you take me to your room
now I hold your gun
I come against my will
oh my love
—“In My Arms” by Atlantis Black
My last night with Atlantis took place in San Diego in June of 2008. We talked about Mark, our childhood neighbor, who Atlantis claimed molested her when she was eight and he was a young teenager. The alleged abuse ended a couple of years later, when his family moved to another state. It was a conversation that exhausted me, but fueled my sister with the rage of a wrong that was never set right. Atlantis carried her suffering on her sleeve, with one hand in the pocket of her ripped jeans. But the famous molestation was a bloody sword that she held up for all to see. She brandished it with such sincerity, I believed that even if she had imagined it all (and I don’t think she did), the blade could really cut. We had been talking about Mark for twenty-three years.
I first heard about the molestation when I was six and Atlantis was eight. I remember Atlantis—who was called Nancy, then— coming into my room, skinny as a matchstick, her freckles covered in tears. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but she said that Mark made her give him blow jobs, and put his fingers inside her. She wanted him to stop, but was afraid that he’d get mad, and that no one would believe her anyway, since his dad was buddies with the sheriff. I advised her to tell our babysitter, Claire. When she finally did tell Claire, who went to high school with Mark, Claire gazed at her nails and said:
“Mark dates senior girls.”
Nancy’s claim was plausible. Since Mark helped our family take care of the yard, he had easy access to our home, garage and tool shed. One friend and neighbor, Tara, remembers Mark and Nancy “hugging” in the back yard while we were all playing hide-and-seek. Tara is a year younger than me, and looked up to my sister at least as much as I did. At the time, intimacy with an older boy seemed cool, she said, and to see Mark hold Nancy in secret only made her worship Nancy all the more. Of course, what Tara saw suggests that Mark and Nancy had a far more complicated relationship than what might have resulted from a single, predatory attack, or something that happened just once.
That last night in San Diego, Atlantis said that Mark had been in touch recently. He worked as a prison guard in central Pennsylvania.
“It’s maximum-security,” she said. “And get this: he has a three-year-old daughter.”
“Christ,” I said.
Atlantis went on: “But you know what’s really true, that I’ve discovered? Time and dates mean nothing at all. When I’m terrified, or when I try to sleep at night, I close my eyes and I’m right back there, choking. I didn’t have pubic hair when he did that to me.”
“What an asshole,” I said. “It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah,” she said, dragging on her cigarette. “Remind me not to commit any more crimes in Pennsylvania.”
Eleven days later, Atlantis died in a Tijuana hotel room. The cause of death was a pancreatic hemorrhage after a heroin overdose.
And I love you
more than opium
and I need you
to help me break apart
—“More Than Opium” by Atlantis Black
In the spring of 2008, Atlantis sent an e-mail, telling me that she had found work in the entertainment industry:
I’m in a Samuel L. Jackson film next month, as well as a Matthew McConaughey and Ashton Kutcher movie. Nothing big—just bit-roles and extra parts. But at least they feed me and give me $150 a pop.
When she was in her twenties, people who saw her on the street offered her modeling gigs. Still, I never quite believed that Atlantis would appear in Hollywood movies. Matthew McConaughey, in her dreams. I wondered what she was really doing.
I feel sick over the whole thing because I am not, and never wanted to be, an actress. I feel that I’m taking away chances from 19-year-old girls from Nebraska who were molested and saved every dime from their cashier jobs just to get to CA and their dream is to be an actress.
Atlantis was obsessed with nineteen-year-old girls from Nebraska.
Frances flew in from NYC the other week to film a documentary on me—but after seeing the footage I do not ever want it to be released. She and her editor are determined however—so it’s a battle.
Frances Bathory was a forensic psychologist and aspiring filmmaker. She was smitten with my sister, the tragic chanteuse whose website featured a mug shot from her arrest at the age of seventeen (for public intoxication, after taking hallucinogens in the Mojave desert). Online, Atlantis described herself as “a depressed girl who can’t sing and doesn’t give a fuck.” She answered all of her fan mail, and said that Frances was welcome to visit whenever she wanted.
Frances brought muscle relaxers and downers, and shot video of Atlantis while she was high. Frances stayed at Atlantis’s apartment while Atlantis talked about her life. They took walks on the beach; they went to a spa. Frances gave Atlantis the lyrics to a song she wrote for her. Atlantis tried to play it, but none of the recorded versions satisfied her. It wasn’t a romance, quite. Atlantis said that she wasn’t attracted to Frances, and that their relationship involved no sex.
