I was home by myself, babysitting my annoying sister, Susie. At the time, I hated her because she was everything I wasn’t—cute, (with her blond pig tails and perfect, porcelain doll smile) gregarious, and pint-sized.
Again, at the time, (the summer of 1969) I had shot up like my mother’s prize-winning sunflowers, and I remember feeling tall, unattractive, and unwanted. In reality, looking at Kodak shots of myself from this period, I see a 14 year-old girl with long, wavy blonde hair and legs that made me look like Kate Moss. (Heroin-chic, anyone?) I remember comparing myself to my best friend, Rosemary, and thinking that I was far too skinny.
Rosemary could have been the poster girl for being a “far out” girl at the time, and she also could have passed for Twiggy’s brunette twin. I remember that, once, (when Rosemary had downed an entire bottle of her mother’s sherry) I held the tips of her short hair back while she vomited the entire contents of her stomach—a chocolate chip cookie, sherry remnants, and something that looked like oatmeal—into the yellow bowl of the toilet that my father had installed.
At any rate, I remember envying Rosemary because all of the boys liked her, with her ready smile and out-of-sight miniskirts. I also knew that Rosemary's parental units took LSD to "tune in, turn on, and drop out" while my own square parents thought playing Team Conasta the height of hilarity.
To put it another way, I was a serious child, and did exactly what my parents told me to do. Rosemary was the charming, likeable one who believed that her parents' rules were mere suggestions that had never been meant to be followed.
Anyway, back to that summer day in 1969. It was a hot, and I had just gotten back from taking Susie to the local pool. I was helping Suse change from her bathing suit into her favorite blue sundress, when the telephone rang.
“Crap!” I said. There were tricky buttons (in the shape of white flowers) on the back of Susie’s dress, and I was in the middle of trying to fit a cheap plastic flower into a tiny button hole.
“I’m telling Mom and Dad that you said a bad word,” said my little brat of a sister.
“You do, and I’ll scratch your little eyes out,” I said, as I jogged into the kitchen and picked up the receiver.
“Hello, this is the Schuster’s residence,” I said, as I smoothed an errant strand of hair behind my ear.
“Hello!” said a cheerful sounding man’s voice. “How are you, sweetheart?”
I was used to my Dad’s work colleagues greeting me on the phone in this way—it was a completely different world in the sixties—and nothing struck me as strange, or out of place.
“Umm...I’m very well, thank you. How are you?”
“Who’s that?” said Susie. I noticed that her lips were covered in a slimy, sticky coconut residue, a sure sign that she had stolen some of my father's expensive chocolates. “Is it Uncle Stanley?”
I rolled my eyes, and covered one end of the phone receiver with my hand. “No,” I said. “It’s one of the people that Dad works with.”
“Oh,” said Susie. “Can I get in the bathtub? I want to play with my yellow ducks.”
“Beat it, squirt,” I said. “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?”
“Is that your sister?” said the man on the phone. “I’ll bet she’s a real pain.”
“I’m sorry about her,” I said, embarrassed that he had overheard what I’d said.
“Hey, no worries, Deborah. Like I said, it’s really no problem. My sister was always a huge pain in the keister, you know?”
Susie darted out of the kitchen. “I’m going to get a bath. See you later, chowder head!” she yelled.
I stuck out my tongue, and returned to the phone.
“Chowder head!” laughed the man. “What does that even mean?”
I smiled. “I know, right? Anyway, how do you know my name? Do you work with my Dad?”
“I do,” said the man, “and I’m going to kill him.”
“What?” I said. “Is this some kind of joke?” I felt my throat close up, just for a moment, and then I heard the gentle click of the phone.
Sweat began to trickle down the back of my neck, and I zoned out for a moment. The dial tone blared, bringing me back to reality, and I slowly hung up the receiver.
“Susie?” I called, in a voice that was high-pitched and strangled, “Where are you?”
I jogged down to the bathroom, and glanced in. No sign of Susie, just a normal 1960s bathroom with avocado green tile, and an orange vinyl shower curtain that my father had purchased at Woolworth’s.
I sat down on the yellow toilet, and held my head in my hands.
“Boo!” yelled Suzie, as she slid open the shower curtain so fast that one of the plastic rings shot off, and ricocheted off the mirror.
“Jesus Christ!” I said. “Jesus! You nearly scared the crap out of me, Suse!”
Susie started to cry. “I’m telling Mom and Dad that you said bad words again.”
My heartbeat began to slow down, and I climbed into the tub with my little sister. Her nose was red, while the rest of her face was pale.
It’s alright kiddo,” I said, as I held my baby sister close and breathed in the calming scent of baby shampoo mixed with Susie sweat. “It’s okay.”
“I want a popsicle,” said Susie. “Can we get popsicles?”
I ran a hand through my hair. “Sure thing,” I said. “I just need to think for a second, okay?”
Susie frowned, and tilted her head to one side. “Do I have to eat broccoli before I can have a popsicle? Mom puts cheese on that before I eat it. Then, I can have a red popsicle.”
