The day he executed my sister was like any other day.
I was mowing the lawn listening to Pillars of the Earth on my headset. I was at the part where the boys in the castle were throwing rocks at helpless cats just because they could. Cornish hens with little red potatoes were baking in the oven on low heat. The weather in Duluth was unseasonably warm and blue and happy. I wore a Lady Gaga t-shirt and faded black shorts. The same tattered clothes I ended up wearing to the hospital that night. Not sure why I remember these insignificant, tedious details, but I do.
Perhaps, because this is when the earth fell off her axis.
Did My Sister Call for Me?
They say your life flashes before you at the end of your days. If that is true, I believe my sister was thinking of our childhood, big fat Italian dinners, bologna sandwiches slathered in miracle whip, sprinting through Aunt Carol’s sprinkler in May, and her boys. Her three fatherless boys, whom she did not get the chance to watch grow up, get married, and become a doctor, a carpenter, an FBI agent.
Did she call out my name?
He left work early that day; he said he had appointments scheduled, people to see, things to do. His actual plan was to kill my sister. He had already changed the insurance policies and bought a small beretta gun. He even said goodbye to his mother.
I imagine him waiting in a dim corner like one of Kafka’s insects for her to get home from work. A predator. Monster. My brother-in-law. Before he pulled the trigger, I wonder if he uttered a prayer to whomever murderers’ pray to, if he took communion, “this is my broken body; this is my blood.” I imagine he said something like, “I love you. I hate you. Nobody else can have you.”
This is not love.
My Sister’s Monster
She was fifteen when they met. A baby compared to him, a Lolita. He lured her with his long hair, hockey status, and Master’s degree. He picked Kay up after school like a daddy and waited on our porch on 65th Street for her to get home from other engagements. At the time, none of us realized there was a name for that, stalking. Abuse begins early like a slow simmer. My sister was too good for him, too pretty, too nice. These qualities are what killed her in the end. In truth, what he desired was a grand piano to sit in the backroom quietly without being played.
At 5:15 PM, I got the call, “Did you know? Did you hear the news? Mike shot Kay.”
I fell to the floor, lost my breath, my saliva, my mind, and suddenly found myself entering a white room smelling of Tabu perfume and sweating armpits. My sister was hooked up to ventilators, tubes, and ugly needles. Her hair was newly tinted with caramel highlights, and she looked as if she had just left the hair salon except for the blood that had dried and hardened on the right side of her head. Black mascara leaked like teardrops under both eyelids. Two guards stood at the door like bouncers at a nightclub, and I found out later this is the procedure they must follow after somebody has been murdered.
Kay and I had tickets for Sex and the City that night. Buttered popcorn with tons of salt and Diet Cokes. We used to giggle about which character we were. I was Carrie, the writer. She was Charlotte, the conformist. It was one of our rare sister dates. We would drink wine afterward and discuss paint colors for her new apartment. Eventually, we would end up talking about Mike. “I wish he’d die,” she often said. “I wish he would’ve gone to Iraq. I wish…I wish.”
She stayed until it was too late.
I circled her bed like a crazy person with Mad Cow disease. “Wake up, wake up, please, wake up.” I know she heard me and wanted to rise from the stiff, starched sheets. I know she realized she should have left him years earlier. After the first kick, the first, “you’re a cunt,” the first encounter. I know so many things now. For example, we cannot save somebody who does not want to be saved; we cannot change somebody who does not want to be changed.
Sometimes, I thank God her executioner did his homework beforehand. One or two bullets would have placed her in a brain injury facility, but the third bullet did the job properly. At least he did that right. One right thing in 25 years.
When the doctor walked into the waiting room, we erected from our chairs like obedient children. “Is she awake? Can she come home?”
He was detached, like the fictional character Slender Man. Featureless. He just stood there shaking his head.
I despised him and his chalky skin. I was not prepared for whatever he was about to say, or not say. When your sister is murdered, they should provide you with warm-grandma quilts, bible verses, Pinot Noir in fancy flute glasses, brie cheese, and crackers, something more than this.
But he simply stood there shaking his faceless head.
“Don’t. Don’t say it. Don’t fucking say it.”
I wanted to plug my ears, finish mowing the lawn, push the clock hands back to May 25th, 1978. I wanted to break every finger on Mike’s right hand, give him a piece of what was left of my mind, and ask him why he married my sister. I wanted to curse a silent God and tell him I lost my religion. Even more than that, more than anything, I wanted to scream. Scream until every bit of darkness emptied from my body. Half a heart beating on a tiled floor.
Before the memorial service, I drove to Target to find a suitable dress, nylons, lipstick. Why did it matter when my sister was nearly buried in the cold, Minnesota soil? Why did anything matter? Since the liquor store was on the way, I also bought two or three bottles of wine for later on. It would have been easy to become an alcoholic, a drug addict, or somebody who placed heavy rocks inside her pockets and marched directly into Lake Superior. So damn easy to become nothing at all.
I was told I read E.E. Cummings at my sister’s funeral, but my memory is a blur. The fact is, all I remember is standing at a podium staring out into a massive crowd of spectators wondering why I was there. Many of them were crying, blotting their noses, and undoubtedly whispering something like, “Oh, dear, why did she stay with a man like that?”
He was never a man.
I find it astonishing how the mind and body can survive such pain, such immense biting and burning of internal organs. How a sisterless sister can keep breathing, how broken pieces of humans can be glued back together again and again. What they do not tell you is grieving never ends; it is only born into the universe and does not expire until you do.
Before they turned off the breathing machines, my sister’s lungs, liver, and eyes were removed and donated to people on waiting lists. It offers me comfort to know somebody, somewhere, is walking around with those big brown eyes. Those same eyes that have witnessed such suffering are now gazing into endless sapphire skies and flung open cages exclaiming, “I’m free, free, free.”