This was fascinating, as we didn’t really know our sister very well. All of us had pulled away from the family at some point in our lives—we’d had to in order to forge our own identities, to go from being a Sedaris to our own specific Sedaris. Tiffany, though, stayed away. She might promise to come home for Christmas, but at the last minute there’d always be some excuse: she missed her plane, she had to work. The same would happen with our summer vacations. “The rest of us managed to make it,” I’d say, aware of how old and guilt-trippy I sounded.

We’d all be disappointed by her absence, though for different reasons. Even if you weren’t getting along with Tiffany at the time, you couldn’t deny the show she put on—the dramatic entrances, the nonstop professional-grade insults, the chaos she’d inevitably leave in her wake. One day she’d throw a dish at you, and the next she’d create a mosaic made of the shards. When allegiances with one brother or sister flamed out, she’d take up with someone else. At no time did she get along with everybody, but there was always someone she was in contact with. Toward the end it was Lisa, but before that we’d all had our turn.

The last time she joined us on Emerald Isle was in 1986. “And, even then, she left after three days,” Gretchen reminded us.

As kids, we spent our beach time swimming. Then we became teenagers and devoted ourselves to tanning. There’s a certain kind of talk that takes place when you’re lying, dazed, in the sun, and I’ve always been partial to it. On the first afternoon of our most recent trip, we laid out one of the bedspreads we’d had as children and arranged ourselves side by side on it, trading stories about Tiffany.

“What about the Halloween she spent on that Army base?”

“And the time she showed up at Dad’s birthday party with a black eye?”

“I remember this girl she met years ago at a party,” I began when my turn came. “She’d been talking about facial scars and how terrible it would be to have one, so Tiffany said, ‘I have a little scar on my face and I don’t think it’s so awful.’

“‘Well,’ the girl said, ‘you would if you were pretty.’”

Amy laughed and rolled over onto her stomach. “Oh, that’s a good line!”

I rearranged the towel I was using as a pillow. “Isn’t it, though?” Coming from someone else the story might have been upsetting, but not being pretty was never one of Tiffany’s problems, especially when she was in her twenties and thirties, and men tumbled helpless before her.

“Funny,” I said, “but I don’t remember a scar on her face.”

I stayed in the sun too long that day and got a burn on my forehead. That was basically it for me and the beach blanket. I made brief appearances for the rest of the week, stopping to dry off after a swim, but mainly I spent my days on a bike, cycling up and down the coast and thinking about what had happened. While the rest of us seem to get along effortlessly, with Tiffany it always felt like work. She and I usually made up after arguing, but our last fight took it out of me, and at the time of her death we hadn’t spoken in eight years. During that period, I regularly found myself near Somerville, and though I’d always toy with the idea of contacting her, I never did, despite my father’s encouragement. Meanwhile I’d get reports from him and Lisa: Tiffany had lost her apartment, had gone on disability, had moved into a room found for her by a social service agency. Perhaps she was more forthcoming with her friends, but her family got things only in bits and pieces. She didn’t talk with us so much as at us, great blocks of speech that were by turns funny, astute, and so contradictory it was hard to connect the sentence you were hearing with the one that preceded it. Before we stopped speaking I could always tell when she was on the phone. I’d walk into the house and hear Hugh say, “Uh-huh…uh-huh…uh-huh…”

In addition to the two boxes that Amy had filled in Somerville, she also brought down our sister’s 1978 ninth-grade yearbook. Among the messages inscribed by her classmates was the following, written by someone who had drawn a marijuana leaf beside her name:

Tiffany. You are a one-of-a-kind girl so stay that way you unique ass. I’m only sorry we couldn’t have partied more together. This school sux to hell. Stay





Check your ass later.

Then there’s:


I’m looking forward to getting high with you this summer.


Call me sometime this summer and we’ll go out and get blitzed.

A few weeks after these messages were written, Tiffany ran away and was subsequently sent to a disciplinary institution in Maine called élan. According to what she told us later, it was a horrible place. She returned home in 1980, having spent two years there, and from that point on none of us can recall a conversation in which she did not mention it. She blamed the family for sending her off, but we, her siblings, had nothing to do with it. Paul, for instance, was ten when she left. I was twenty-one. For a year, I sent her monthly letters. Then she wrote and told me to stop. As for my parents, there were only so many times they could apologize. “We had other kids,” they said in their defense. “You think we could let the world stop on account of any one of you?”

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