I smiled. “Yes,” I said. “You can have both, but I need you to stay in the kitchen where I can keep an eye on you. Do you understand?”
Susie grinned, and I could see her Cindy Brady dimples. “Yes,” said Susie. “I understand. I’m not a dumb-dumb like Jason. Mrs. Miller yells at him all the time because he doesn’t know how to sit still and listen. I know how to listen.”
The phone rang and I jumped.
“I’ll get the phone,” said Susie.
“No!” I yelled.
Susie smiled. “Why?” she said. “Is it your boyfriend?”
I took a quick breath. “Yes,” I said. “His name is Ralph, and I really need to talk to him.”
“I’m telling Mom and Dad,” said Susie, as I made a mad dash for the phone.
“Absolutely,” I said, as I picked up the phone. “I want you to tell them. Good idea.”
“Hello Deborah,” said the man on the other end of the phone. “Or do you prefer Debbie?”
“Who is this?” I said.
“You can call me Bobby,” he said. “You know, like Bobby Kennedy?”
My throat went dry. “Okay, Bobby,” I said. “You’re not really going to kill my father, right?”
Bobby chuckled. “I might not,” he said, “but then again, I might. It all depends on you,
“Bobby and Deborah sitting in a tree. K-I-S-S-I-N-G,” sang Susie.
“Be quiet,” I hissed.
Susie narrowed her eyes. “I want a red popsicle.”
“Fine,” I said, opening up the fridge and ripping open a new box of popsicles. “Help yourself. Just remember to be quiet.”
“Thank you,” said Susie. “You are my best sister.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m your only sister, kiddo.”
“My, my, is that our little Susie again?” said Bobby. “Go ahead and put her on the phone.”
“No!” I said.
“I don’t think you understand how this works,” said Bobby. “Put Suzie on the phone, or I'm going to start cutting your father into tiny pieces.”
“How do I know you have my father?” I said.
“How do I know the names of you and your cunt of a sister?” said Bobby. “How do I know that you have a giant picture of Senator Robert Kennedy tacked to the inside of your cheap bedroom door?
“Shut up!” I screamed. “Shut up, shut up, shut up!”
“Stop fighting with your boyfriend,” called Susie. I could hear the corny sound of the The Brady Bunch theme song, as it floated into the kitchen from the living room.
Bobby laughed. “Yeah Deborah,” he said. “Stop fighting with your boyfriend, and put that little fucking cunt, Cindy Brady, on the telephone.”
“You don’t scare me, and you don’t have my father,” I said, as I slammed down the receiver and ran back into the living room.
“Susie,” I said, trying to keep my voice from shaking, “I need you to come with me, right now.”
“But I’m watching The Brady Bunch,” she whined.
“We can play hide and seek,” I said, holding out a hand.
“Okay,” said Cindy, “but I’m still hungry. Can we have fried chicken for dinner? Mom says it takes too long to make, and I never get to have any.”
“Sure,” I said, lying through my teeth. “Of course we can have fried chicken. Anything you want.”
The phone rang, and I shivered.
“Are you sick?” said Susie.
“No,” I said, as I slowly picked up the phone and answered it. “Hello?”
“Hey Deborah,” said my Dad.
Still clutching the phone, I sank to the floor with relief.
“Dad?” I said. “Are you okay?”
“Right as rain,” said my father. “The party’s a little boring, though, so your mother and I are headed home. Everything all right on the home front?”
“No,” I said. “I need you to call the police, and I’m very afraid.”
The next twenty minutes were the most terrifying in my life, and I still don’t remember exactly what happened. I remember the feel of Susie’s kitten-soft hair between my fingers as I brushed it, and I recall the taste of burnt fried chicken on my tongue. I don't recall dipping raw chicken legs into flour, or browning them in a hot skillet.
What I do remember is tiptoeing to the front door, with Susie in tow, and peering carefully through the front window when I heard a loud knock. I remember answering a kind policeman’s questions, and thinking that he really needed to do something about the enormous pimple on his chin. What I always try to forget is that, later that summer, Rosemary disappeared.
At first, her parents thought she had gone to San Francisco.
"She's probably a hippy, now," said my Mom. "What a rotten apple! Well, that's what happens to fast girls. I'm glad you're not like that, Deborah. We raised you better."
However, that fall, as the leaves began to change and the first frost came, some random kid named Michael spotted a human vertebrae floating on the top of John Brown lake. (If you're curious about where to find this lake, today, it's by the old fishing dock behind the elementary school.)
The police were summoned, and they found the rest of Rosemary's body beneath the remnants of a decaying row boat, on the shore.
"Can you hear me darling?" said a man's voice.
"Go fuck yourself, Bobby," I said. My head was pounding, and my neck felt bruised and swollen, as if someone had recently tried to throttle me.
"I think you'd better get the bourbon, Cary," said a man with a lower voice. As my vision cleared, I noticed that he was wearing horn-rimmed glasses.
"Timothy," said the first man who'd spoken, "I'd much prefer it if you'd call me Archie. We've gone over this before, don't you remember?"
