Yesterday was my little sister, Kitsie’s birthday. My sister was born a tortured child, autistic, crossed eyes, highly functional, and filled with an irrational desire to destroy things. She rocked, and stuttered, smashed coffee-cansfull of snails on rocks, and broke all our hearts many times. I learned very early on never to let on if I liked something because the moment she had a bad day, that would be the first thing she destroyed.
After I went to school in Switzerland, I never saw my sister again more than a time or two. As an adult she vanished seamlessly into the bowels of Los Angeles streetlife, living with this or that broken person, under a bridge, in a shipping box, working the streets for her crossdressing boyfriend, a ward of the state, a victim of ignorance in the mental health field, on drugs and booze, living amongst people who didn’t seem all that different from her.
As a result of my sister’s handicap, I grew up an only child, my sister packed off to the special schools that didn’t understand or help her dysfunction. I was the child who wanted seven siblings, with at least one older brother if not two. I was the girl who wanted to grow up and have five children of my own. I wanted voices, and touching, and companionship, big noisy Thanksgivings, and chaotic Christmases. But mostly, I’ve been alone. For all that she was a famous Hollywood designer, my mother was an oddly private person who didn’t like noise, or other people’s children, so I never had anyone sleep over. Except for my step-sister, Lisa Erickson, no other child ever spent time in my childhood home.
I don’t know when my sister passed away. A few years before my mother died, she said that Kitsie had died in her bed in a dryout clinic in L.A., six weeks into her sobriety. When I was going through the house in Sedona, in the days following my mother’s death, I found a plain, gray shoebox on the floor under mom’s easel chair. It had my sister’s name on it. Her ashes were inside. In my stunned sorrow during those days of desperate decisionmaking, I placed Kitsie’s box of ashes in the foot of mom’s coffin and buried them together in Wickenburg. I’ve always felt uneasy about that decision. It was one of the few times I ever felt completely like a grown up, and I’m not sure I did very well.
I haven’t thought about her in a long time. One of my favorite characters, the pilot who grew up on the moon and was the first pilot to leave the solar system, is named for her. You can read about her in the story Mascarene Event (a Dell Award-winning story) in the second volume of Memoirs of the Grey Ranger. But still, I don’t often think about her. Then this morning, I looked at the date, and realized that yesterday was her birthday. I’m sorry I couldn’t call her and tell her to have a great day. I don’t know why I’m so much alone in this world. I wish it was not so.
The poem, Measure of Distance, is her poem, written long ago.
Kitsie and Marri, left photo, Marri, Kitsie & housekeeper Gertrude, middle photo, Marri, Lynn Aboud (from Australia) & Kitsie (1967ish) on the ground, right photo.