Sister

To my Oldest Sister, Who wrote to me when I was Missing:

Being back in Detroit, I’ve been looking for a way to pass the time while my medicine kicks in.  And so the other day, I went through some old photographs in mom’s Hope Chest.  

As I was chuckling to myself at the old familiar glossies, I came across one that made me stop dead in my tracks.  I placed the rest of the towering pile down, off to the side so that I could study it – give it my full attention.

At first, I didn’t recognize the tiny, round face framed so softly with the dirty-blonde locks of shiny curls.  But then I looked closer, and recognized the expression, and the piercing blue eyes that seemed to jump off the picture with their intensity.  It was you – as a baby.

And suddenly, I realized.  I’ve never taken the time to actually look at any of your baby pictures before.  I’d had no idea what you looked like before I was born.  Had never even given it a second thought.

Why is that?  Why had I never cared enough to even thumb through your baby book, not even once?

And as is the case with most introspective questions, I already knew the answer before I asked.  It’s simple, really.  I can’t picture you as a baby, because in my eyes, you never were one.  You aren’t allowed to be.  You’re my older sister.

I’ve never known you as anything else.  Since the day I was born, you’ve always been this constant, calming presence in my life.  Something that was just, always there.  No different than the sky or the sun or the stars.


When we were little, I wanted to be you so desperately.  Because you always knew all the answers.  Because you were a perpetual fountain of knowledge and earthly wisdom.  Because you were never afraid, or sad, or all the things I seemed to be growing up.  You were perfect.  

I’m the one with the pizza. ALWAYS.


You’d think that this reverence would have faded with age, but it never really did. 

When you went off to college, you left me all your Human Anatomy notes from Ms. Erfert’s class in the 9th grade.  I pored over them, breathing in every word like they were the original stone tablets chiseled with the 10 commandments. 

The following year, I signed up Ms. Erfert’s class, and breezed through it like it was third grade math.  

When I was in my junior year of high school, you came home to visit for a few days.  You were living in Boston at the time, working at a large hospital as a respiratory therapist. 

I still remember the night that you were saying your goodbyes, like it was yesterday.  Because you came into my bedroom last, and as we hugged I said, “I wish I could come with you.”  To which you responded with, “What’s stopping you from doing that?”  

I had stared incredulously at you  and sputtered out something to the tune of, “Be… Be-cause… I don’t know.  I can’t just go off to Boston for a week.”

“Why not?  Give me one good reason.  You’re on break at school.  You’ll be back in time to go to class.  You have no reason not to go,” you’d insisted.

 Eventually, I ran out of excuses and found myself in the passenger seat of your trailblazer at 9 PM on a weeknight, crossing the border into Canada with a few pairs of clothes and some toiletries. 

It was the most exhilarating feeling in the world.  And not only did it shatter all my false beliefs about spontaneous travel, it also inspired a strange new desire to get out of Michigan and SEE THE WORLD in all it’s glory.  It set the tone for the rest of my life.

You became a traveling respiratory therapist a few years later, and flew me out to San Francisco while you were on assignment there. 

Then you took me to Costa Rica. 

And finally, right after I graduated X-Ray school, you brought me to Alaska to live with you while I tried to lock down my first job out of college.  

Do you remember when we were on the plane to South Dakota, moving there together from Anchorage?  That girl behind us, she started having an asthma attack.  She was panicking, and  the flight attendants had NO IDEA what to do. 

At one point, it got so bad that she was hyperventilating behind us, and you’d looked over at me, sighed, and handed me your infant son.  

“Hold this,” you’d said.  

Then you’d turned and explained to the petrified girl who you were and just how you were going to help her. 

You’d held both her hands and forced her to breathe along with you, all while simultaneously ordering the flight attendants to radio overhead for an Albuterol inhaler from one of the other passengers. 

I’d watched in awe while you magically calmed that girl down, got her breathing nice and slow again. 

