Live Through This

About David

My friend Katie never spoke about what happened. But she wants to now.

Illustration by Monica.

Illustration by Monica.

On Valentine’s Day 2010, my phone rang. It was my best friend of 15 years, Katie. I picked up and said, “Hello?”

“There’s a bullet in my parents’ bedroom ceiling,” she said.

This should have been shocking, but it wasn’t. A one-word explanation came to me instantly.

“David,” I said.

“David,” she repeated. “There’s a bullet hole in my parents’ bedroom ceiling, Steph.” When she said my name, her voice cracked, and that was shocking. Katie never wavered, and certainly never broke. She was always the steady one, the one who made plans and arrangements. Sometimes her plans seemed outlandish, like when, the summer before her junior year, she asked her parents to send her to boarding school, just because she wanted to get out of the house. That plan had worked briefly—the only problem was that instead of Europe or even the East Coast like she’d fantasized about, they sent her to Iowa. Everyone at the school there was smoking meth, she’d told me, and I had to persuade her parents to pull her out of there. Other plans she made were more practical, like when she took pictures of her mother’s bruises and made her go to the police to report the assault, or when she tried to send her parents to visit relatives in California just to get them out of the house. These plans didn’t work because her parents never saw them through.

David was Katie’s younger brother. He had been terrorizing the whole family for many years. He chased her around the house, brandishing a knife, when he was five and she was eight. She often ditched school, and I was one of the few people who knew she wasn’t being rebellious, she just needed to get some sleep, because David had kept her up all night ranting and raving, making threats, and throwing things. She went to the cops on her own a few times as a teenager and was told things like “You don’t want to turn your own brother in over a little sibling squabble.” On several occasions, on the phone or over coffee at Denny’s, where the teenage girls at other tables were planning for prom, Katie walked me through what she would do in the event that David killed her parents. This was her normal. It was our normal. All I felt like I could do for years was listen. But I couldn’t listen to her break.

On the phone that Valentine’s Day, she said she’d just talked to her dad, who told her that David had held him and Katie’s mother hostage at gunpoint for an entire day and wouldn’t leave until his father had withdrawn $5,000 from the bank and begun the process of transferring both the house and the parents’ retirement account to David’s name. Then David had his dad drive him to the airport and buy him a plane ticket to Florida.

“I don’t know what to do,” Katie said, for once unable to come up with a plan.

“You are going to drive to my house and pick me up,” I instructed her. “Then we are going to your parents’ house, and we are not leaving until they call the police and the police take this seriously. This is ending today. You can’t go through this anymore.”

I don’t think she believed me, but she was too deeply in shock to object, so she said OK. It took about an hour for us to persuade her parents to call the police. They didn’t believe they would do anything. And they thought David would find out and come back and kill them and Katie.

The police took them very seriously, though. They got Katie’s parents out of the house and set up watch, waiting for David to come back, as he threatened he would in a week. He was arrested in Florida before that and was extradited back to Illinois, where the state’s attorney put together a case against him. This time the situation was too serious for Katie’s parents to back out of pressing charges like they had in the past. The case took over two years to go to trial, but David was finally sentenced to 30 years in prison, and Katie and her parents were promised that the absolute minimum time he’d serve was 27 years.

Katie hasn’t talked to David in a year and a half, though her parents are still in contact with him. She recently told me that she wanted to share her story with Rookie, because while David’s presence loomed over and shaped most of her life, but his violence and threats made her feel especially lonely and helpless when she was a teenager. We got together on Skype, and she told me her story. Here’s the transcript.

STEPHANIE: As long as I’ve known you, you’ve been living with your brother’s threats and violent behavior. I was 15 when we met, you were 14, and David was how old?

KATIE: He’s two and a half years younger than me. So he was like 11 or 12.

How long had he been behaving violently at that point?

It really began when he was about 10, though he’d shown streaks of violence prior to that.

I remember you telling me about his chasing you around with a knife when you were little kids, which is not exactly normal sibling play.

No.

