Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Thinking about Amy

There’s no question that my sister was the best of my family. Beautiful, smart, generous and selflessly driven to help others, Amy also ended up with mom’s boundless energy. Myself, I inherited a little bit of my mom’s drive , but I mostly tend towards my dad’s more slothful nature. Since my brother is now a lawyer, I’ll just say he’s also more like my dad. But my sister was something completely different.

During the first Gulf War, Amy was a captain in the army and was one of the first US soldiers in Iraq where she was responsible for setting up the army’s medical labs. There was an accident where a jeep overturned in a minefield, and Amy risked her life to save the people involved. She was a recipient of the Douglas MacArthur Leadership Award, and when she returned from Iraq, the army sent her to work on her Master’s Degree in Medical Lab Technologies. While she was fulltime at school, she joined the Big Sister program, was helping out local hospitals in improving their medical labs, as well as being involved in several environmental charities.

My sister’s one failing was during a bad point when she was a teenager and suffering low self-esteem, she let this utterly worthless piece of shit (who I’ll refer to in the rest of this simply as UWPOS) get himself entrenched in her life, and later she let UWPOS convince her to marry him. UWPOS was a low-level con who peddled drugs and was involved in other lowlife behavior, which he unfortunately was able to hide from my sister. When Amy went to Iraq, UPWOS got more emboldened in his activities. Before the war, Amy was stationed in San Antonio, and my parents moved there to be with her. One day after Amy had left to Iraq, UWPOS invited my parents for a day trip, during the course of which my sister’s brand new jeep (which she bought right before the war and was the first new car she ever owned) was stolen. It turns out UWPOS had arranged the jeep to be stolen, and used my parents as unwitting alibis. The police caught him, though, when he was chopping the jeep for parts, but instead of notifying my sister, they made him a snitch, and my sister never found out about it.

Twenty years ago Amy was supposed to come up and stay with me the day before Mother’s day so that we could all take my mom out. She didn’t come, and she didn’t answer her phone. While Amy was in school in New England, UWPOS was supposed to be finishing up his college degree in San Antonio—at least that’s what he convinced my sister. In fact, Amy was planning to buy him a sailboat as a graduation present. Of course, he was never in college—it was just a con he had sold my sister—and he was instead simply doing his lowlife criminal shit. But as I mentioned before, he had gotten emboldened. Several weeks before Mother’s Day he was trolling other lowlifes at bars in San Antonio, trying to find someone to help him murder my sister. He found one. The Friday before Mother’s Day 1993 he drove up from Texas with his POS accomplice and murdered Amy. Two women sharing an apartment above where Amy was living heard my sister screaming for help for over five minutes but didn’t bother calling the police. They never gave the police or DA a reason why they didn’t do this. Supposedly UWPOS killed Amy for her life insurance, and while that was part of it, I’m sure he did it more because it was killing him how well Amy was doing in life while he was nothing but a miserable lowlife UWPOS.

Twenty years later it’s still maddening when I think of all the ways Amy could still be alive if someone had acted with just a tiny bit of human decency. If the San Antonio police had notified Amy about UWPOS stealing her jeep. If those neighbors had called the police. If one of those lowlifes UWPOS approached to help him had called the police. But none of that happened. 

Bad Thoughts was the first thing I wrote after Amy’s death, and I started the first draft in 1996. It was too bleak and grim and violent a book to dedicate to my sister’s memory, but it was the most personal book I wrote. All my rage and anguish over Amy went into the book. Astral projection plays a key role in it, and after Amy’s death I read several books and took classes in the subject. I badly wanted to learn how to do it, if it was at all possible, for the obvious reason. The techniques that the books and classes gave were basically waking yourself up after a few hours of sleep (when you’d be most susceptible to having an OBE—Out of Body Experience), and then giving yourself the suggestion that you’re going to leave your body safely. I had several experiences where I was obviously dreaming that I was leaving my body. It had that unreal dreamlike quality to it. But then I had one experience that was very different. In this one I felt that ripping-out-of-my-body sensation that the books and classes talked about, and then it was as if I was hanging over my bed in this hyper-sense of reality with nothing at all dream-like about it. As I hung over the bed I was afraid I was going to fall to the floor and wake up my wife, and all at once it was as if I was sucked back into my body. Was this a real OBE or did I self-hypnotize myself to believe I was having one? Hell if I know. I quit trying soon after that. It was doing a number on my sleeping, and I was working at the time as a software engineer, and I couldn’t go to work exhausted every day. I figured if the books were right, I’d have my chance to see Amy again later.

It took ten years before I could talk about Amy to my closest friends. The thought of ever writing something like even a couple of years ago wouldn’t have seemed possible. But she’s been on my mind so much lately, and I’ve had this compulsion to write this. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because the twenty year anniversary of Amy’s death is approaching. Maybe it’s because with both my parents now gone, there’s no one really left to talk about Amy. Maybe it’s because it’s because I want her to exist, even if it’s only in a blogpost.


Karin said...

That's very moving, Dave. What a terrible thing to happen. Your description of Amy is a beautiful tribute.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Dave- My most sincere thoughts are with you after reading that post. What a tragedy and so very, very sad.

Dana C. Kabel said...

Although this may have been terribly difficult to write about, I'm very glad you did. It sounds like Amy was a very special person and she deserves having a loving brother to keep her memory alive.

It's hard enough to lose a loved one, but it seems particularly gut-wrenching when it's somebody who was constantly giving of themselves while asking for nothing in return. I'm so sorry you lost someone like that to a low life predator.

You truly honor your sister's memory by talking about the situation publicly. It could help someone in the same situation to open their eyes and change their life before it is too late.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Such a horrible, terrifying story. I don't know how anyone ever gets past this. I just don't.

Naomi Johnson said...

Time can never dull or lessen the pain, it can only allow you to set it aside for a while. The loss is neverending, but your love for your sister also shines on.

Dave Zeltserman said...

I appreciate everyone's thoughts and comments.

Patti, I don't think any parent ever gets over a child's death regardless of the circumstances, but yeah, this destroyed my dad. He was never the same after this. My mom kept herself busy with a 1000 activities to not think about it, but she was also diagnosed with Parkinson's 2 years later, and I'm convinced it was connected. Near the end for her, a day before she went to a hospice, she went to this event at the nursing home where they passed a microphone around so the residents could say something that was important to them. At this point she was very weak and frail, but it was important to her to go to this so she could talk about Amy one last time. She believed that she would be reunited with Amy when she died, and she badly wanted that, and that belief made her passing easier.

Doug Levin said...

Nice piece, Dave. "Maddening" seems an understatement.

dman4227 said...


Beautiful and touching piece. My condolences for your loss. I am sure your sister looks down on you and is very proud of the great writing career you have had and the great success that is sure to come. I know I speak for all your fans when I say you have a large group of caring readers behind you and are grateful you shared this cathartic piece with us. God bless.

J said...

Very moving remembrance.

Beth Kanell said...

Thanks for letting Amy into our lives, DZ.