Fragmented Pieces

August 17, 2008
By Jackie Katz, New York, NY

It is hard for me to make sense of the things I remember. It’s not as if I planned on remembering a specific moment in time. Sometimes the things I remember seem insignificant, and I don’t know why my mind chose that moment over another one to store. The pieces make no coherent sense and aren’t of the same nature. I remember happy times, angry times, and sad times.

Of course, I remember the last time. The last day. But I consider that to be in a different dimension all its own. It comes back to me in the middle of dreams or when I’m perfectly awake. My mind goes soaring somewhere else and there it is, happening all over again.

I wish I could make sense of the things I remember. Maybe if I could, that part of my life would not seem so distant and distinct. Maybe if I could piece them together in chronological order. But I can’t. Everything in that part of my life seems like it was not even a part of my life.

How would you feel? One day you’re living a regular life and the next your world crumbles to pieces. It doesn’t feel like my life. That person is not the same.

I don’t even remember what kind of person I was back then. I knew my hobbies, yes, but I don’t know how I interacted with others or how I spoke or liked to dress. I can watch videos, but the videos only make the old me seem even more distant.

But this all doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the things I remember. My favorite things are the little ones. I don’t remember my exact feelings during the moments, but just hearing the memory makes me smile. Like the time when Alli and I had our own ‘party’ in the basement together eating graham cracker goldfish and super spicy goldfish. I’m not sure why that stuck out at me, but it did. It’s just a thing I remember.

I remember one time Mommy took Alli and I to Chuckie Cheese. As we were leaving, Mommy said “C’mon guys.” Then some old woman said to her, “They’re not guys! They’re girls. I call my daughters gals actually.” Mommy just went along with her politely and Alli and I snickered. We definitely would not have preferred being called gals.

I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and going into Mommy’s room to watch the baby shows Kim was watching, like Sesame Street or Barney. I remember liking Barney a lot. I remember having pool parties at my house and waking up early for tennis lessons in my own backyard. I remember doing arts and craft projects and puzzles. We would make our own sand aquariums or those sticky things you put on windows.

I remember playing Rescue Heroes and Barbie dolls with Alli. We even made a video of us playing Rescue Heroes. We had the coolest equipment ever for both. We had an airplane, trailer, fast food court, and sports car for the Barbie’s. I remember I played with Barbie and Ken, and Alli played with Christie and Jeff. We also had this huge thingy for the Rescue Heroes. But I can hardly picture it anymore. It’s just not something I remember.

What I don’t actually remember, but happen to know are the facts. I know I had many birthday parties, at Sportime, Celebration Bakery, and my house. I know that I had a band called ‘Punchbutt’ (renamed Sister-Boys) with Alli where we would just sing Madonna songs for Grandma and call it a concert.

The thing that makes me mad is how I can’t remember the people in that separate part of my life. It’s not that I can’t picture them. I just don’t remember ever having known them at all, ever having interacted with them, ever having them as the primary figures in my life. It makes me mad. I can’t recapture any time they held me; I can’t feel their touch or hear their voice. And I don’t know what they thought of me or if they knew the truth about how I thought of them. I bet if my mind didn’t take up so much space with the insignificant stuff, and paid more attention to the people, I would remember them and wouldn’t be so mad.

The angry times aren’t pleasant, but more significant to remember. I remember coming home from Arizona that last time, and Mommy was mad that Daddy had bought milk when we already had milk. I’m not sure what happened next or how it all escalated, but the next thing I remember is that Daddy twisted Mommy’s wrist and snapped her glasses in two. I remember crying. I remember Alli not understanding. I forgot where Kim was. I don’t know what happened next.

I remember Daddy punishing me a lot, but I don’t remember the things I did to deserve them. I’m pretty sure they were insignificant things, like talking fresh, not eating my dinner, or not being nice to David and Lenore. He punished me to no dessert or no T.V. Either way, when I apologized I didn’t have to abide by the punishment. I remember Mommy not agreeing with the punishments, and I remember having to follow her rules if she was the one who punished me.

Some people might think its weird that I wish I remembered Daddy more clearly. I remember the fighting, the punishing and even some good times like the tickle game, where he tickled Alli and I, and whoever laughed first was out. But I wish I remember how he talked to me. I remember he didn’t spell ‘Jackie’ right. But that doesn’t mean anything. I wish I knew what he thought of me, or if he was sorry he even had me.

I remember a time where Daddy and Mommy were fighting, and Mommy took just Alli, Kim and me to Friendly’s. Daddy asked to come, and Mommy said she didn’t want him to come. I’m pretty sure that’s what I remember. Then, I remember when we came back he changed. He was nice and sweet, and got us presents. But I don’t remember the presents.