I know it got worse later, but when you and I started hanging out early in high school, what was a typical David outburst like, and how often did they happen?

He was in junior high then, and his outbursts were pretty much daily. They usually were spurred by his not getting something he wanted. Like, if he wanted shoes and they were $120 and he didn’t get them, he would pitch a fit, usually slamming doors or threatening to break things or punching the wall and screaming at the top of his lungs and just demanding that people get him these things. He’d tell my parents, “You promised,” and “Don’t make me do these things to you.”

You were 13 or 14 then. Did you think of his behavior as normal, or did you know that this was not the way things should be?

It was my normal, but I knew it wasn’t everyone else’s because I’d go to other people’s houses and they didn’t have, like, someone tearing down a door. Seeing other people and their families, it was like, OK, this really isn’t normal.

I can’t even imagine. When I met you, before I knew about David, I thought, This girl is so badass. You didn’t seem to go to school much, and somehow you didn’t get into any trouble for it. I thought, She either has no rules at home or refuses to follow them, because you could stay out as late as you wanted, you slept over at my house whenever you wanted, and you used to sleep over at [our mutual friend] Ben’s house, too, right?

Yeah.

Did he and his family know what was going on?

Yeah, to an extent. I was constantly at Ben’s house, and crashing there just kind of became a thing. We never talked about it—I don’t remember talking about it ever—but I think his parents kind of knew, because I would always be like, “I’ll meet you outside” or use other evasive tactics so people wouldn’t come by my house. I think a lot of parents kind of knew.

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31 Comments

  • carlycarbonate November 19th, 2013 1:03 AM

    Katie,

    Thank you for sharing your story. You are very brave and I am proud of you for surviving. <3

  • Jes November 19th, 2013 1:05 AM

    Thank you for this piece. I have always wondered about the human side of sociopathy, not just the medical facts and statistics.

    Sociopathy is an extremely unique situation in that it robs those afflicted by it of the logic average human beings use to interpret the world. And what then? What to do when there is literally no common ground with another being because they do not have compassion? How can they be medically treated or live among members of society? There is no good answer. I admire your braveness in this situation, Katie. I wish you all the best in your future.

  • estellefirefly November 19th, 2013 2:12 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing. This is the closest article/story I’ve ever read to my experiences. In my case, my brother is my twin. I can’t count the number of times I thought he would kill my dad or all of us. I never sought help until I was in college. I told a counselor about it, and she compared it to normal sibling fighting. I get so angry that there are not better ways to talk about or get help for situations of sibling abuse. I’ve moved 5 hours away from my family and cut off all contact with my brother. I’m dreading the holidays because I’ll have to either choose to go home and risk having to deal with him or I’ll have to cut myself off from my parents. In some ways, things have gotten better in recent years, but I can’t tell if it’s just distance. All my memories of growing up are tainted by this creeping shadow of violence and fear that got worse as our teen years progressed. I’m still not sure how we survived or how the future will look. I have trouble opening up to normal relationships because I can’t trust that people won’t hurt me. So thank you for openly talking about what no one ever does. I’m sure there are other people who will recognize their own lives and not feel so alone.

  • starsinyourheart November 19th, 2013 7:20 AM

    thankyou so much for sharing this story. my dad was a sociopath and i haven’t seen him now since i was 13, i’m nly 18 now. he really doesn’t seem real, it’s like a baddie in a sad film. so sad that you forget about it.

  • Abby November 19th, 2013 11:24 AM

    I can’t really relate to this because I’ve been incredibly blessed with a really good home life, but thank you, so much for writing it and to your friend for talking about it. I can’t imagine how stressful that must have been for the both of you. I know this will help so many people.