On April 24, 2008, a pair of DEA agents broke down the door to Atlantis’s apartment while she was sleeping. They questioned her about an incident at Walgreens and Target that took place on or about March 19. Atlantis denied doing anything wrong, and said that she had been prescribed Vicodin after a car accident. She had been taking the drug for months, and said that it made her memory “a little fuzzy.” The police report says that she told Special Agent Tom Lenox: “If you have to arrest me, go ahead.”
It sounded like Atlantis. I could just picture her arrogant slouch, her skinny belly puffing out, while they cuffed her, confiscated her cell phone and took her away. She was detained at Las Colinas, a jail in Santee, CA.
After Atlantis’s arrest, she called our mother to bail her out. Mom suffered from bipolar disorder, and was trying out a new strategy for dealing with Atlantis’s bad behavior. She not only refused to bail Atlantis out, but called the bailsman’s supervisor to inform him that her daughter was a “flight risk.” Though Mom tried to keep Atlantis’s arrest a secret from the rest of the family, my aunt found out, and thought I should know. By the time I heard about it, Atlantis had been incarcerated for six days. I e-mailed the jail and asked Atlantis what I could do to help.
The next day, Atlantis e-mailed back a photograph attachment of bruises on her arms and legs, with this message:
I am out.
Email is not safe.
Nor are phone calls.
I am writing our mother out of my life. . .
I’ve done a lot of things in my life—but of these charges I am 100% innocent. I am getting a top-notch attorney and am not only pleading not guilty but am counter-suing for false-arrest, abuse and medical neglect while incarcerated.
Deprived of the medication that she normally took daily—including antidepressants and Depekote, the anti-seizure drug—she had a grand mal seizure on the courtroom floor, delaying her arraignment. I have seen the pink legal paper from “The People of the State of California Vs. Eunice Atlantis Black” that confirms this incident: “Defendant was removed from the courtroom for medical reasons. The court finds good cause to continue.”
While incarcerated, Atlantis got sicker. A vegetarian out of Buddhist conviction, she went on a hunger strike and dropped to ninety-eight pounds. She said that the guards “pushed her around” when she refused to eat.
And that is nothing—many girls were whisked off to isolation with broken arms, etc. All in all, there is no evidence, no proof, nothing. The law firm has a steadfast reputation to protect—therefore they do not take on cases they believe they can’t win—and according to them, mine is a “slam dunk.”
p.s. I got a job campaigning for Hillary in snotty La Jolla and this asshole watering his yard totally HOSED ME DOWN! Can you believe that?
I could. Accused of buying a bottle of Vicodin that she said she believed was prescribed for her, Atlantis was offered a plea bargain of two felonies, with eighteen months in prison or rehab. There was no guarantee that she would be able to serve her sentence in rehab.
The prescription purchase that got Atlantis arrested took place around the same time that Frances Bathory visited San Diego.
On March 19, 2008—five days after Frances arrived and began shooting the film—someone called in a Vicodin prescription to a Walgreens under my sister’s name. The report says that this person called the pharmacy and left a voicemail impersonating a doctor while Atlantis was standing at the pickup counter. The prescription was for a higher strength than Atlantis’s last one, and included the instruction to “take as needed.” Atlantis stood waiting while the pharmacist said that the prescription had to be confirmed. The pharmacist suggested that Atlantis come back the next day. Atlantis left Walgreens empty-handed.
An hour later, a woman whom the police report says fits the description of Atlantis, but whom the pharmacist could not positively identify five weeks later, went to Target and found the Vicodin prescription waiting. She purchased it with Atlantis’s credit card and left the store.
Like most people who are unfortunate enough to be arrested out of their homes and detained, Atlantis had not planned for it. The week that she spent at Las Colinas left her jobless and committed to fighting the charges against her.