"Who are you?" I said. "What happened to Bobby? We've got to call the police."
The men exchanged glances, and the man who preferred to be called Archie sighed, and rolled his eyes.
"I told you that the dosage was far too large for her," he said, crossing the room and kneeling down next to me. "Deborah, darling, are you alright?"
"I feel like I've been run over by a train," I said, resting one hand on the side of my temple.
"Deborah," said the man with glasses, as he handed me a large measure of bourbon, "I'm Dr. Timothy Leary. Bobby is the name of the man who kidnapped and killed your sister."
"What?" I said. "I just heard him talking on the phone. He didn't kill my sister. He killed Rosemary, instead."
Dr. Leary smiled. "Deborah, don't you see what this means? You've had a breakthrough, just like Cary."
Archie narrowed his eyes at the doctor, and helped me to my feet.
"I know," said Dr. Leary. "I know very well what your name is, but one of my great pleasures in life is being able to take the Mickey out of Cary Grant.
"Oh, ha ha," said Archie. "Very funny, but I'm English. Now tell young Deborah precisely what her breakthrough is. That's what I'm paying you loads of money for, isn't it?"
Dr. Leary sighed, and polished his glasses on the front of his sweater. "And I thought we were good friends," he said. "Anyway, Deborah, I hope you don't mind...Archie filled me in on your case, before I administered your dose. The things you revealed, while under the influence of LSD, hold the key to freeing you from the prison of your mind. Are you ready?"
"Yes, I damn well am," I said.
Archie laughed. "Yes, she damn well is," he said.
"Very well," said Dr. Leary, as he sat in a plush armchair by a crackling fire. "Do sit down," he said, motioning to the comfortable chair across from him.
Just then, Archie leaned down and said: "It's alright; I think Dr. Leary will genuinely help you. He's already done a world of good for me. Just see what he has to say, and then we're off. Deal?"
I smiled, suddenly shy, and slowly eased myself into the chair. "I'm ready," I said.
"Good," said the doctor, nodding and opening a file on his lap. "First, Bobby is the name of the man who kidnapped and killed your sister, correct?"
A tear rolled down the side of my cheek. "Yes," I said.
"I'm so sorry," said the doctor. "I'm so very sorry for your loss."
"Thank you," I said.
"Is anyone hungry?" said Archie, winking at me. "I'm starving. I think I'll go for some Chinese food at that new place. Would anyone like me to bring back leftovers?"
Dr. Leary sighed. "No," he said, but I suppose the great Cary Grant would like some. Alright, off you go."
I smiled because Cary Grant (otherwise known as Archie Leach) knew that Chinese food was my very favorite thing to eat in San Francisco.
The door slammed, and it was the doctor's time to smile.
"Good riddance, I say," he said. "Now, where was I?"
I rubbed the side of my neck. "I already know that Bobby kidnapped and killed my sister. Do you have any new insight for me?"
"Yes," said Dr. Leary, turning bright red, "as a matter of fact, I do. The girl you were talking about while you were under the influence--Rosemary--that was you."
"Me?" I said. "I don't think that's true."
"Really?" said Dr. Leary, rubbing his chin. "What's your middle name?"
"Rosemary," I said.
"I thought so," said the good doctor, as he rolled a small cigarette and brought it to his lips. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Go ahead," I said, detecting the strong scent of burnt oil. "I've got a question for you, though."
The doctor smoked his cigarette, and nodded.
"While I was under the influence, did I split myself into two people?"
Dr. Leary nodded and exhaled.
"That's a strong cigarette," I said.
My new friend grinned. "Yes, isn't it. At any rate, you are correct. You divided yourself into two distinct personalities while under the influence of LSD. The acceptable part of yourself you called Deborah, and the unacceptable part of yourself you named Rosemary."
I leaned back into the chair I was sitting in. "I think I understand. Because I still blame myself for what happened to my sister, I turned the rejected part of myself into a "friend" named Rosemary, and had her killed by Bobby.
The good doctor beamed. "Exactly! So now, at this very moment, I want you to accept the fact that you were never responsible for your sister's death. The truth is that what happened to your sister was a senseless, random act of violence. You are not to blame, in any way, shape, or form."
At that moment, the door opened, and Archie breezed into the room. The delicious aroma of egg rolls wafted from a small picnic basket that was tucked underneath his arm.
"Hello everyone," he said. "Isn't it marvelous? All I had to do was say I was Cary Grant, and the head cook wrapped up his best Dim Sum and put it right in this picnic basket!"
"Yes," said Dr. Leary, taking a slow drag of his cigarette, "Of course you did. What else could you possibly do?"
Turning back to me, Dr. Leary chuckled.
"Deborah, dear child, you do realize you aren't to blame for what happened to your sister, don't you?" he said.
I smiled. "Yes," I said. "I realize that now."
What I neglected to say, at the time, was that I was totally to blame for Bobby's murder. His death, long ago, didn't bring my sister back to me, but I am at peace with the fact that he can no longer harm anyone else.