A matter-of-fact, revealing debut memoir by the sister of a severely disabled woman.
Sullivan’s older sister, Mikey, was born prematurely and lost her vision early in life. Initially, her blindness seemed to be her main challenge. At age 2, however, Mikey began to scream, and she seemed to stop feeling pain. Her ability to communicate or understand others became severely limited. She withdrew into her own world and never returned to any sort of normalcy. The term applied by physicians was “brain damaged,” although the author alludes to more modern and precise diagnoses of “intellectual disability” and “autism.” By the time Mikey was 12, her behavior—which included sporadic episodes of violence toward herself and others—necessitated her institutionalization, a decision that both agonized and relieved the family. Her experience at institutions, however, was often substandard and even abusive, and Sullivan pulls no punches in depicting a flawed system and flawed family members who were at the same time caring, doing what they could to help. While Mikey remained the center of the family’s life in many ways, Sullivan presents a robust, multidimensional story that reflects on her own journey beyond her relationship with her sister. Being an adolescent during the height of the 1960s “free love” and drug culture—combined with the emotional issues that emerged from her family life—set the stage for what the author calls a “perfect storm” that would translate into years marked by chaos and addiction. The memoir is often heartbreaking, but Sullivan’s depictions of a complicated and loving family and the unique issues faced by siblings of the severely disabled provide a sense of hope and closure.
An honest, intense look at a family’s experience with severe disability.