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Marci McKim
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underestimated.jpg
Art by Patty Mulligan 2017

Underestimated


by Marci McKim

 

 

It was supposed to be a reading
At the bar,
Followed by a band, who were
Already drunk.
Apparently, they didn’t like
People reading.

 

“We don’t want to hear that shit,”
Yelled the drummer
While I read my story.
I finished my reading,
And yelled at him
“Come over here and say that!”

And he did.

 

While he yelled in my face,
With one swift kick
I broke his knee.
He lay on the floor
Screaming. I said,

“I don’t want to hear that shit!”

 





losingeileen.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

Losing Eileen


by


Marci McKim

 

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 on the 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 and 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 size.

One time some girls tried to steal my lunch in the cafeteria. I 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 office.

When I was in sixth grade, and Eileen went to St. Anselm’s Prep, 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 into a 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 a bedroom 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 commuting to 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 the Girl 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?” She asked.

“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 thinks she might be depressed, or something.”

I shrugged, “Unless being depressed means being a bitch, I don’t see it.”

“Sometimes depression hides behind bitchiness,” Mom explained, “Maybe she needs some extra attention.”

That pissed me off, “Attention? She’s never here to get attention!”

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 barbecue.

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 for my 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 stay?

I spent most of that summer in the Girl Cave writing songs, when 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 for me.

“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 thought they seemed cool. They didn’t care about school, or the bullshit rules we have to follow.

“They told me they were going upstate to a campground for the summer, and said I could go with them.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I demanded, “Suppose I wanted to go with you?”

 

“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 school ring, 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 herself together.

“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 were okay.

“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 her room. I had so many questions, so I asked Mom what was going on.

Mom explained, “In the hospital, she started acting violently. 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. They 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 semester.

Thanks to Dad’s great health insurance, they found Eileen a 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 at night, 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 nightmares. 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 to 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. She 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 get worried.

My graduation went off without a hitch. Instead of having a 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 all the 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. I 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, standing in 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 to 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.


                           

badinfluences.jpg
Art by Hillary Lyon 2018

Bad Influences

 

Marci McKim

 

 

Corey looked down at the gun in his hand. He’d been a gun owner for most of his life, taking pride and pleasure in shooting targets at the local police range. He had several handguns and stored them at the range. His firearms permit didn’t extend to carrying handguns around the city.

He’d never take this gun to the range, though. The SIG Sauer M11 was a beautiful piece of machinery, used worldwide by military and law enforcement personnel. This particular firearm, with a mangled serial number, had been used in Afghanistan and gone missing shortly after it arrived in-country. He’d paid a high price for it and an extra 15-round magazine with the understanding that they were untraceable.

He bought it in the proverbial dark alley, dealing with a guy he found online.

“Here’s the package,” the seller said, “I got it off a Blackwater guy who got it from a diverted shipment.”

“You’re sure it can’t be traced?” Corey asked.

“Look at it,” the seller replied, “all the identification has been removed.”

“Okay, good,” he said, “I think it will do the job.”
The seller laughed, “It will do whatever you want it to do.”

Returning the gun to its fitted case, he looked out the window, staring at nothing, thinking about the cascade of events that brought him to this point.

His life was in shambles, again. How many times could he let people do these things to him? His parents’ bankruptcy ruined his higher education prospects; between the stress and waiting tables, he barely made it through his degree in political science. He waited tables for almost a year after graduation before he found a job as a sports writer for a small weekly newspaper.

Eventually, he ended up on the entertainment beat of a daily paper. Covering music festivals, reviewing movies, and opening art shows was more interesting than sports, and he thought he’d settled down for the long haul. He got an apartment in a nice neighborhood, bought real furniture, registered his guns and permits, and learned to cook.

He was covering an art opening when he saw a real celebrity in the room. Jason Stashman, the TV talk show host, was engrossed in conversation with the featured artist, a beautiful young woman.

Corey approached them and waited for a lull before he spoke.

“Mr. Stashman, I didn’t expect to see you here. I’m Corey Andreson from the Post. How do you like the exhibit?”

“The exhibit is magnificent, as is the artist, Jane Wilson,” he lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it. He was unnaturally perky. Corey recognized the effects of cocaine, and seized the opportunity to get some good quotes.

