Dysfunctional families are all alike. Ditto "survivors."
Me, I'm the "surviving" child of an infamous American family but probably after almost ten years you won't remember me: Skyler.
It is a catchy name isn't it? Skyler: sky.
A name specifically chosen by my father, who'd expected great things from me, as his firstborn child, and male.
A name, my father Bix Rampike believed, to set its bearer apart from the merely commonplace.
My last name --- "Rampike" --- has caused your eyelids to flutter, right? Ram-pike. Of which, unless you're willfully obtuse, or pretending to be "above it all" (i.e., the ravaged earth of tabloid America), or mentally impaired, or really young, you've certainly heard.
Rampike? That family? The little girl skater, the one who was...
And whoever did it, never...
The parents, or a sex maniac, or...
Somewhere in New Jersey, years ago, has to be at least a decade...
Which is why --- at last! --- I've made myself begin whatever this will be, some kind of personal document --- a "unique personal document" --- not a mere memoir but (maybe) a confession. (Since in some quarters Skyler Rampike is a murder suspect you'd think that I have plenty to confess, wouldn't you?) Fittingly, this document will not be chronological/linear but will follow a pathway of free association organized by an unswerving (if undetectable) interior logic: unliterary, unpretentious, disarmingly crude-amateur, guilt-ridden, appropriate to the "survivor" who abandoned his six-year-old sister to her "fate" sometime in the "wee hours" of January 29, 1997, in our home in Fair Hills, New Jersey. Yes I am that Rampike.
The older brother of the most famous six-year-old in the history of the United States if not all of North America if not all of the world for consider: how many six-year-olds you've ever heard of, girl or boy, American or otherwise, have such name and face "recognition" as Bliss Rampike; how many have more than 500,000 citations on the Internet; and how many are immortalized by more than three hundred Web sites/home pages/blogs maintained by loyal/crazed cultists? These are facts.
Irony is, this celebrity, which the parents of virtually every six-year-old in the country would die for, came to my sister only posthumously.
As for me, Skyler? Anonymous and forgettable as a soap bubble. O.K.: a weird-looking soap bubble. If you've followed the Bliss Rampike case, most likely you've only glimpsed Skyler in passing. The brother has been ignored in your haste to ogle, with prim disapproving frowns, the prurient documents posted on the Internet, pirated Rampike family photos, illicitly acquired crime-scene photos and morgue photos and autopsy reports in addition to a seemingly inexhaustible supply of video footage of Bliss Rampike at the peak of her brief but dazzling career as the "youngest ever" Little Miss Jersey Ice Princess 1996, skating to triumph on the cold glittering ice rink of the Newark War Memorial Center. How "like an angel" in a strawberry colored satin and sequin skating costume with a perky tulle skirt and white lace panties peeking out from beneath and tiny sparks --- "stardust" --- in the beautiful little girl's ringleted blond hair as in her widened moist eyes, you feel your heart clench watching her, the small child alone on the ice, a chill lunar landscape glittering beneath her flashing skate blades, ah! there's a leap that brings a collective gasp from the audience, there's a spin on two skates, and now a spin on a single skate, these are tricky maneuvers even for older, champion skaters, these are precisely timed maneuvers in which the slightest hesitation or faltering or wincing with pain would be disastrous, and though you have seen this footage numberless times (if your misfortune is to be me, Skyler Rampike, that is), yet you break out in the proverbial cold sweat staring at the little girl on the ice, praying that she won't slip and fall on the ice.... But Bliss's score will be posted at 5.9 out of a possible 6.
And all this to the soft-rock disco beat of the 1980s, "Do What Feels Right."
(Any fellow/sister sufferers of R.C.S. among my readers? If so, you will sympathize with my helpless need to repeat, review, and revise certain episodes from my past/my sister's past ad nauseam.)
At the frenzied height of my family's fame/infamy in the approximate years 1997–1999, you could hardly avoid seeing heartrending photographs of the "prodigy" girl skater who'd been murdered in her own home in an affluent New Jersey community less than eighty miles west of the George Washington Bridge. You could hardly avoid seeing photographs of the little girl with her family, particularly the media favorite taken just before Christmas 1996 of the Rampikes seated before the ten-foot extravagantly decorated fir tree in the living room of their Fair Hills, New Jersey, "part restored" Colonial: broad shouldered good-looking Bruce "Bix" Rampike, who is Bliss's daddy; strikingly dressed, eagerly smiling Betsey Rampike, who is Bliss's mummy; little Bliss in a crimson velvet frock trimmed in white (ermine) fur, with the glittery Jersey Ice Princess tiara on her small head, white eyelet stockings and shiny black patent leather ballerina flats and that famous sweet shy angel smile, between Daddy and Mummy and each is clasping Bliss firmly in the crook of an arm; and, at the edge of the family portrait, in a vulnerable position to be handily cropped from the photo, the older, talentless brother Skyler.
By "older" I mean nine, in December 1996. Three years older than Bliss. And now, astonishingly, I am thirteen years older than Bliss was when she died. Skyler? what has happened to you? Skyler what terrible thing has happened to you . . . .too?
I don't think I will describe what I look like, just yet. An "invisible narrator" sounds like a good idea to me.
Excerpted from MY SISTER, MY LOVE: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike © Copyright 2011 by Joyce Carol Oates. Reprinted with permission by Harper Perennial. All rights reserved.
My Sister, My Love: The Intimate Story of Skyler Rampike