By the time the ER doctor from a few rows up came back for a look, he’d simply said, “well, it looks like you have this under control…”  and gone back to his seat.

It was one of the many moments in my life, where I’d wanted to stand up and point to you emphatically and scream to the crowd of onlookers, “That’s MY sister!!”

 Every major step and decision in my life, you’ve been there… holding my hand through it, like you did with that girl on the plane.  Coaxing me to ignore the little nagging voice in my head, and to do the things I am terrified to do. 

A lot of those things, I only had the courage to try, because I knew that if I fucked them up, you’d be there to fix it.  Because you always have been. 

And up until now I’ve taken all that for granted.

You see, I realize now that I’ve never allowed you the opportunity to NOT be perfect.  I’ve never expected anything less than that from you.  So when I was missing a few weeks back, and I saw that you’d posted my suicide note and all the details of my mental health struggles online, I’d been very very angry. 

I’d resented you for that for a little while afterwards, because in my eyes, it was handled imperfectly.  


But what IS the perfect way to handle that situation?  I mean, what precedence out there exists for, “My sister has gone fucking crazy and I desperately need to find her?”  

And so I’m sitting here several weeks later, looking at your baby pictures, and for the first time…

…I mean really, truly, the first time…

…I’m allowing you the right – TO BE HUMAN. 

And I’m realizing that throughout our entire lives, I’ve never ever given you that.  Never allowed you that.

Never allowed you to be vulnerable. 

Never allowed you to be anything other than perfect. 

And I’m so fucking sorry, Christel.

I really am.

I’m sorry that I held you to an impossible standard.  I’m sorry that I’ve expected you to fix everything that’s gone wrong in my life.  I’m sorry that I’ve let you down. 

And I promise to do better.  To try to my hardest to BE better.

All I’ve ever wanted, is to be you.  But I’m not.  And never will be.  And that’s okay. 

You are still, to this day, my absolute idol and the constant source of solidity in my drastically wavering life. 

And all I want, right now? 

Is for you to know that.

Love Always

Your Baby Sister,


Julie

Before I Forget

Part 10 – The Disappearance of Julie Peters.

A memory

Downtown Mt. Clemens, MI

2009

It’s 1 AM on a Saturday night  and I’ve just clocked out of work.  My apron, removed from my waist and folded sloppily into thirds, lies in the crook of my right elbow, it’s threaded compartments overflowing with ink-stained ballpoint pens and crumpled bits of green paper.  Scribbled messages litter the lined guest checks, written in a language only fellow servers could interpret.  

6 wings, Mango Hab, Bl chz, cel

Patron Marg. on rcks, w/s – NO LIME 

I shuffle my feet carefully on the soapy, tiled floor of the kitchen, as though it’s a frozen pond. 

The back door, propped open with a large white bucket, provides a brief reprieve from the pungent smell of chicken grease and dirty dishwater, hanging over the tiny space like a noxious gas.  

“Guys, I’m heading out!”  I yell, my voice ricocheting between the worn, steel kitchen appliances and bounding over sauce-stained counter-tops.  

The freezer door squeaks open and a large shadow looms in the dim light of the kitchen.  

“Okay, baby, be safe,” hums a voice, as silky as the ebony skin of the man it belongs to.  

I don’t look back to check if Tony, our lead cook and giant Teddy bear of a man, is watching me make my exit.  I already know he is. 

Tony’s good like that.  Forever on alert, protecting the female servers and hostesses from the dangers of the night. 

And there are dangers a-plenty in this neighborhood.

It’s not exactly downtown Detroit, but it’s close enough. 

Our back parking lot has long been a breeding ground for drug dealers, crackheads, and thieves. 

Driving one street over could land you in a drug-infested wonderland, if you so desired. 

I’d vowed to myself that I’d never head in that direction again, after my last experience, nearly a week ago.  I’d innocently offered to drive one of the hostesses home that night, and as surely as they say – no good deed goes unpunished. 