Atlantis said she found fourteen errors in the police report, which contained two photographs of a woman—clearly not Atlantis—with a white male. Both stood at the pharmacy counter, and both smiled at the security camera on their way out, the male rubbing his belly as if to say, “Yummy.” The police report suggests that these were the people who bought drugs under Atlantis’s name with her credit card. Atlantis denied knowing who they were. She left a voicemail saying:
I went to my psychiatrist’s to get my anti-seizure medication, as well as my anti-depressants and my anti anxiety meds, and apparently the DEA and FBI had already got to my psychiatrist. So she knew the story before I even got a chance to tell her, which kind of freaks me out. And my attorney emailed me a 33 –page .pdf file of the DEA/FBI report on me, filled with photographs with a female and a male all over the place that’s not me, it’s not even remotely me. They’re even black-and-white, it doesn’t even look like me, it’s actually insulting because, you know, you would think in the last three weeks I gained like 60 pounds and got a really, really, really, bad perm? Um, you know, no—it’s not me. And you can show it to a perfect stranger, and—they even made a remark in their report, that the pharmacist, even, could not identify me with those photographs.
She was right: the woman in the photographs wasn’t her. But did Atlantis know her name? She said that she didn’t, and told the police that she believed it was a simple case of identity theft.
After that, I wanted to laugh when Atlantis reposted this Craigslist ad on her Facebook page:
Need a hot, loyal wife? Ocean Beach—31.
Here’s my deal: I am a lesbian with two degrees (one in GIS and one in Pharmacy) but I am unemployed and in a terrible financial situation at the moment. I do not want to have children, but I would love to have an open marriage—as in you are free to do whatever you like and I would be free to do the same with women. I am extremely loyal, so I would hope that we would ultimately build a bond together :-) I am extremely attractive—5’6″, thin, brunette, hazel eyes, Irish, feminine, etc., etc. and I would say other than loyalty my best quality is my sense of humor. I love vintage/classic films and my reading tastes range from Tolstoy to Dostoyevsky—but I am a die-hard Nabokov fan. (Clearly I love Russian authors—LOL.) I’ve thought about this very deeply, and I think I would make an excellent wife to an appropriate gentleman. So if you’re interested in hearing more, send me your pic and I will send you mine in return. Oh, no Republicans—sorry :-)
Atlantis was diagnosed with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder as a child. In her late twenties, her problems—observed through the lens of our mother’s demons—suggested to some that Atlantis shared her bipolar disorder. Though she was perhaps never properly diagnosed, her mental illness left a paper trail with her psychiatrists and therapists (especially the one that dropped her). But since her release from jail, she seemed to have gone off the deep end.
I called and asked her if the ad was supposed to be a joke. She said no. Her lawyer had told her that if she married a non-US citizen, she could leave the country and the court case behind her. A husband would not be able to testify against her.
I advised that she get a new lawyer. She said she was happy with this one, whom she referred to as the “Johnnie Cochran of San Diego.” She mentioned that her former client, a wealthy lesbian in her forties whom she had met two months earlier through an escort ad, had already paid his retainer.
She told me about another Craigslist “find”: Hector, a lonely Mexican immigrant who had some extra space in his San Marcos garage. Hector was HIV-positive and looking for a girlfriend, and he was willing to store Atlantis’s few belongings for free. Atlantis moved her stuff there pretty much immediately.
Finally, the ad connected her with Johann, a middle-aged German living in Tijuana. He responded with pictures of himself and a long letter saying that he enjoyed sailing, tango, horses, jazz, theater and his motorbike, and believed in “life as an art form.” In response, Atlantis sent pictures of herself in lingerie, and let him know that she was a “Bonnie-and-Clyde type of lesbian,” interested in marrying someone in need of a green card. Johann wrote back that his passport would be with his lawyer for the next week while his green card was extended. But he was still most interested in meeting Atlantis. Though he couldn’t legally cross the border right now, he invited Atlantis down to his spacious, modern home in Del Mar for a visit. She wrote back:
I do love to live life on the edge—there’s no other way to live—
On May 6, Atlantis crossed the San Ysidro border. Johann picked her up at the McDonald’s on the Mexican side.
On May 8, they exchanged loving e-mails about what a great time they had together.
On May 9, Johann suggested that he and Atlantis “visit a bank and withdraw some happiness.”
On May 12, Atlantis posted on Facebook two close-up photographs of a gun sticking out of her jeans. She appeared to be topless. There was no explanation.
Seeing her hollow belly and dick-like gun, I felt a wave of nausea. Atlantis’s interaction with the law had made her more, not less, dangerous.