    • Ella W November 19th, 2013 6:06 PM

      Exactly what I was thinking. As I also come from a good home I can’t really relate to this at all, but I still found it powerful and strong and inspiring, especially ‘Make the best choices you can and know that there are other people going through stuff like this’.
      Ella x

      http://anothernuttyfangirl.tumblr.com/

  • elliecp November 19th, 2013 11:45 AM

    This is so great – people are rarely open about difficult situations like this so it’s nice to hear about it properly from someone who has experienced it, and not from a newspaper glamourising domestic violence. Close friends of mine recently faced a similar issue with a younger sibling basically holding the family to ransom…when he was 7 it was taken as a joke and laughed about, but it’s only gotten worse and now he’s like 16 and threatening his parents. Its really scary as your family and home are supposed to be your safe haven, not somewhere you fear for your life.

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • FionaPear November 19th, 2013 12:17 PM

    It’s so good to see an article like this on Rookie! My elder brother has been suffering from schizophrenia since 10 years and violence is not a strange thing to me. Thank you so much for being there for all kinds of readers.

    Love!

  • eliza dolittle November 19th, 2013 12:20 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Katie, and for passing it on to rookie Stephanie.

    One of my best friends live with an abusive parent, also diagnosed as a sociopath, and so much of what you’ve said related to her experiences and most importantly validates them.

    The guilt, the way people dismiss it, the difficulty with trust, having to emotionally deaden/harden yourself, the importance in doing what you feel is best for you – because I know I’ve sometimes wanted to swoop in and be like “we’re calling the police” but for her she’s in a place where that would only do more harm than good – whilst also passing on some advice that I’d love for her to hear because as much as I support her it’s not my place to lecture on what she should do or think or feel.

    Again, truly, thank you <3

  • talullahbunny November 19th, 2013 2:03 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing this. Throughout childhood my sister had a worryingly vicious streak, not only towards the family but herself too, and though it was not on the same level as Katie’s story, there were times I would come home half expecting to find my sister has physically hurt my mother or killed herself, something she threatened to do on many occasions. I struggled to deal with my own issues and felt I had to face things alone because I was too scared to draw attention to myself and anger my sister. Despite all the problems, my sister finally sought therapy a few years ago and has worked on rebuilding her relationships with my mother and I. It saddens me to think that anyone has to go through this alone. Luckily I have a truly wonderful best friend who supported me throughout, however not everyone is as fortunate.

    Thank you Stephanie, Katie and Rookie for an honest portrayal of how family life and growing up can be for some of us.

  • Bethany November 19th, 2013 2:06 PM

    Thank you so much for this, I can relate to this a whole lot and I am so happy this is out there for people to read <3
    xox

  • GlitterKitty November 19th, 2013 4:35 PM

    Wow. I can’t directly relate to this but it was very eye-opening to read. I’ve read things about domestic violence before but reading this made it seem very very real. It makes me upset that people have to deal with this sort of thing. Thanks for such an honest and eye opening article.

  • emlyb November 19th, 2013 4:41 PM

    thank you so, so much for this article. this was eye opening and everyone who has to/ had to deal with this kind of thing has unimaginable amounts of bravery and strength. xxxx

  • Savidi November 19th, 2013 5:17 PM

    wow

  • littlediamonds November 19th, 2013 7:28 PM

    Wow, what a powerful story. Katie, you are amazing and i can’t even imagine, even after reading this, how hard it must have been for you. I hope your parents are okay now too. And thank you for sharing this!

  • jennibee November 20th, 2013 12:39 AM

    I really relate to this. While my sister was never extremely violent, I often had to leave the house during my early years in high school because I was afraid that she would kill me. She often told me that I was the reason she wanted (and attempted) to kill herself. She’s gotten much better over the years, but that will always throw a wrench in our relationship. I really mean it when I say I felt like the only one; I’ve never heard anything about abuse among siblings, especially younger ones. And I’ve always been expected to face my problems on my own because of the attention she demanded from my parents, so it was and still is a truly isolating experience. Thank you so much for publishing your story. The solace is such a gift.

  • Paprika November 20th, 2013 12:46 AM

    Like everybody else, I’d like to thank you for sharing this piece.
    My mother’s family has a history of mental illness. Decades before I was born my second cousin (who I’ve only heard of and thankfully never met) shot both his parents while in a violent psychosis; before that, he killed animals and on several occasions tormented my mother when she was a child. I heard that he’s being held in a psychiatric facility for violent and mentally ill criminals.
    At first I was a little nervous about sharing this, but after reading your story, and those of other commenters, I feel like my family isn’t alone in its unfortunate history.

