy. She wasn’t a bad person, she did what she did for the love of others, and she only ever wanted someone to love her back so truly.
Oh Donna Madonna, there’s always mañana.