The DEA questioned Atlantis’s doctors about the Vicodin prescriptions she had filled at Walgreens and Target over a ten-month period. As part of the investigation, Special Agent Tom Lenox interviewed three doctors who had prescribed pills for Atlantis. Until March 19, every one of Atlantis’s prescriptions matched up with a day when she had visited a doctor and said she was in pain. The report listed all of the drugs that Atlantis had purchased with legitimate prescriptions. These included antidepressants, anti-anxiety pills and painkillers: clonazepam (Klonopin), alprazolam (Xanax), zolpidem tartrate (Ambien) and hydrocodone (Vicodin). One doctor was asked if he would have prescribed medication to Atlantis had he known that another doctor was doing the same thing. He said he wouldn’t, and observed that “when a patient begins to obtain pain medication from different doctors it becomes an immediate red flag.”
That Atlantis was seeking pain medication from different doctors was indeed a red flag that she needed help. There was no evidence that Atlantis sold drugs. All but one of her doctors remembered prescribing Vicodin for her over the ten-month period, and had records of having seen Atlantis on the days she had prescriptions filled. The doctor who didn’t remember said that he did not recall speaking with anyone called Atlantis Black, and remarked that “it is such an unusual name that if [I] did receive a request on the weekend or see a patient sometime within the last six weeks [I] would recall the name.”
The police report did not mention whether that doctor might have prescribed pills for Eunice A. Black, the name on most of her ID cards. In the end, there was no proof that Atlantis had written any of the prescriptions herself, and no evident connection between Atlantis and the pair smiling at the security camera. A nurse practitioner remembered seeing Atlantis in January and in February, and confirmed that she had written Atlantis’s prescriptions for Vicodin both times.
In mass e-mails to family and old friends, Atlantis sent updates about her court case and living situation. She said she was on the verge of homelessness, was out of cash and throwing up blood. She lost a week’s wages while she was in jail, and could neither get back her canvassing shifts nor her apartment sublet. She fought bitterly with our mother, who refused to help her. She wrote to me that she had a friend sending heroin “in case of the very worst possibility.”
I told Atlantis not to be stupid. I knew better than to believe everything I read in her e-mails, but still, I doubted that she would survive the stress of a trial. She planned to reject the plea bargain, and it seemed unlikely that the charges would be dismissed. I offered to visit San Diego and be present for the preliminary hearing. She said that it wasn’t a good time. I had to explain to my clueless sister that I wasn’t looking for a good time. That was exactly why I would be there, just as soon as I was back from Crete.
After Atlantis’s sublet ended June 1st, she moved to Hector’s house in San Marcos and slept with him in his bed, though she said that their relationship involved no sex. I sent her an e-mail suggesting that the DEA might be seeking informants to get the name of a serious drug dealer. It was clear that she was not responsible for purchasing the Vicodin herself. I asked if she knew who called the pharmacy and impersonated a doctor.
I made a list of practical things that Atlantis needed— her own place to live, food, money, a job. I decided to call our mother. I told her that if she agreed to send money, I would do what I could to help Atlantis into rehab, or at least a new living situation. I would stay with her for as long as I could.
“Jail would be the best thing that could happen to her,” my mother said.
“She says they beat her up there,” I reminded her.
“I’ll send you a check, but this is the last one. When I die, the rest is going to the A.S.P.C.A.”
“Thanks, Mom,” I said.
As children, we were often mistaken for twins. Atlantis used to say that we both got aces in the “looks and intelligence departments,” but somehow, I was blessed with a disproportionate amount of the family luck. Perhaps it was due to my having been spared early sexual trauma that I was able to pursue my dreams (or dream at all). While my sister’s passion for music was clouded by addiction, I was able to enjoy writing as well as higher education, and had a series of interesting, challenging jobs after graduating from my creative writing program at an Ivy League institution. My sister’s artistic pursuits not only lacked monetary reward, but actually wrought social damage. It wasn’t just her poor judgment that brought Frances and her shaky camera to my sister’s door.
I believed that the main difference between us was chemical, and hidden in our brains. By my mother’s bleak, early example of the toll that mental illness takes on people’s lives—her suicide attempt had left us motherless at ages four and six while she was briefly institutionalized—I understood that mental illness is not something that people who suffer from it can “snap out of” by desire or force of will. Given my sister’s mental anguish and declining physical health, I had to agree: I was the lucky one. She accepted my good fortune, and I did not begrudge her her pain.