I try to remember Alli.

I am the only person in the existing universe who knew Alli, besides Mommy, but that doesn’t help anyone. How well could any non-family member know a 5-year old? I remember her being very sweet and kind, athletic and smart. I remember being the boss. I remember fighting with her because I was too bossy.

I remember one very specific time where I know I hurt her feelings so badly. I was just starting to color a picture of Mommy and me. Alli sweetly came over and asked what I was drawing. I crudely replied something along the lines that I was coloring Mommy and me, and not her because I was only coloring blondes, and that she couldn’t see it because she wasn’t part of the ‘blonde’ club. She walked out of the room and crumbled when she reached the stairs. She wailed and ran for Mommy. Mommy asked me what was going on and then I remember I was quick on my feet. I lied and said that I was making Alli an apology card for all the times I was mean, and that was why I ‘lied’ and told her she couldn’t see it. I remember telling this lie in our bathroom to Mommy and Alli. Mommy asked if Alli and I could finally make up and end our feuding. We hugged and cried and that was the end of our constant bickering for the most part. Too bad that was close to the end period.

How I Tell My Story

First I’ll literally tell you my story in case you don’t know. One day when I was eight my dad committed suicide by sitting in a car with the engine on. The gas seeped into my house, and killed my mom and my almost-six-year-old sister. The end.

I guess it’s not my story. It’s just a story. I’m not the only one involved or affected. But I am the only witness, because certainly my other sister cannot recall it. She was only two.

For some reason, I am told that my interpretation of that day is wrong. I am told that I fell unconscious and had to be shipped to the hospital in a plane. But I know this is false, because I clearly, vividly remember that day. I remember the dialogue. I remember the faces, dead and alive.

I also am the only person who can truly say what went on inside the house. Other people guess why Mommy and Alli were going to the basement in the first place. Not only do they guess, but they present their guesses as truth. The ‘story’ was published in a magazine. I know its wrong and I know what’s right.

I remember waking up early because I was excited. The first thing I noticed was that everywhere smelled really funky and gassy.

It was going to be a very happy day. We were going to make the goody bags for Alli’s karate birthday party that was coming up. I woke up Alli, too. We went downstairs to play our last Rescue Heroes. I’m not sure what the game consisted of that morning.

We then went to Mommy’s room. Little Kim was sitting on Mommy’s bed, with her pacifier and blanket. I’m pretty sure I remember Mommy being on the bed or in the room somewhere. I don’t remember her last words to me.

After watching some baby show for a little while, Alli and I went to play Barbie’s. After a while of playing, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I told Alli to get Mommy. This is the part of the story that I relive and wish I were the one to get Mommy.

This is what happened. I’m not sure when Mommy went downstairs. But I made Alli go find Mommy, and Alli must have gone downstairs to look for her. And she never came back upstairs. And I want to run into a busy highway whenever I think about it.

After a while of waiting for Alli, I went downstairs myself. I couldn’t find Alli on the first floor, so I was on my way to the basement, where the door to the garage was. When I opened the door to go downstairs, the garage door was open. I saw tons of cars there. I don’t remember if police were there or not.

When I looked out onto the driveway, I saw the car. I saw Daddy in the car. He simply looked like he was sleeping with his mouth slightly open, eyes closed. I don’t remember it that vividly because I remember not looking at him for so long because then I saw mommy. I saw mommy in her towel. When the gas overwhelmed her, she must have fallen and her towel was below her chest, breasts exposed. I remember averting my eyes from her breasts. I didn’t see Alli.

I remember being put into a van with Kim to wait. Kim was screaming, being in foreign car and car seat. I didn’t know what was going on. Then I remember a lady asking me out of the van and she quickly laid me on one of those rolling hospital mattresses. She covered me with blankets, for it was January and I was wearing a nightshirt that barely came under my butt.

This is where I remember details, and that’s how I know I could never have gone on some airplane unconscious. I remember a couple of hospital workers rolling the mobile mattress down our long hill. I remember one of them saying, “We have to use more blankets. They can’t get pneumonia.” I remember saying “Pneumonia! What?”, and then worrying about pneumonia. I guess there’s an element of me that has continued from the past me to future me. Worrying.