Upon approaching her house, a man with bulging eyes had approached my rickety jeep’s driver-side window.  He’d stared at us, disconcertingly and slowly nodded his head up and down, repeatedly whispering to himself, “Theeeeese… is some young-ass girlssssss.”  

The hostess had reached over me and shouted, “No thanks, Morris.  We don’t want none!!”  and then jumped out of my vehicle, slamming the door behind her.  

“DRIVE!!!” She’d yelled as she’d spun on her heels and made a bee-line for her own dilapidated house.  And drive, I did.  Like a bat out of hell.  I’m not proud of it, but what can I say?  It happened.

But now, as I make my paranoid trek across the parking lot, I keep a key between each finger of my right hand, just in case Morris should return for an encore.  My hand is balled up in a tight fist, the jagged metal poking outwards like a knock-off version of Wolverine.  A poor man’s brass knuckles.

I let out the breath I’ve been holding, as I slip into my driver’s seat, doing a quick once-over in the rearview to check for serial killers. 

Satisfied with the result, I  look up through the glass windshield at Tony, standing in the back doorway of the kitchen, with his arms crossed and muscles bulging underneath his grease-covered apron. 

A quick thumbs-up from me, confirms that Ted Bundy has not crawled into my back seat during my shift.  Content with my safety, he closes the door, and I’m left alone, drenched in the ghostly-pale glow of the parking lot.

I find the ignition with my former-wolverine-claw-turned-car-key, and start the engine with a faint roar.  My right hand absently reaches for the volume knob on the stereo, a habit I’m inclined to, lest the entire neighborhood be woken by the obnoxiously loud Metallica album currently residing in my CD player.  

Oddly though, no noise is emanating from my crackly speakers at all, and I realize this at the exact same time that my outstretched arm, lands in a giant black hole. 

I shriek, pulling my hand back quickly, as though I’ve miscalculated and accidentally put my hand inside a snake hole.  Adding to the sensation, are the free wires that brush my hand as I return it to my body.

I scramble for the overhead button, find it, and illuminate the vehicle instantly. 

And there it is… plain as day. 

My stereo, has been stolen.

What – – oh COME ON!!!’

I scream angrily out into the night.

The broke college student part of me laments the financial loss, although as I think it over, I realize that the stereo itself will probably sell for less money than the Metallica CD that was housed inside it.  That doesn’t soften the blow, however.

Aside from the bereavement, another sensation creeps through my veins – one that I can’t quite put words to. 

The best way to describe it?  I feel…. violated. 

Knowing that some asshole has had his grubby fingers inside my dashboard.  That some uninvited person had sat in my driver’s seat.  Had fiddled with my wires.  And I hadn’t been here to witness it.  

The intrusion didn’t include just my car.  This burglar had somehow managed to strip me of my own sense of safety.   He hadn’t just tinkered with my belongings, but left me with an unanswerable question. 

A compelling need to know JUST WHAT exactly he had done during his invasion.  What all did he tarnish with his slimy, undeserving fingers?

I place my palms on the steering wheel. Did he have his hands in the same spot as mine?  Was he looking out the same windshield, at some point? I shiver at the thought.

I throw the car in reverse, and hit the gas. 

But as I drive home in my abnormally quiet vehicle, I feel slightly sick.

I can’t shake the lingering feeling of his palpable occupancy, as though it’s suspended in the air all around me.  It may not be visible, but it’s detectable.  

And I have no idea how to get rid of it.


Present Day

October 8, 2019

I reach my outstretched fingers into the last unopened pocket of the large hiking backpack, and pull out 2 chapsticks, a tube of SPF, and a miniature, pocket-sized notebook. 

I lay the contents on the hard-wood floor, where they blend together with the rest of the camping gear that’s spread across the room in a half-circle all around me, like a colossal rainbow.

My forehead scrunches as I examine the items individually. 