When I was a child, and when she wasn’t trying to kill me (or our mother), Atlantis protected me from all manner of harm. Once, on a botched tubing expedition, she saved me from drowning. But our relationship wasn’t about my paying off some impossible debt. I loved my sister, however troubled and troubling she was, and I wanted to live in a society that offered her something better than terror and isolation. It wasn’t that the world owed Atlantis. I saw that we needed her and her suffering. More than luck or illness, hope was the difference between us.
In San Diego, I checked into the Vagabond Motel, a way-station sort of place that my sister liked when she stayed there the previous year. Atlantis was not answering her phone. I left a voicemail message, sent a text, and picked up Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace, which I’d read before and intended to give to Atlantis. Before collapsing into bed, I memorized one sentence: “To love purely is to consent to distance, it is to admire the distance between ourselves and that which we love.”
Sometime in the night, the phone awakened me. It was the motel manager.
“Ms. Bonner? Atlantis Black is here to see you,” he said.
“Can you please put her on the phone?” I asked.
A muffled pause, then the voice.
“Hey you! Oh shit, sorry, darlin’, did I wake you up?”
Her voice sounded flat and exuberant. In that moment, I didn’t care that Atlantis was drunk and pilling. I was relieved because it was unmistakably Atlantis, a flight of stairs and a hallway away.
“Hey! We’re in room 208—”
“Oh shit, sorry, darlin’. I thought I’d just wait until I heard from you and then my phone died and I didn’t realize it had gotten so late—”
“Don’t worry about it. Let’s talk in our room. Two-oh-eight. Do you want me to come get you?”
“Ahahahahaha let’s talk in our room like Mom and Dad okay sorry what room?”
Like many siblings, Atlantis and I engaged in a secret communication system when we were sent to our rooms. It wasn’t complicated. In the wall we shared growing up was a hole, originally fashioned by our father slamming open our bedroom doors, made larger by our imitations of his rage. When she whispered into it, I could feel her hot breath through the wall.
“Hey, Bets! I want to show you something,” she whispered.
“Just look,” she said, trying not to laugh.
“Do it,” she hissed.
I tilted my head to show her I was looking, but far enough to move out of range quickly. Seeing me, she covered the hole for a moment with her hand. A newly sharpened pencil with a note wrapped around it sailed through the wall and into my room. It said—oh, something in the language we shared.
I opened the door. She was smiling and nearly knocked me off my feet, catching me in the arms of her faded Old Navy sweatshirt. The letters sprawled across the front: “NEW YORK.” She stank of O’Doul’s and Obsession perfume. She toppled me faster than the world to come. I held her long enough to feel her bird’s heartbeat, then pulled away to look at her.
Her unwashed hair was outgrowing the androgynous mullet that had returned—against some odds—to the heads of those sporting “heroin chic.” A bony knee poked through her jeans. She wore the same black-and-white Converse lowtops that she wore hiking on Glacier Point. Her hazel eyes were rimmed with red.
“I’m so glad you’re back!” she said. “So what’s all this drama with the Greek painter do you think he’ll come visit you in the States good thing you were finally getting laid did he give you orgasms youknowwemightfind someoneforyouhere myfriendDakota’s atotaldyke butoneofherguyfriends isahotbartender singleIthink. . .”
Like a teenage boy, Atlantis was obsessed with sex, and hounded me for details about my love life. If I wasn’t getting any, she knew just where to find it. She teased the men who were attracted to her (of whom there was no scarcity), and told them all about her little sister. She described me as a younger, smarter, more innocent version of herself. Someone who was actually fuckable, since I wasn’t a lesbian, and my body, heart and soul hadn’t yet been destroyed (as hers had been when she was eight years old).
We climbed into twin beds. Sleep dropped on the luckier of two vagabond sisters.
now I hold my breath
you are almost gone
watch you fade away
oh my love
—“In My Arms” by Atlantis Black
When I arrived in San Diego, Atlantis’s attorney was on vacation in Hawaii. It was just as well. Atlantis was tight-lipped about the court case, and there was no shortage of practical things that needed attention, things that seemed more important, even, than the legal matter at hand.
I found a sublet that would last through the summer, and paid the full amount up front to the college student renting it out. I filled a cart with healthy food and non-alcoholic beer from the Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Market, located on Voltaire St. (I was convinced that the people who coined the street and neighborhood names of San Diego must have been very, very stoned.) On our way out, Atlantis said she needed to stop by Tiny’s, a sports bar.
“No way,” I said.
