Outline of What I Want to Say to My Sister

By Christine Pakkala


  1. On the phone, you tell me you were frozen, then brought back to life. The freezing shrunk you and stretched you, and you became ugly.
  2. You tell me Grandma stole your ovaries.
  3. You tell me octopi off the coast of California derive their intelligence by eating swimmers’ brains.
  4. You tell me that we buried our beloved stepmother Rita in a cardboard box.


  1. I kneel in front of the TV, as if I were praying, watching our home movie flicker on. You are a baby, nine months old, held by Mom. Your hair, white-blond, peeking out of a white bonnet.
  2. Your eyes huge, Dad’s nose on your baby face.
  3. This is before Neal, our stepfather.
  4. I am praying, even though this baby was lost so many years ago. God bless this child.
  5. She’s somewhere inside you now, the you before all that you were to suffer.


  1. A website tells me we have a new sister — a half. Her name is Shiela.
  2. Given up for adoption. Boise life.
  3. I speak to her on the phone. She is plain in her vowels, factual in her consonants.
  4. She’s what you might have been.
  5. I want this sister to be all that you can’t be.
  6. Unmolested, unbroken.


  1. We are locked in the basement. Upstairs, Mom and Neal eat frosting.
  2. You say, “Don’t worry, Chrissy, it’s Gilligan’s Island down here.”
  3. After a while, I find a stack of Reader’s Digest Condensed books. I am too little to read but I know something new: I want to read.
  4. Dad gets us some weekends. He has a box of SOS pads high above our heads. What is SOS, I ask him.


  1. I’m in college. You’re a new mother in Finland. The letters you send are on paper so fragile I sometimes tear them.
  2. I’m going to visit you after I graduate. I haven’t seen you for two years.
  3. In one envelope, you enclose two self-portraits. You, brown and yellow. You, purple and bright pink.
  4. Don’t worry, but I have been sick.


  1. I’m in high school. You’re packing for college. We have been fighting. In your pink room, you are ironing your blouses.
  2. The steaming, sizzling iron you hold as you tell me the truth.
  3. Our stepfather, Neal Stenerson.
  4. Five years of it. He tried to get it in me but he couldn’t.
  5. The iron hisses at me. Smell of burning in the air.


  1. You left college after one year. You’re engaged to your British ethics professor who is the same age as Dad.
  2. Postcards from England. Letters from France. You, the professor, on a beach, shells covering your nipples.
  3. A letter. You left him.
  4. You are on your way to Finland.


  1. January 5, 1988. You are married to Jarmo Pakarinen.
  2. You have a child, Aleksis. Your letters in careful calligraphy to Grandma tell of a life you love in this strange country. Dad said you were feeling fine. I called him February 14 (in Finland) but it was 13.02.88 there.
  3. All is well.


  1. In 2017, you write me on forms from Eastern State Psychiatric Hospital.
  2. In print so tiny.
  3. So faint.
  4. I can barely decipher it.
  5. Please get me the red…Call me here. Want you to buy red + black yarn. thank you. Love, Kathy.


  1. In 1989, I visit you in Finland. Women we pass in the village of Porvoo say you are a foreigner.
  2. The men at the factory where we work that summer say you have a fat ass. The children in the courtyard laugh at you. I open your apartment window and I scream at them. They stare up at me, open-mouthed.
  3. On the bus to Helsinki, over the intercom, the announcer says you dyed your hair.
  4. We listen to the radio in your kitchen.
  5. The radio announcer tells us to leave Finland.
  6. Who is the monster? What is the monster that stole you?


  1. But I am in love with a Finnish man who looks like the hero on the cover of a romance paperback.
  2. So I engineer our return. I say you will be fine. I say your husband misses you.
  3. Back in Finland the following summer, you break again.
  4. I am the monster.


  1. The paperback man doesn’t answer his phone when I call for help.
  2. He is the monster.
  3. Your husband won’t leave his summer cabin in northern Finland.
  4. Jarmo is the monster.
  5. My friend’s boyfriend gives us a ride to the white hospital by the Gulf of Finland. He leaves without asking if I need a ride home. The psychiatrist wears golf cleats. He seems annoyed.
F. Monster. Monster.


  1. The sky over the psychiatric hospital is beginning to lighten. The abbreviated night of summer in Finland.
  2. I have no money to pay the taxi, a Mercedes. The driver sits on wooden balls. He tells me he’s had seven years of bad luck.
  3. Now he’s having seven years of good luck. He brings me home and tells me not to worry about the fare.
  4. When I come back the next day, you are curled toward the wall. A beautiful woman is asleep in the twin bed next to you. She has black, curly hair, exotic in Finland.
  5. I stare at her beautiful face, wondering what caused her to be there. She opens her eyes and smiles at me with a mouth full of black teeth. Estonian prostitute, the nurse tells me.


  1. I eat with you and the other women from your ward. Pea soup and brown bread.
  2. We go to sauna together. I sit next to you on the bench, the steam turning us pink.
  3. Behind me, the Estonian prostitute with black teeth.


  1. Keywords: child abuse, trauma, psychosis, schizophrenia, etiology, treatment.


  1. Neal tells my sister: If you tell, I’ll do it to her.


  1. I draw red loops between Barbie’s and Ken’s legs in my coloring book. Skipper’s legs, too. She’s smiling as she washes the car.
  2. Neal tells me to pull down my shorts.
  3. My underwear.
  4. He takes off his belt.
  5. He beats me with it.
  6. Don’t you ever, ever do this again. He shakes the coloring book at me.
  7. It was a sunny day. It was Clarkston, Washington. I was five.


  1. Neal Stenerson.
  2. Never punished.
  3. Plays country music at different venues in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley.
  4. The monster.
  5. What made him?


  1. Your son Aleksis is now thirty.
  2. He buys me almonds when I visit.
  3. Won’t meet my eyes.


  1. While you sleep, I walk the grounds of the psychiatric hospital.
  2. I am joined by an elderly man with pink cheeks and bright blue eyes.
  3. He’s from the men’s osasto.
  4. He’s unsteady so we link arms and stroll.
  5. He has a road map of Canada, he tells me. He believes he will drive there one day.
  6. I believe it, too.
Headshot of Christine Pakkala

Christine Pakkala was born in Lewiston, Idaho. She received an MFA in Creative Writing from Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and received a Fulbright scholarship to study Finnish poetry. Currently calling Connecticut home with her two kids, Christine teaches with Writopia Lab, a creative writing program for kids. Her writing has appeared in Salon, Serendipity, Ladies Home Journal, Westport Magazine, Brain Child, and more.

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