I remember going to the hospital, still sitting on the mattress with Kim, with some hospital workers poking and prodding us with needles. I don’t remember Kim much in the van though, which is weird. Once we got to the hospital, they rolled us into a waiting area behind a curtain, where I got an IV. I think Kim got one, too. I remember screaming at the pain. I remember an important looking woman asking me if I had family in Long Island and if I knew their numbers. I told her Grandma, and I was proud to recite the number because I was so proud I remembered it.

The next part everyone else knows, too. Kim and I were put on the children’s part of the hospital. For a long time I had no idea what happened to me. I kept telling people at the hospital that I never made a doctor’s appointment, and that today I was supposed to be making goody bags. The nurses just chuckled and told me I was cute. That was annoying.

I Knew

While Kim and I waited, unaware of the situation, the first to come was Grandma. She looked emotionless, but seemed happy to see us. I told her I was excited that today Alli and I were making goody bags. She didn’t say anything.

Kim and I were alone for a little bit playing video games in our beds. I kept asking the nurse where my Mommy and sister were. They said they were at a different hospital. I asked why we were at hospitals. I told her that we were healthy. She just chuckled again. I hated that nurse.

Then over the course of that day Bruce (my uncle) and Grandpa and Shirley (my Grandpa’s wife) came along with Grandma. They sat around Kim and I and on the hospital bed. I don’t remember how the conversation started, but I remember when I found out.

Bruce and Grandpa said they had to tell Kim and I something about Mommy and Alli. They looked disheveled and heartbroken. I knew. I was eight years old and I knew that Mommy and Alli were never coming back. My heart burned with fury. Then Bruce told me. The news sounded even worse because then my suspicions were true. I looked up at the ceiling and simply screamed “What”. I don’t know why I chose that word. I felt like I was going to vomit.

Kim had no idea what was going on, patted my back and wiped away my tears. She said, “It’s okay.” I said it wasn’t okay, Kim. I told her Mommy and Alli were gone. She still said it was okay. Where would I live? Who would I live with? What was to become of my life?

It was all like a weird dream. Something like this could never happen to me. This stuff actually doesn’t happen to people. Only to people on the News. Not to me. Not in a quiet rich suburb.

Banana Splits

For most of second and the beginning of third grade, I went once a week at lunchtime to the school counselor’s office for the group called “Banana Splits”. A lot of girls went (no boys, boys aren’t sentimental), and talked about their parents feuds, divorced or in the process.

Daddy didn’t want me going to Banana Splits. It was Mommy’s idea. I think she wanted me to have an outlet where I could talk about the fighting; maybe even for her benefit so maybe someone could help. But mostly I think she wanted it for me. She knew that a psychologist was out of the question. Daddy would not allow that if he disagreed with a simple lunchtime club. He told me it was silly, because mommy and daddy weren’t getting a divorce.

Unlike in most situations, I was really looking forward to the day where Grandma, Mommy, Alli, Kim and I moved to a little house in Princeton Park. The ‘girls’ house. I pictured everything. I pictured walking to school with Grandma, and eating her noodle pudding every night. I pictured Mommy smiling. I pictured not seeing Daddy again until I was in college. For some reason, I thought I would want to see him once I was in college.

Anyway, I really don’t remember what I said in Banana Splits. I know I didn’t talk about anything it in detail. I remember saying, “my parents fight a lot.” I remember some naïve girls telling me how to make it better, simply by saying, “Remember how you loved each other?”, or “We can still be a family if you get divorced.”

I told those girls that nothing would help, that my family was different. I knew it was. Well, at least I knew my dad was because he scared me slightly, and because I thought Mommy was scared of him.

After everything happened, I didn’t continue going to Banana Splits, obviously. But I remember telling the school counselor that I told those girls my family was different, and I was right. She probably didn’t care, but she sympathetically nodded anyway.

Push-and-Pull Love

I remember one night Mommy was tucking me in. She asked me if I thought she was a good mom. I said no, she wasn’t, because she didn’t seem happy and that she wouldn’t leave Daddy. She said she was sorry and she would try to be better.

When she walked out the room, I cried to myself for being so cold and mean. This was the November or December before. I hope Mommy knows that I think she was the best mom ever. That’s one thing I can’t ever know or remember.

I remember that last time in Arizona that makes me angry every time I think about it. We had just parked a short distance away from Fiddlesticks, an arcade-mini golf place we always went to when visiting Grandpa. While in the parking lot, Mommy reached out to hold my hand. When she got it, I pulled away and ran to Grandpa. I said I wanted to hold his hand because I don’t seem him a lot and I see you every frickin’ day. She softly laughed as I pranced over to Grandpa. Then Grandpa asked me when I started using the word frickin’.

