How’s It Gonna Be When You Don’t Know Me Anymore?

Baby Bonnie

The place Joyce and Jerome found for Nick and me to live was terrible, just terrible. It was a college student’s house. It was dirty. The bathtub had been scratched at one point and someone had sprayed the scratches with spray paint. Every time you showered, you came out with chunks of spray paint on your body. There was a suspicious soft spot under the toilet, which ran constantly.

I could hear the neighbors talking in their bedroom at night, without my hearing aids in. The same neighbors stole our electricity and decided they could tell Nick what to do with his life. I warned them our Puppy didn’t like big dogs, and they should keep their lab away from her. They thought that was pretty funny until Puppy chased their dog back into their house one day.

Joyce, Jerome and Kelsie showed up to help us unpack. Kelsie looked so much like Tonia, it was hard to look at her. Kelsie and I are very close now, but it was difficult at first, and not just because she looked like her mother. Our lives had driven us apart from each other. We’d both looked around at our crazy family and took off running, only in opposite directions.

At dinner, Joyce was talking about Bonnie and Jerome Michael. Jerome Michael had gotten remarried and had a little boy, also named Jerome. Bonnie wasn’t doing so well after her accident; she had short-term memory problems and so much metal holding her together that winters in Wisconsin or North Dakota were painful for her.

What accident?

Joyce hadn’t wanted to tell me about Bonnie’s accident since it happened after Joyce talked to me at Christams and Joyce was afraid if she told me I’d commit suicide. Joyce didn’t believe in suicide.

Somehow Joyce thought I’d survived my sister’s death and my husband’s death, but would kill myself over an accident that my younger sister survived? I told Joyce it was weird she didn’t believe in suicide, since it happened every day and was a true fact.

Joyce ignored my barb and told me that Bonnie and her husband Ted had gone out dancing and when they were on their way home, traveling down the highway in their big pickup, they’d gotten into an argument. According to Ted, they’d both been drinking and Bonnie got so angry at him that she slid across the seat, opened the passenger door, and jumped out. Bonnie had fallen under the truck they were in and it had run over her from her left hip to her right shoulder. It had missed Bonnie’s head, but she had head trauma from hitting the ground.

Bonnie had internal injuries and many broken ribs. Her sternum was broken too. She was lucky to be alive. Her ribs and sternum were now stapled together and all the staples made her cold in the winter. Bonnie had three young boys; Joyce said Bonnie didn’t remember them and she had a hard time making new memories. Joyce said Bonnie barely remembered Jerome Michael and she didn’t remember her half-brothers or her mother at all. Joyce said Bonnie called Joyce her mother now.

Joyce told me that Ted had tried to murder Bonnie; she didn’t believe his story. Joyce said Ted had pushed Bonnie out of the truck; that’s why Bonnie fell under it. If Bonnie had jumped out, she would’ve jumped free and maybe just broken legs. I told Joyce that’s not how physics works. Joyce told me there was no way you could fall under a truck traveling down the highway at 60 miles an hour if you jumped out of the front seat. The only way Bonnie could have been run over was if Ted pushed her out–or had gone back to run Bonnie over after she’d jumped free. Again, I told her that’s not how it works.

I said, “So. Bell murdered Tonia?”


“And Ted tried to murder Bonnie?”


“Do you know why people are murdering your daughters? We have nothing of value and no connections. Should I be worried? Am I next? Can I volunteer to be next because I am very tired of living?”

Joyce said that’s why she hadn’t told me: she knew I’d want to die. 

I still don’t know why people would be murdering Joyce’s daughters. I also haven’t been murdered, in case there’s any doubt.

I can tell you that Bonnie’s body and brain survived the accident, but Bonnie did not. My quirky, quick-witted, laughing sister is gone. She’s been replaced by someone who usually doesn’t understand what’s being said to her the first time it’s said. She can’t make decisions or carry on a conversation. She’s often confused about where she is. 

Bonnie moved down to Florida for a few years to live with a man who fell in love with the only Bonnie he’d ever known, the quiet, unquirky Bonnie. At that point, Bonnie wasn’t all the way gone–there were still glimmers of her sense of humor and sense of fun. She seemed more able to carry on conversations and still knew who I was. But after they’d been together a few years, that man died and those glimmers of my Bonnie started fading. She moved back up to Minot to live with Joyce and Jerome.

Remember J, the man I treated so horribly while I was decompensating? He galloped to Bonnie’s rescue. At first I was kind of disturbed that Bonnie would date a man I had lived with. But seeing her again, I’m not sure she remembers I dated him. I never wanted him anyway; I’m not upset with her. But I am a little weirded out by J. He seems to be drawn to broken women. Why is he dating the sister of someone he proposed to? And I’m a little iffy on letting Bonnie making decisions about who to live with. Because I don’t know if she’s capable.

Maybe I’m overreacting. Just because the person in Bonnie’s body is no longer MY Bonnie, that doesn’t mean she’s unable to make her own decisions. But I’m sad. Both of my sisters are gone.


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