The summer after I graduated high school, my family exploded.
I thought we had a perfect family. Mom and Dad were college
graduates with good office jobs. When Eileen was born, Mom quit her job and
stayed home. I came along 3 years later.
The first place I remember living was a 4-room apartment
second floor of a pre-war building. Eileen and I shared a sunny bedroom
overlooking the park where Mom took us to play. Our room had a wall of shelves
for our toys and books. I had a lot of stuffed animals, Eileen had tons of
dolls. We’d make up adventures for the dolls and animals being knights and
princesses fighting against “bad guys.”
On weekends, it seemed we were always going to one relative’s
house or another for a party. Most of those parties were about adults watching
sports on TV, so Eileen and I were hung out with our cousins. Our cousin Grace
liked to pick on me for being the smallest, and Eileen always stood up for me.
She told Grace I was small but smarter than her.
She stood up for me in school, too. I might have been nerdy
scrawny, but I had a Big Sister who handled the schoolyard bullies for me. She
taught me to defend myself so I could fight my own battles with kids my own
One time some girls tried to steal my lunch in the cafeteria.
kicked one of them in the shins, and Eileen pulled another off me and knocked
her down. Mom had to come to school to get both of us from the principal’s
When I was in sixth grade, and Eileen went to St. Anselm’s
it felt odd going to school alone. I missed having my companion and defender.
But I made my first real friends then. It was the first time I had a life
separate from my sister.
Mom wanted some new furniture, so Dad turned the garage
Girl Cave! He cleared out all his car stuff into a shed, painted the walls pink
and silver, and put the old living room furniture downstairs for us. He also
bought us an electronic keyboard. Eileen fooled around with it a little, but I
loved it. I found out I am good at music. Mom and Dad hoped we’d hang out down
there with our friends, but my sister’s friends weren’t from the neighborhood
anymore, so it was more my space.
To be honest, I liked it that way. Eileen and I shared
until we moved to the house near the beach, and privacy was a big deal for me.
I like to be alone when I’m doing something creative, and the more private
space I have, the better. So when my friends went home, I’d spend extra time
writing, playing music, or just thinking.
I was a junior at St. Anselm’s and my sister was
public college, and as far as I could see, things were going pretty well. Eileen
was spending most of her time out of
the house. She had a boyfriend who he said he loved her, and treated her well.
One night he called the house to talk to Dad. They had lunch together the next
day, and Dad was upset when he came home that night.
Next day, while Eileen was at school, Mom came down to
Cave to talk. At first I was a little annoyed to be interrupted, but she said
it was important, so I took off my headphones and joined her on the couch.
“Have you noticed any changes in your sister?”
“Well, yeah!” I answered, “She’s
too good to hang out with me
anymore, and she treats me like I’m some kind of bug. She’s a grown-up college
girl. And she doesn’t come home for supper anymore!”
Mom smiled sadly. “Todd is worried about her. He
might be depressed, or something.”
I shrugged, “Unless being depressed means being a
bitch, I don’t
“Sometimes depression hides behind bitchiness,”
“Maybe she needs some extra attention.”
That pissed me off, “Attention? She’s never
here to get
So Mom made an appointment with a therapist, and took Eileen
there a few times. But then Eileen refused to go.
“He’s an idiot,” she told me, “Just
wants to give me pills that
make me feel strange and tired.”
“Can you ask him to change the pills?” I asked,
but she wasn’t
interested in taking pills. She ran away from home right after the 4th of July
Mom and Dad were frantic, and spent all that summer being
anxious and unhappy. The cops were looking for her.
I was scared, too, imagining all kinds of awful things
sister. After years of being best friends, she hardly spoke to me for weeks
before she ran away. Was there anything I could have said or done to make her
I spent most of that summer in the Girl Cave writing songs,
I wasn’t at the beach. Dad made sure we went swimming as a family. We built
sand castles and ate cheese steaks on the boardwalk. We didn’t take our usual
vacation to see our relatives out of state. Mom and Dad didn’t want to go far
from home in case Eileen called.
My friends didn’t know what to say to me - their
sisters were still
at home. I couldn’t deal with having a boyfriend, my emotions were all messed
up. I wrote a lot of sad songs that summer.
Just before Labor Day, my parents got a call from the state
troopers. Eileen had been found in a town I’d never heard of, about 100 miles
from home. She was in a hospital there.
Dad wanted to go get her immediately, but the doctors didn’t think that
was a good idea. Instead, when they released her from the hospital two weeks
later, they put her on a bus. Dad met her at the station and brought her home.
They sent me to the Girl Cave while they were talking with
Eileen. I put my headphones on so I couldn’t hear what they were saying. I was
still pissed about her ruining our summer by her selfishness. We had great
parents, why did she hate us? I wondered if it was something I did to drive her
away, but couldn’t think of anything I did that was so horrible.
I was in the Girl Cave the next day when Eileen came looking
“Hey, Kathy,” she said, “I guess I owe
you an explanation, too.”
She took a deep breath and went on, “I got crazy last Spring. I thought nobody
loved me. I thought I was going to fail all my classes. I thought I should kill
myself because I was worthless. When I waited for the bus every morning, all I
could think about was throwing myself in front of it.
“I met some of the people who live in the park. I
seemed cool. They didn’t care about school, or the bullshit rules we have to
“They told me they were going upstate to a campground
summer, and said I could go with them.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded,
“Suppose I wanted to go
“It was a secret!” she explained, “And
they only wanted me, they
didn’t know you.”