“Jane’s work is important because she sees what’s important! Those flowers have soul! That landscape represents all landscapes!” Corey’s tape recorder picked up more gems like that, as Jason’s voice rolled on and on.

Eventually Jason’s attention was sought by someone else, and Corey lost him. Corey stayed around until Jason and Jane left, and followed them out of the gallery.

Jason saw him and said, “We’re going to Lotus Flower for Chinese, want to join us?” And so, Corey became part of Jason Stashman’s inner circle.

Jason was a football star in high school and college, until a knee injury deprived him of the opportunity to go pro. It was just as well, because he moved from the field to the broadcast booth, and made a name for himself making people laugh while calling plays. He had a great face for television.

He became an infamous character in the local cable station, his oversized personality and insatiable appetites were well-documented, and people loved him in spite of, maybe because of, the scandals. His wife, Gayle, was a fashion model when they met, and hitched her wagon to his star while he was still a sportscaster with great ambitions.

She was a tall, willowy redhead with milk-white skin that never saw the sun. With her regal bearing and finishing-school diction, she was the perfect trophy wife.

“It’s amazing what a beautiful woman can do for my career,” Jason told Corey, “You think the paparazzi loved me before? Look at this spread in the Sunday magazine!” There were four pictures of the couple, looking totally glamorous. Gayle’s diamond Tiffany earrings caught the camera’s flash like, well, Tiffany diamonds.

Some believed she was the force behind his rapid ascent, others believed she stayed with him for the glamour. Truth be told, both were true, and she put up with a lot of nonsense on the way up. In due course she gave birth to Tommy and Jennifer, and put most of her energy into raising them.

Soon, Corey found himself in front of a television camera, discussing the arts scene with other local luminaries, laughing at Stashman’s jokes. The paper liked the publicity, and he liked the notoriety.

He also liked the cocaine. On top of a few drinks, it made him feel all-powerful, invulnerable, on top of the world. He found himself dating models, escorting beautiful women to important events, having the time of his life.

After about 6 months of this, Jason called him on the phone.

“Hey, Corey! I’ve got an offer from WBGY TV in Springfield! More money, more exposure, more everything!”

“Well, that’s great,” said Corey, with an enthusiasm he did not feel, “I’m going to miss you.”

“You won’t miss a thing!” Jason replied, “I want you to come with me as a staff writer! I get staff writers on this gig!”

This time Corey submitted his resignation happily. His co-workers threw him a going-away party, congratulating him on his good luck.

Television writing was new to him, and it took him a while to get the hang of it. But Jason expected that, and didn’t mind the time it took him to get up to speed. They were best buddies who attended the best parties nearly every night.

The station was working to promote Jason’s show to the networks, hoping to go national, even if it was on cable. His face was becoming known beyond the local market, and Corey was right there with him. But the media saw him as a ‘hanger-on,” not an important part of the story. If they only knew! Corey was doing more of what he considered baby-sitting than writing for the show.

Jason’s drinking and drug use were getting out of control, and a large part of Corey’s job consisted of making sure Jason got home safely, before he embarrassed himself in public. Gayle was stepping out of her background role, showing up with him at public events. She’d make an entrance with him, be seen, and slip out about an hour later.

Jason began to resent the role Corey was playing in his life.

“I’m a major star!” he declared while under the influence of multiple substances, “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do?”

“I’m your damned baby-sitter!” Corey shouted back, “You’d be on the street without me!”

Jason was not impressed. “I can handle myself,” he said, “I don’t need you! When’s the last time you wrote a word for the show? You’re useless!”

“I’m useless? Okay, we’ll see just how useless I am! You owe me two weeks’ vacation, and I’m taking it!”

Corey stormed out, packed a bag, and took off to New Orleans. He was there for 48 hours when Jason called.

“I’m sorry, man,” he said, “I don’t know what got into me. You’re right, I need to calm down with the drinks and stuff. Come back to Springfield. Gayle is really giving me shit about it.”

“I’ll come back after my vacation,” Corey said.

But the phone rang every day, and the vacation was cut short after a week. Gayle even called him, demanding he come back and do his job before Jason got fired. Corey went back to Springfield. Jason cut back on his partying. Gayle settled down. Corey met Maddie.

Maddie was a serious person, a registered nurse who worked in the emergency room of the hospital. She worked long hours at a difficult job, and fit Corey into the time she had left over. He was totally smitten.

