It is very difficult to realize that today my sister Karen would have been 67 years old. But, like David, she is permanently preserved at age 24.
My relationship with Karen was convoluted, so much so that I remember feeling guilty when she died because I didn't really feel anything, at least nothing like everyone was assuming I was feeling.
I remember the morning when it happened. Well, I sort of remember it. I think I called her at work to ask her something, but she hadn't arrived yet, then my mother told me there had been an accident and she was being taken to the hospital, then I called her office back to let them know she would not becoming to work.
I was pregnant with David at the time. Walt and I went to San Francisco and met my parents at the hospital. Karen was in surgery. We still didn't know what exactly had happened. The story was that her partner, Bernie Maes, was with the police. Bernie said that she (Bernie) had decided to commit suicide and Karen tried to stop her by grabbing the gun she held. The gun went off and Karen got shot.
The doctor described the injuries to her brain and all we were concerned about was would it affect her fine motor skills, since she loved photography so much. It never occurred to us that she would actually die.
Later, of course, it was clear that was not the story, as Karen had been shot three times, once across their bed, and twice with Bernie standing over her and shooting down at her.
The argument was over Karen's decision to leave the relationship. She had found a place somewhere else, where her dog wouldn't have to be locked up all the time (Schroeder was a miniature Schnauzer and Bernie hated dogs, so she made Karen keep him locked up at all times). I don't know what else went into her decision to kill my sister. I also don't know what her ultimate punishment was. She was under mental observation for a year and then I think I heard that she served five years in prison. We really didn't try to keep track of her.
Karen was in a coma for several weeks and ultimately died of a kidney infection. I never saw her after she was shot because my mother was afraid that it would be upsetting for my pregnancy.
We lived together for many years, as kids, of course, but I don't remember ever feeling like we had a close sister relationship. We really were oil and water. I was girly and bookish and Karen was a tomboy. We shared a bedroom and I don't really remember us ever whispering secrets to each other or doing sisterly things. I'm sure we did. I just have never been able to remember them. It seems impossible to believe now, but I used to get so angry with her for being messy, when I was trying to keep our room neat. (You may all laugh at that)
Maybe it was the spectre of my father that kept us all on our toes and prevented intimacies among us. I always seem to paint my father as a monster and he really wasn't. He never beat my mother, I never saw him fall-down drunk (until his last year), and we had a lot of laughs with him. He rarely spanked Karen or me (but did beat her pretty badly once) But he created such an atmosphere of tension in the house at all times, that it was impossible to get away from it. We never knew when something good would turn instantly into something bad. It is the bond that I feel with my mother today, but it's a bond I can't mentally recreate with Karen.
Karen and my father both had volatile tempers and I remember so many evenings when they would start arguing at the dinner table. I learned to eat very quickly and leave the table as soon as possible to avoid having to sit there and watch them yell at each other. Karen had a very strong sense of social justice and she and my father disagreed on most things.
I remember once when she came home to say she was going to the movies with a man who worked on the cable car she rode every day. He happened to be black and my father found him at the cable car after he got off work and told him that he did not believe the races should mix and he could not date his daughter. Karen was furious.
I often wondered how he felt when Karen went off to live with a woman she had fallen in love with. The woman's name was Vicki and I was kind of on the fringes of all that happened because I had moved out of the house by then, but Vicki managed to separate Karen from the family. (This was before the formation of PFLAG and my parents wondered where they had gone wrong) The story Karen told all of us was that she had a roommate named Paula, but nobody ever met Paula, nobody was every permitted to visit her or even see her apartment.
It wasn't until Vicki dumped her for another girl that the story came out who she really was.
Bernie was good for Karen. She actually did a lot to heal the rift between Karen and the family. I liked Bernie. We all did. Even my father did....well, up until she shot Karen in the head.
Even with the tragedy of her death, I have never forgiven her for one thing. When my parents moved out of San Francisco, my father was going to get a dog. He had wanted an Irish Setter all of his life and Karen and I were going to go in together and get him one. This would finally be the thing that I could do for him that would make him like me, I felt. But then I got a call from Karen. She and Bernie had found a fuzzy little puppy and had rescued her and were calling from my parents' house, where my father was just ecstatic about his puppy. It was the ultimate one-upmanship that I was never able to recover from. Forever more. my father talked in glowing terms about how Karen had given him his beloved dog and nobody ever remembered that getting him a dog had been MY idea in the first place and how angry I was that Karen hadn't called so that we could have given him the dog together.
I have twice become very angry with Karen for dying, over the last 40-some odd years. I remember standing at her grave and mentally yelling at her during the last days of our parents' marriage, when I was pitted one against the other and I felt so alone. Why wasn't Karen there to share all the bad stuff that was happening?
The other time has been this past year, trying to get our mother settled somewhere. Now that she is settling into Atria, it's not so important, but trying to make decisions I so often wished that I had her to confer with. Ed was there, of course, and so was Walt, but really I felt the decisions to be made were up to me and I desperately wanted Karen around to talk to.