“I did a shift for a friend last week. There’s money waiting,” she said.
“Sorry. I can’t support you if you’re drinking,” I said.
“You don’t know everything,” she snapped. “I earned that money and we need it.”
“I have to go,” I said to her back.
Over her shoulder, she said, “O.M.G., your hair is so high right now. Come on, it’ll take two seconds.”
When we were young and could sit on our hair, Atlantis said that my personality changed into a strict schoolmarm’s with my tresses piled in a bun on top of my head. She also observed that I was meaner in glasses than in contacts. I followed her into the dark bar, where there was a TV on, and some dudes sitting around drinking beer. The bartender hugged Atlantis and counted out a hundred.
Right she was. The money waiting took two seconds to pick up.
Coming straight from the airport, the “Johnnie Cochran of San Diego” showed up late and newly suntanned for Atlantis’s preliminary hearing.
“Do you really think you can win this thing?” I asked him.
“Fancy meeting you here!” Atlantis laughed at a man who joined us in the hallway.
Special Agent Lenox introduced himself to me.
“Nice to meet you,” I said.
“You’re her sister?” he asked, glancing at my breasts. “Most family members of the accused aren’t happy to meet me. I’m the guy who made the arrest. But nice to meet you, too.” He winked.
I turned to J.C.S.D. and asked: “Will you accept the plea bargain and get her into rehab? My sister needs medical help.”
“Let’s see how this goes!” he said, cheerfully.
When Atlantis said that I was not allowed in the courtroom, I had the sense that she was shutting me out deliberately.
Atlantis insisted that all of her prescriptions were legitimate, each one written by doctors after her accident. The judge referred to this as “doctor-shopping,” and ordered Atlantis to attend three NA meetings per week until the next court date (in five weeks).
That night, Atlantis e-mailed her friend, Tim:
Well I asked “Your Honor” if I could approach the bench (against the advice of my attorney) and she said fine. So I suggested I take a drug test then and there (like I said I haven’t even HAD any Vicodin or ANY drugs for that matter since March and before that it had been forever) and the bitch said she thought it was an excellent idea for my next hearing—but I’d have to pay for it, not the court. This is so fucking ridiculous. I almost asked her if I could go to AA instead (HELLO, THAT’S OBVIOUSLY MORE MY CUP OF TEA) but then realized it would just piss her off even more for undermining her decision.
So yes, I was supposed to go to an NA meeting EVERY DAY until July 23rd but even the DA said that was a bit “extreme” and she finally settled on 3 days a week.
12 felony counts of prescription fraud, “doctor shopping,” and burglary (??!!) which is complete and utter bullshit b/c I was in a car accident back in Feb and saw my dr. roughly once a week before my insurance ran out and he had prescribed me Vicodin and Flexeril (which makes me sick to my stomach) for my back and my whiplash. My attorney and I have PAPER DOCUMENTS and FAXED PRESCRIPTIONS PROVING THIS ***AND*** I charged the co-payments to my credit cards so it makes no fucking sense.
The preliminary hearing is simply when the DA shows their “witnesses” (that DEA agent) and then we cross-examine him—we are not allowed to show our evidence. That’s why I can’t believe that cunt had the audacity to court-order me to NA meetings WHEN THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT I DID ANY OF WHAT THEY ARE CLAIMING, NOT TO MENTION I WAS JUST TAKING WHAT WAS PRESCRIBED FOR A 2-MONTH PERIOD AT THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR AFTER BEING TOSSED IN A TAILSPIN ACROSS SIX LANES OF TRAFFIC ON I-8!!
I can’t wait until she slips on the stairs and they refuse to give her anything but aspirin and water.
“Is that what you’re wearing to the job interview?” I asked.
When she wasn’t taking lingerie pics, my sister had always refused to wear a bra. Now she wore a skimpy t-shirt, the same torn jeans she picked me up in, and a big black belt with silver studs.
“Nobody cares about clothes here. It’s not snobby like New Yawk,” she said.
“Take this,” I said.
I unzipped my cardigan and gave it to her. Her purse was a rattlesnake over her shoulder.
“Did you rob the whole drugstore?” I said, reaching for it.
“These are my anti-seizure meds. Here’s Zoloft and Klonopin for when the Depakote doesn’t work. This is Ambien. All prescribed, legit and necessary, unless you want me to have another seizure.”