I remember Mommy tried to teach me to ride a two-wheeler. It wasn’t working out, and I told her she wasn’t good at teaching me. Then Daddy took me to the school parking lot and taught me and we were successful. Then I told Mommy that it wasn’t me, that it was her. She was the bad teacher.

I remember one day in 2nd grade we were assigned to do a profile of our most favorite person/people in our family. Most people did both of their parents. I really only wanted to do Mommy, because Daddy certainly wasn’t my favorite person. But I did both, not because everyone else did, but because I was afraid that Daddy would get mad if I excluded him. I told Mommy my problem, and she said it didn’t matter. I did both because I was pretty sure it did.

I remember a certain element of secrecy. Mommy, Alli and I would do some things in secret from Daddy. Just little things, liking riding a bike with just a helmit and not all of the kneepads, elbow pads and gloves he made us wear. I remember a specific morning when Mommy gave me hot chocolate. We heard Daddy coming down the stairs and Mommy quickly told me to finish it, because she didn’t want Daddy knowing I had hot chocolate for breakfast.


I loved being “three sisters”. I thought it was so cool, because all of my friends had a younger brother, or one younger sister. I was the only one with two sisters. I was so cool. It was so cool. I loved being the big sister, even though I probably wasn’t the best at it. But it gave me great joy to squeeze Kim, and say “that’s my younger sister”.

I love Kim one thousand times more than myself or anyone else, and I probably wouldn’t be here today without her. If I had lost her too, my life would’ve went from having two sisters to none. I thrive on having sisters.

I could talk about Kim for pages and pages, but this is about the fragmented pieces, and my life with Kim is whole.

I loved having a sister so close in age to me as well as having a baby. I remember going to Crestwood Day Camp with Alli, and going on the bus together. I remember one particular day in Crestwood I asked my group leader if I could leave, because I saw Alli’s group going to the foam pit. I wanted to go partly because foam pits are much better than soccer games on a hot day, and mostly because Alli was my favorite person in the world. I remember surprising here by leaping into the foam pit right next to her. She was happy I was there, and told all of her friends that I was her big sister. I loved that. I loved being the big sister.

I remember at the end of the camp days I would use the money Mommy gave me to buy Alli and I a Fruitopia to share on the bus. Of course, I gave Alli 2 sips and I drank the rest. I remember fighting on that bus a lot. We sat across from these twins, Alex and Nicole Ripka. They are one year younger then me. They fought a lot too but said that Alli and I fought the most. We are Facebook friends now, and although they probably don’t remember any of this, I told them that sisters are allowed to fight more than brothers and sisters, because sisters are sisters, and sisters are closer than any two people can get.

I was the most excited when Alli got to kindergarten. I was waiting for the day when we could go to the same school, ride the bus and pass each other in the halls. Thankfully, we didn’t fight on this bus. We waited pretty peacefully on the hill for it to come. Actually, I was a very good sister on this bus. I remember on Halloween, this 5th grader made fun of Alli for being Superman instead “Supergirl” for Halloween. I told him it didn’t matter, that you could be whatever you want on Halloween.

I remember on my way to Art, Alli’s class was leaving the Computer Lab, so we got to pass each other. I always obnoxiously waved, and Alli shyly and sweetly waved back. I remember having an anxiety attack the first week back at school and she wasn’t walking back from the Computer Lab. I remember purposely looking for her, like there was a mistake. Alli would be where she always was.

But those short months at the same school with Alli were great. I loved it. I remember purposely switching our Homework folders, putting hers in my bag and mine in hers. This way, I could tell my teacher Mrs. Kane that I left my Homework with Alli and that I had her homework. I didn’t do this to leave the class for a few minutes. I did this so I could go see Alli, and be her big sister, heroically delivering her homework.

But not only did I influence Alli, Alli influenced me. She liked to walk around without her shirt, which let me know that girls could do what boys could. She did karate. When I was waiting with Mommy to pick up Alli from Karate, I watched her play those games you play at the end of the class. I told Mommy I wanted to do Karate. Of course, I didn’t realize how much physical labor went into it at the time, so I wasn’t too fond of it. But I liked it because Alli was there, even though she was better than me. I finished out the year without Alli at Karate, and the class was pretty untalented without her.


Partly why I’m writing this is out of fear. Everyday is farther away from the fragmented pieces of my childhood, and everyday I will remember less and less. If I write it all down now, it will survive forever. Stories live on forever.

I’m also writing this for Kim. She doesn’t have any fragmented pieces, for the better or worse, depending on how you look at it. I know these little chapters of my perspective will never give her a sense of who her mom and sister were, but I hope they will give her a sense of my life when I was her age.

