Posts Tagged ‘Mary Denise Wilcox’

Today is the 13th anniversary of my little sister’s death.

She was my sister. I loved her, hated her, feared for her. Sometimes, we were best of friends. Sometimes…

Well, sometimes she borrowed my clothes without asking. Or she dressed like me.

The good points of her life:

She gave me my second cat, Buddy Jacopo, for my 15th birthday. She rescued him from a group of grade school bullies who were bent on tormenting the stray black kitten to death. She just walked into the midst of them and grabbed the kitten out of their grips. Not on her watch, she told them. Not ever.

My mother worked in an office right next door to the grade school. Deni had no plan, but she carried the kitten over to the office and set it on my mother’s desk. “I think I should give Jaci this kitten for her birthday,” she announced.

I won a duck for her at a carnival. I tossed 18 dimes onto saucers and finally scored a win. She carried the duck in an oversize drink cup all night and named it “Sam” after herself. (Sam was her familial nick-name.)

I got to keep the kitten, but she had to give the duck up to some kind ranchers 60 miles away because my dad would not allow a duck to live in the house. It was one of those unfair moments in life when a parent loses perspective of the important things. I’ve never quite forgiven myself for winning the damn duck and getting her hopes up.

She started abusing alcohol in the 6th grade, the year we moved to Ely. Her development arrested somewhere in high school. She abused sex, drugs, alcohol, relationships. She was afraid of nothing and no one, and many a bar room brawl saw her in the middle of it, fists flying.

She was terrified of not being loved. She was terrified for her children when she sobered up.

She did make a clean break of it and lived relatively drug and alcohol free for many years. My brother and I joke that she went from age 16 to age 21 during her later, sober years. It’s a half-hearted joke.

Her friends were fiercely loyal to her. Her enemies… well, I have never met her enemies. I suspect that we were her greatest enemies: the family unit that she wasn’t certain truly loved her. My brother and I moved away from home. Deni never moved very far and always ended up living back in town where she could just pick up the phone and call my dad six or seven times a day. She didn’t call my mom as much: she called the man whose love seemed to elude her.

He advised her how to fix drain pipes, run a snake through a toilet, repair broken cupboard doors – all over the phone. He told her that she needed to know those skills to live on her own.

My parents took temporary guardianship of one of Deni’s children during a dark period in her life, but when she got her feet back under her, they shared him with her. My mother despised every out-of-wedlock pregnancy, but when Chrystal was born, she adored her little granddaughter with all her heart.

I wish I could write happy things about my mother and Deni, but when I arrived in Reno to wait by Mom’s death bed, there was no Denise. I asked why she was not also present and was told, bluntly, “She’s pregnant with another bastard child.”

They never told me when Deni was pregnant. I knew about my oldest nephew because she was 18 and was forced to give him up for adoption. Deni wrote me long letters: she didn’t want to give the baby up but she would not abort him. She felt coerced. I still have all of our letters. I knew about my next nephew because Deni was married and he was a “legitimate” baby.

I found out about Chrystal the day she was born, when someone called to tell me I was the proud aunt of a little girl.

So I was taken by surprise when I stood by mother’s death-bed and learned that Deni had not been called because my mother didn’t want to see her just now, not pregnant and unwed.

The next time I saw my sister was at the memorial service a couple months later. She had her newborn son in a carrier and I watched him struggle to breathe. He was so tiny and so ill, and my sister was so protective of him.

Deni and I fought the most during her druggie years in high school. Once I graduated from high school and moved far, far away, we became friends again. She wrote me long letters when she was in a manic place and she felt like life was (finally) moving forward for her. I wouldn’t hear from her for long spells, however – and during those long spells she was was using and abusing and dying in increments. She was always looking for a father’s love in all the wrong places.

After our mother died, Deni’s relationship with Dad changed. They became friends. He began to enjoy her six or seven phone calls a day. He worried if she didn’t call. He purchased a little trailer in a trailer park for her to live in after her little pink rental house burned to the ground (no one was injured). She became the child my father poured most of his positive energy into.

Her death devastated my father. It tore up her little family. The oldest boy was an adult, but he was too much like his mother to not be affected by her loss. One ex- came and picked up his child, declaring he would raise the boy and no one else. Until then, he had not disputed my sister’s custody. One child was left an orphan. One child would never remember her mother, but would be raised by her step-father and his new wife – and they would be the people she would identify with most strongly.

We joke now about her. Sometimes I think I see her standing in the periphery of my vision. This usually happens when I am up in the woods or alone in my studio. She is no older than 10 when I see her there: skinny little legs, ratty brown hair, tanned skin. Her black eyes glitter. The first time I saw her, I was a little startled and tried to turn my head to look directly at her. Of course, she melted into the forest, laughing. I could hear her laughter.

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Grandma Melrose’s 72nd Birthday Party, 1978. Deni was 19. (Aunt Phyllis on the left.)

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I have never seen another photograph that captured Deni’s spirit like this one did. Even then, it had an eerie quality to it, as if she could see into the future and envision her life. It is my favorite snapshot of my sister (and my aunts in the background, but it is Deni that I am drawn to).

Sometimes I wonder who she would be had she lived. Other times, I thank her for letting me raise Chrystal. And always, I hope she can look down from Heaven and see the children she so fiercely protected and she can know how much they protect her memory. All four of them that I know.

Her first son has no knowledge of her, but I am certain he has all of her good qualities and her black eyes.

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