  • gnomz November 20th, 2013 1:50 AM

    Thanks for sharing Katie.

    I had a similar situation, not with the violence, but with an older brother who stole all the time from all of us. My patents wouldn’t deal with the situation at all and eventually in my early twenties I went to the police who came round and interviewed him. That night he set my car on fire and was taken in to custody where he made threats against me in the interview. There wasn’t enough proof to change him for the car though and he was released but to the psychiatric Ward where he stayed for ten days and was diagnosed as schizophrenic.

    The police told my mother she had to get a restraining order because of the threats against me and we didn’t see him for around five years.

    Finally though he does seem to have got it together in the last few years and we are slowly developing a relationship now we are both in our late 30s

    Not that it is the same but there are lots of us with stories out there that we couldn’t talk about when we were young and in situations where children have to be the adults and the more I talk about it as I get older the more I get understanding that it wasn’t a situation I could control.

    Xoxo

  • lelelikeukulele November 20th, 2013 4:38 PM

    Wow, this is incredibly powerful. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    I’ve never personally experienced abuse like this, but one of my best friends has been going through an abusive situation. Her and I have been like sisters ever since preschool, and we are now in college, but over the past year her family (especially her dad) have exhibited some emotionally abusive (and sometimes physically abusive) behaviors towards her, and it’s caused some changes in our relationship. I’ve kind of found myself in the role of needing to pick her up at all hours of the night because her dad tried to physically restrain her from leaving, or her mom denied that anything was happening out of the ordinary. And I feel so much responsibility for her well-being because I am her main support system at home. She’s talking to a counselor about these issues, and her family has had sessions with the counselor as well, and he agrees that there’s definitely abuse happening, but nobody really seems to be doing anything about it and sometimes she just needs to get out of her house because she doesn’t feel safe and I’m the only way she can do that. My mom is a counselor as well, and she refuses to really acknowledge that abuse is going on because the definition of emotional abuse is not very specific and there’s not a lot of physical stuff happening (and these people are family friends) so it’s been hard….

    Anyway, she’s away at college now, so she’s not directly in the situation. But I really relate to the author here. Thanks again for sharing.

  • rachellll November 20th, 2013 4:54 PM

    I also really relate to this. My younger brother has been especially manipulative and abusive to my mom throughout the years and it’s hard because my parents are the ones who don’t want to seek help sometimes, or the kind of help that’s “ok” with them at the time. I’m at school now so I have this view of home life that everything’s okay while I’m away, but when I’m home it’s back to the same things.
    The only thing is that I don’t want him to be incarcerated for anything as much as I really truly want him to seek good help and stay somewhere for a while. As unrealistic as that may be.

    Thanks Rookie.

  • LioraMarie November 20th, 2013 5:19 PM

    I can really relate. My brother is 26 and still living at home. He pays no rent, doesn’t help with cleaning or anything and then eats all the food and then calls me fat. he is emotionally abusive to everyone in our house but he really loves making me feel horrible. My mom refuses to do anything about it. He used to be physically abusive and choke me but I never even told anybody. He eventually graduated to being extremely emotionally abusive to the point of me having to stay in my room all day because if I leave he will start up.

  • ColoredSoft November 20th, 2013 9:45 PM

    I NEVER THOUGHT ANYONE ELSE HAD THIS PROBLEM, SO THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING YOUR STORY.
    My brother didn’t torture me as a child, but he goes into wild fits sometimes when he doesn’t get something. He had also torn holes in the doors by punching them, wearing down my parents, and threatening to kill us–and himself. I remember being so scared when I was younger when he threw one of his famous tantrums–and even going to my cousin’s house when I couldn’t take it. I’m glad I’m not alone in this. Once again, truly, dearly, and [inserts words to tell what I'm feeling adequately], thank you. Given where we live, where there’s a lot of violence, I’m afraid that he will become one of those stereotypical angry, violent black men. I have a lot of hope, though, and we’re going to get through this.