Eileen continued, “I had about $200 saved up, so
I took that,
and went with them. We took a bus to a state park and camped out in a lean-to
there. The second night, the guys hiked into town and came back with whiskey
and beer. We all got pretty drunk.
“Then it got ugly. They demanded my money, my high
my necklace, even my boots!” She fought back tears. “I gave them what they
wanted, and they started hitting me. Then two of the guys ripped off my clothes
and raped me.” She was really crying now. I put my arm around her until she got
“Next day I woke up all alone in the woods. I hurt
all over. I
was hungry, but it hurt too much to move. I must have cried for hours before a
dog came sniffing along. He started barking and whining until his owners came
looking for him. They were a homeless couple who lived in the woods, but they
“They took me to their camper and fed me. I stayed
with them for
weeks, I don’t remember how long. I don’t remember a lot about that time. But
apparently I ended up walking on the highway screaming, and the cops picked me
up. Now I’m on meds, but my brain is still messed-up”
At that point, she stood up and hugged me, then went to
room. I had so many questions, so I asked Mom what was going on.
Mom explained, “In the hospital, she started acting
She’d wake up at night growling and screaming, and she’d attack the nurses and
orderlies who were trying to help her. They had to tie her to the bed for
several nights until they got her meds right.”
By this time I was crying, and Dad was holding me tight.
couldn’t tell me everything was going to be okay like they did when I was a
kid, this was grown-up stuff I was not prepared to deal with.
The bottom line was that we’d all have to be aware
of what was
going on with her, all the time. She’d have to take her pills and go to
therapy. If everything went well, she’d go back to college for the January
Thanks to Dad’s great health insurance, they found
place in an outpatient mental health treatment center where she went every day
during school hours. I don’t know much about what happened there, she didn’t
talk to me much.
“I’m sorry I ruined your summer,” She
said once, “but mine was
so much worse.”
And that was that. We lived in separate worlds, except
when I would listen to her sleep and dream. Sometimes she’d yell out loud, and
I’d have to run down the hall to Mom and Dad’s room to tell them. They’d go
together into her room and get her to calm down.
After the first couple of times, they got a kind of intercom,
but Eileen didn’t want it in her room. She called it a baby monitor. So it
ended up in my room, and I didn’t have to leave my room to alert Mom and Dad. I
could just stay in bed and cry.
Therapy was working, though, and weeks would go by without
Eileen was going to the gym, working out, saying she felt great even with her
meds. Meanwhile, I was spending more time away from home. I had a nice
boyfriend whose mom liked having me around. So I’d go to his place after school
and do homework, and stayed for supper a lot.
So my senior year of high school was pretty much devoted
being on edge. I tried writing hopeful songs, and once or twice they worked,
but there were times I could only try to improve on the sad ones.
After Spring break, Eileen’s night terrors got worse.
stopped taking her meds, and her therapists got worried. I heard Mom and Dad
talking about it, although they didn’t share it with me directly, which made me
My graduation went off without a hitch. Instead of having
party, we went to a restaurant and had a nice dinner. My boyfriend came along,
and Eileen was quiet. I had been accepted to a few colleges, and I was looking
forward to possibly living on-campus.
A few weeks later, 4th of July came around again, with
fireworks and noise that goes with it. Funny, but I never connected Eileen’s
running away with the fireworks, but I guess they must have had something to do
with it, because that night was awful.
I was just falling asleep when I heard her start growling.
pushed the intercom button, and Mom and Dad came running. Eileen was out of bed
and screaming in the seconds it took for Mom to reach her.
I’ll never forget what I saw and heard that night,
the door of my room, crying hysterically. Eileen had been working out, Mom
weighed 95 lbs. The sound of the fists on skin, Mom screaming, Dad yelling -
I’m sure it was less than a minute, but in that time, Mom took a horrible
beating. Eileen was throwing her around like a rag doll until Dad grabbed her
in a bear hug.
Dad held Eileen as long as he could, to let Mom get away
their bedroom, then Eileen turned on him. Finally he shouted, “Enough!” and ran
into my room, locking the door behind him. He used my phone to call the cops,
and we listened as my sister raged around in her room.
Soon we heard her door open and her feet running down the
stairs. She got out of the house about 2 minutes before the cops arrived. They
took a report, looked things over, and said Dad should come to the station the
next day to make a full report so he could file for a restraining order against
Eileen. I never saw my Dad cry before.
We took Mom to the ER to
get her checked out, and saw the sun rise as we started for home. Life as we
knew it was over. Mom and Dad didn’t even object when I said I decided not to
go to college, they just hugged me tight.
Marci McKim has been writing all her
life. When she was in 6th grade, she started a monthly newsletter for her
class, the first in Woodrow Wilson School.
Her writing has been published
in The Legal Letter of the National
Association of Theatre Owners, Publishers
Weekly, PD News, Computer Graphic
New York Magazine, and the poetry
anthologies of the Networking Cafe.
She was editor-in-chief for
the Exhibit Reporter, an R.R. Bowker publication.
Marci has been a technical
writer since the mid-1980s, and currently writes business documents and proposals
as a Software Development Project Manager.
She is also lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the band Red,
White and Blues. Some of her music is available on YouTube.