A camp stove with little propane cylinders.  A rain-flye.  A compass.  A hand-drawn map of Des Moines, Iowa’s Adventure Bicycle network.   A hunting knife.

I’ve held off doing this for too long now.  It’s been 2 weeks since I’ve returned to Michigan, and yet I’ve procrastinated combing through this backpack in it’s entirety. 

And there’s no question as to why. 

I’m terrified. 

Not terrified of what these bits and pieces will cause me to remember.  It’s not the memories themselves that incite terror.  That’s not it at all.

I’m terrified, because these items are undeniable proof.  

Proof of all the moments that I’ve forgotten.

That there are things that I did last month, items that I purchased, people that I met, plans that I made, that I have no recollection of whatsoever.  

I know, it probably sounds like I’m exaggerating this for cinematic effect.  I swear to God, I’m not. 

I have no reason to.  As a matter of fact, this story would be much more interesting if I did remember.  I’d love to be able to recount, in great detail, what exactly transpired when I left my hotel room in Minneapolis on September 9, 2019. 

I wish I had all the information so I could continue this story in a perfectly linear, logical way.  But I can’t do that.  Because I can’t fucking remember.

Do you have any idea how horrifying that is? 

Have you ever lost time? 

Have you ever done things, when you were 100% sober and awake… that you cannot account for? 

I have.  It’s not exciting. It’s not thrilling.  It’s awful. 

And this isn’t the first time it’s happened to me.

Years ago, I stopped taking an anti-anxiety medication very suddenly, and I wound up in the hospital having seizures from the unexpected withdrawal.  When I finally was cleared to come home, my two best friends came to visit me. 

I don’t recall what story I was telling them, but I remember that it was hilariously funny. 

Except that when I got to the punch line, instead of laughing, they were both sitting there, mouths agape… looking absolutely horrified.  

Confusion had overtaken me, and I asked, “What?  What’s wrong?”

They looked at each other, swallowed nervously, and proceeded to inform me that I’d just told them that exact same story.  Word for word.  

As in, I told them the story, and when I got to the end of it, I started telling it again like I’d never told it the first time. 

And if I didn’t believe them… THEY HAD THE ENTIRE THING ON VIDEO.

They were understandably concerned, and we never quite figured out what the fuck happened in my brain that caused it.  I always assumed it was the meds they had put me on while I was in the hospital, and maybe that’s it – maybe it’s not.  

All I know is that sporadically, throughout my life, I’ve had these little episodes where I’ve seemingly lost time.  Which is extremely strange, because in my everyday life, I pride myself on having an excellent memory.  And I’m not trying to brag or anything, but my memory is pretty ACE.  It got me straight-A’s throughout school, nearly effortlessly.  I graduated with a 3.98 GPA in college.  

What does it feel like, you may ask, to have a chunk of your life excised from memory? 

It feels dirty, like someone’s been poking around in your skull uninvited. 

It feels like being robbed. 

It feels like having the most important thing in your possession, your very EXISTENCE, stolen from you. 

It feels like looking around in your own mind, and there’s this foreignness about it. 

It feels like there’s a part of you that’s tainted  – touched by another.  

It feels like you’ve been violated. 

It feels, like being paranoid, I mean absolutely paranoid all the time, that the burglar is going to come back. 

And there’s nothing you can do about it.  Because the burglar

… is you.  

From here on out, I’m going to attempt to tell you what I do remember from my disappearance, because there are plenty of lucid moments sprinkled in with the foggy ones. 

But I’m only going to share what I can prove to be reliable. 

I could try to fill in the gaps by combing through receipts or asking family.  But I’m not going to do that.  Because this is my story, and I want to tell you what I experienced.  However sparse that experience may be.  

I may have been robbed, but she didn’t take everything. 

And so we’ll start, with my next available memory. 

Which is at a cheap, dingy motel, in Baldwin, Wisconsin. Although I’m not entirely 100% sure how I wound up there.

To be continued…