  • Leeann November 20th, 2013 9:50 PM

    Just wanted to say how completely powerful and moving this was for me to read. Thank you for sharing Katie and Stephanie. Love from another Rookie and survivor of a home with bullet holes <3 <3 <3

    • Anaheed November 21st, 2013 1:25 AM

      LEEEEEEANNNNN! We miss you. ❤❤❤

  • lizabeth November 20th, 2013 9:55 PM

    Katie, you are amazing and brave-thank you for sharing your story with us.

    Stephanie, you seem like an incredible friend and that’s awesome.

    Wishing both of you ladies the very best.

  • Allegra November 21st, 2013 9:17 AM

    Really glad I read this this morning-it’s wonderful and insightful piece that was able to help me make sense of some things/people in my life. Thank you so much Stephanie. Katie, thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences.

  • MinaM8 November 21st, 2013 10:45 AM

    Wow, I’m speechless right now. So glad that Katie was able to get out of that situation and that everything worked out for her, it’s great that you can help people who are going through the same thing and who feel alone.

  • dica86 November 21st, 2013 3:09 PM

    Oh, this relived so many bitter memories of my life. My father is bipolar and schizoid, and his behavior and actions have taken a terrible toll on my family, especially with my little brother.
    He has always been prone to throw tantrums and have extreme reactions to stuff (I suspect he’s a borderline), and with my father’s declining mental state, he became very violent and rebellious, threatening my mum if he didn’t get what he wanted and even getting involved with anti semitic gangs. She was afraid of him and avoided conflict, while my father was absent, lost in his own mind, so I was the only one who confronted him – as a result, I was always the subject of aggressions: punches, kicks, pinning me to the floor and walls and much more. A day before an university admission exam, he broke a glass door on my arm – I went to the exam with several stitches.
    Afraid of being stigmatized, I never spoke about these issues with my school friends and felt very lonely during my teenage years. I just wanted to work out things to have a future away from my house.
    Today I’m 27, live with my boyfriend, have a career I like and am taking a master’s, so I’m good. My father’s mental issues are worsening (he’ll eventually be institutionalized) and my brother, now 25, is slowly getting his shit together – although he refuses therapy. We’re growing closer, and although I know he is troubled, I still hold a lot of grudge towards all that happened.
    Thanks, Katie, for talking about what I always deemed unspeakable. Reading this and the comments make me feel less alone.

  • Esther December 22nd, 2013 7:59 PM

    Thank you so much for writing this. Your story hits really close to home for me. One of my older brother’s had schizophrenia and was always threatening to kill my parents. One time my parents had to call the SWAT team to come and take him away. He absolutely hated me as well – most of his anger was directed at me. My home never felt safe because of it – it was an absolute hell. The hardest part was because of the sigma of mental illnesses no one ever knew what was really going on. It’s a very lonely place.

    My brother committed suicide about a year and a half ago. For the first time my house feels safe. I hate that it had to come to that – but now my family’s safe. I’m so sorry that you had to go what you went through – and that you’re still processing this – but thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate your courage and I’m so honored to have read your story.

  • empathetic_trees February 27th, 2014 11:09 AM

    thank you for this. My father is a sociopath and a sadist who terrorized my family for about ten years. He alternated between physical and emotional torture, brutalizing my mother in front of me when he wasn’t doing the same to me. I can relate to people not believing or understanding, my father is a very well known doctor at Children’s Hospital. The dismissal from others was sometimes more painful than the hours of torture games. I am in college now and have not seen him in several years.

    • Anaheed February 27th, 2014 2:07 PM

      This sounds unbelievably terrifying and I am so sad that you had to go through it. Is he getting treatment, or is he in jail or anything, or is he just…free and untreated and dealing with patients? Is your mother still with him? I commend you for having the strength to get out of that situation.