But I’m mostly writing this because whenever anyone will read these stories, the characters will be alive. Stories are eternal, and therefore the characters within the stories are, too. Mommy and Alli will be alive in these stories. I know when I read it I’m put back into the moments. It makes them seem less distant. If no one in history wrote anything down, we wouldn’t even know half of what we know today.

I kept a small, pretty useless diary in 2000. When I read it, it seems like that me was really self-centered and oblivious. All I wrote about was my day and everything about me, me, me. Of course, I didn’t write in it that often. There aren’t any helpful entries that give me insight into the old me. I want to take this time to advise everyone to keep a diary. You never know when it might come in handy.

My handwriting was really different, too.

Fragmented Pieces

The life I lived until age 8 seems like a movie that I occasionally rewind or fast forward in my head. I only remember certain things, and the rest I get from videos. Even the pictures and the movies don’t seem like my life. I don’t remember ever having been “Jackie Leopold”. It doesn’t even register that that was my name. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

I don’t really know how to make sense of the pieces. Why I did this or why I was so mean sometimes. But mostly, I don’t know why it was me who survived. I don’t really believe in fate or destiny or whatever, but if those things are true, then why was it me? I was clearly not as nice a person as Alli or Mommy. I was probably the most obnoxious one of the bunch. I’m not saying I’m not grateful or that I think I should have died. I’m just questioning whoever made the decision that I was the one who would live.

I’m sure everyone’s young childhood is made up of just bits and pieces they remember as they grow older. But mine is different in that my life was utterly different then, so it is hard to make sense of it all because I am the only source of memory. My young childhood seems like an entirely different lifetime. There were no smooth transitions or seamless wholes. I think of Kim’s life, and can remember it piece by piece in chronological order. I remember her personhood evolving, but still staying the same Kim. I can’t do that for myself, and there is no one who I was close enough with to show me I’m the same person, if I even am. Everyone changes somehow, but they essentially stay the same. I’d like to think that the experience has only made me stronger, and forced me to be even more in touch with who I am.

I know one thing—I wouldn’t be the same without going through that experience. But that makes me think—who would I be if it never happened? How different would things be? What would I like to do? Where would I live? Would I look the same? Would my clothes be as cool? Would I be as intelligent without that New York City wit? Would I care about politics? Would I read as many books? Would I sing? Would I care about Broadway at all? What would I do over the summer? What would I be when I grew up? Where would my life end?

I can ask an infinite amount of questions, but unfortunately I’ll never know, because unfortunately it all happened. Maybe I ended up better off—but that by no means says I would have rather had this then not. All I know is that my life went up in smoke and was reborn again into something new, and all I have left are the ashes.

I can barely make out the story the ashes tell. I can’t make sense of my fragmented pieces. They’re splattered all over the place

The author's comments:
This piece is an autobiography. From reading the story, you can see why I had to put such a tragedy in words.

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This article has 4 comments.

on Jan. 10 2009 at 3:11 pm
WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW!!! Just like everyone else, I cant even begin to express in words how amazing this piece (or pieces) is!!!!!!! This will be published for real one day, and definitely should be in the magazine for sure. I love it so much and it is so touching I couldn't cry harder unless the story were mine.

bella0411 said...
on Sep. 6 2008 at 4:34 pm
Just like the comments above...WOW WOW AND WOW! I had to run to get a tissue box because this is THE MOST MOVING PIECE OF LITERATURE I'VE EVER READ EVER! I'm in hysterics. You must be such a strong, amazing person, to go through a tragedy like so and then put it into such beautiful, eloquent, heart wrenching words. I love how your writing is written as if it were a natural thought process (which it is). You've been through so much and just know you're amazing and strong and can tackle anything. My best wishes for you.

chrissy0865 said...
on Aug. 25 2008 at 8:44 pm
Wow! There are no other words to describe what I just read. Jackie is an amazing writer!!! To be able to put such "fragmented pieces" in some kind of order for me to be able to understand where she is coming from is pretty amazing!! Although I will never really feel what she is feeling, I write this through tears, literally. Jackie, you are destined to be everything you strive to be and then some. You already are and you don't even know it. Bravo for sharing something so personal and tragic and being so "frickin" REAL. I wish I could give you a hug right now!!! Keep on writing, No matter how Fragmented the pieces may seem!!! xoxo

Char292 said...
on Aug. 25 2008 at 12:08 pm
HOW INCREDIBLE? This is the most amazing autobiography/memoir I've ever read. This is so moving.


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