“Jason,” he said one day, “Want to come jewelry shopping with me?”

“You looking for a new watch, Corey?”

“No, I want to get an engagement ring for Maddie,” he announced proudly.

“WOW!” shouted his boss, ‘Yes, let’s do this!”

Jason thought he knew how to make a woman happy.  With all his faults, Jason was a faithful husband, as far as Gayle and Corey knew.

So Jason took Corey to the local chain jeweler, where they looked at dozens of engagement rings. Corey picked out a few in the 1-1/2 carat range, but Jason demurred.

“Listen, man, you want this to be the best day of her life so far! You’re looking at rings that cost about 1 month’s salary. This place offers its own credit policy, so go big! Go to 2 carats! She’ll appreciate it.”

So Corey ended up with a new credit account with a $15,000 ring on it. The ring was magnificent, a gorgeous work of art, and Corey presented it to Maddie with pride. He got down on one knee.

“Maddie, will you marry me?” He asked, opening the box.

“What? Are you crazy?” She asked, laughing, “This ring is gorgeous!” She took it out of the box, and held it up to admire it.

“I can’t believe you did this for me,” She said, “But I can’t wear this!”

He was crushed.

“What do you mean you can’t wear it?”

“I work in the ER! This will get full of nasty bodily fluids, even if I wear gloves!” She handed it back to him, “I love it, but I can’t wear it.”

“Does that mean you don’t want to marry me?” Corey was confused.

“Oh, I’ll consider marrying you, but if you want me to have a ring, get me a little diamond chip solitaire, that will be fine.”

Jason had other ideas.

“You have to tell her she can stop working when you get married. You’ll have a couple of kids to keep her busy in no time. Look how well that’s worked for me!”

But Maddie was not happy with that idea.

“I’m a nurse, I’m a professional medical caregiver, and I don’t want to stay home and take care of kids. If that’s what you’re looking for, find somebody else.”

She broke up with him, and Jason was unsympathetic.

“Sorry, but you’ll find somebody else,” he said, “There are plenty of nice girls around.”

But Corey didn’t find another nice girl. He was lonely. He stopped cooking, and found himself a dive bar where he could get cocaine.

One night, after bingeing on booze and coke, he started thinking. He was tired of being Jason’s baby-sitter. He hadn’t written much in the last 6 months, and what he did write wasn’t up to even his standards. It was all Jason’s fault. Jason hired him, paid him, but Jason was demanding.

He demanded Corey’s time on and off the clock. He demanded that Corey follow him to the new job. And he’d ruined Corey’s relationship with Maddie. He had to go.

Corey got into the car with the SIG in its case on the passenger seat. He sat there in the driveway for a few minutes, did a couple extra bumps. Then he squared his shoulders, turned on the engine, and drove to Jason’s place.

He had to do it. Jason was a devil, a bad influence on everybody he met. He skated on his good looks and charisma, and he was famous for being a celebrity—someone who could do a good job reading what others wrote for him. Lived above his pay grade, borrowing money all over, promising to pay it back when he went national.

But he wouldn’t go national. The way Corey saw it, Jason had ruined the lives of everybody he touched, and he had to pay for it.

The house was a big brick pile, with a pretentious curved driveway where a garden should be. Corey never liked it, knew Jason could not afford it.

He parked on the street, took the gun out of its case, and suddenly wished he’d brought a holster. He’d forgotten how heavy the gun was. He couldn’t put it in a pocket, he’d have to carry it carefully. He smiled to himself as he thought about watching Jason’s head explode. Useless? He’d show him who was useless!

He walked around the house quietly, peering in the lighted windows. It was about 9 pm. There was nobody in the kitchen, nobody in the dining room, but bingo! In the living room. Jason was sitting at a computer with his back to the window. Corey listened carefully to the neighborhood sounds.

This was a quiet block, very little traffic. He heard no raised voices, no television noise from the neighbors. He aimed at carefully, squeezed the trigger.

Jason jumped up at the noise and flash of light, stared out the window. When he saw the body on the lawn, he ran out without a jacket, yelling for Gayle to call the police.

“What the hell?” he yelled, “Corey! What the hell. . .” his voice stuck in his throat as he realized Corey was dead.

The official cause of death was a bullet that ricocheted off the bullet-proof glass and hit the shooter square in the solar plexus, killing him instantly.





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 Magazine, 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.

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