Unlike bipolar disorder, epilepsy did not run on either side of my family. My sister’s seizure disorder could be traced to the antidepressant Paxil, which a doctor prescribed for her as a teenager, after the first time she tried to kill herself. Depakote was prescribed a few years later to prevent the seizures. I’d witnessed Atlantis have a drug seizure about a year ago, when I took her hiking in Glacier Point, Yosemite. One minute she was gazing down at the treetops below; the next, she was seizing on Glacier Point, her lips turning blue. I didn’t see her fall, but felt an absence next to me where she’d just been standing. A stranger put a leather boot in her mouth before two doctors pushed the “Samaritan” away. They kept her breathing passages clear and held her head so it wouldn’t split on the rocks. Later on, we laughed about the doctors’ disdain of the superfluous boot.
“Sweetie, if you won’t go to rehab, you need to get a job,” I said.
“I’d go to rehab in a heartbeat, I’ve already told my lawyer. But not that nasty county place. Do you know what happens to people there?”
“Not really, and don’t want to. I’ve asked Mom for the money so you can go somewhere decent. She’s thinking it over. But if you really think you can work, it shouldn’t be in a bar.”
“I need flexible hours for my NA meetings, and I know more about beer than any stoner in this town.”
At The Last Day, I saw that Atlantis was right. She could fit in at any old dive. Her hand trembled while she filled out a job application.
“Does La Jolla have one ‘L’ or two?” she asked.
“Three. You write like a serial killer. Let me do it.” I finished printing her new address. “What was your title at that canvassing job?”
“Look at your handwriting! It’s like, formal, but so friendly. . .” she smiled. I suspected that Klonopin might have something to do with my sister’s newfound dreaminess. “It’s like Grandmom’s on those cards she used to send. ‘Your everloving.’ I’d hire me on the spot.”
Later that night, we watched 8 Mile and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. I stir-fried broccoli and tofu until it had a golden skin, the way Atlantis liked it, and served it over soba noodles. We acted like normal sisters. Atlantis prepared a late-night snack of crackers topped with microwaved orange cheddar. She pushed the plate toward me. The combination was revoltingly salty.
“Is it ok? I can’t really taste anything anymore.”
Her worry line—the same as Mom’s—came out.
“It’s delicious,” I said.
The next day, she called J.C.S.D. and left a voicemail message asking if the plea bargain could be reconsidered. She sent this e-mail:
Subject: Plea Bargain
Thanks again for yesterday. (Yes, that judge was horrible—LOL). I’m reconsidering plea-bargaining and have a few questions:
I don’t understand the difference between “guilty” and “no contest.” Would it be possible for all charges to be dropped to a single misdemeanor (March 19) to which I would plead guilty/no contest?
If I were to be sent to rehab (and guaranteed rehab) in lieu of jail, would there be a chance of early release? If I had financial support, could I choose my rehab facility?
And finally, post-rehab, how much probation time would I face?
Thanks again for everything and have a great day!! :-)
By phone, J.C.S.D. responded tersely that they could discuss a new strategy at the next hearing—in five weeks.
Though Atlantis and I sparred over the fact that she was apparently still friendly with someone who had used her for drugs, we didn’t argue much in San Diego. I was not practicing Mom’s “tough love” when I abandoned Atlantis. I was simply exhausted, longing for my bed, books and the comfort of friends. I needed to get my own life in order, to find my own apartment and prepare a curriculum for the four classes I was scheduled to teach that fall. It was mid-June, and I would begin working in August.
Atlantis needed, and in fact wanted, help. The roster of available “options,” combined with the self-interest/neglect of those tasked with navigating her through the system, thrust us both into an unnecessarily brutal situation.
So I chose to live my life rather than prolong my sister’s.
I told Atlantis that I needed to go back to the east coast, and that I would return to San Diego in time for the July court date. She drove me to the airport with enough cash to last her for about a month. She’d spent some of her money on a parting gift. The small package she gave me, decorated with a winking fairy, contained exactly two chocolate bars and one bag of coffee.
Grace Bonner has written a memoir, Atlantis, and a screenplay, Good Karma. A former director of the 92Y Poetry Center, she has taught creative writing at the Pierrepont School in Westport, CT, and abroad. Her poems have appeared in The New Republic, The Paris Review, Parnassus, The Southampton Review and other publications. She is a mentor in PEN’s Prison Writing program.