Chris McCandless Sister
A note from Carine McCandless, Chris’s youngest
I have been aware of Adam’s website for quite some time now. I appreciate his efforts and intent for creating it. Although I have never posted before I have read many of your comments. I value the sentiment and how Chris has touched your lives.
Nothing was more important to Chris than truth. He believed strongly that absolute truth should be part of everything you do in this life. I feel a responsibility to be his voice now that he is no longer here to speak for himself. That being said, there is some content on this site that I spoke to my parents about many times. As it has not been fully addressed, I feel the need to respond to it now.
Most notably, their listing of “Walt’s children” disappoints me.
The accurate list of children in true order of birth is:
Sam, Stacy, Shawna, Shelly, Shannon, Chris, Quinn, Carine.
Chris & I were born to Billie while our father was still married and continued his family with his first wife Marcia. Both families suffered through constant domestic violence, threats and deception. I believe that to not acknowledge at least these basic facts is an injustice to Chris and all that he endured.
This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write. I pause here to realize that no matter what truths the past deems undeniable, it is devastating to lose a child. My parents are dealing with his death in their own way. They tell me that they have both established a new relationship with God and it has changed them for the better. As a Christian myself I believe in the strength of the Spirit. I am pleased by the hope this statement could bring, and it is not my intent to denigrate that. However I must say that I have seen no evidence of changed behavior beyond the surface. Perhaps I cannot escape the irony that as children, throughout dad’s gin induced rages, we were reminded that he himself was God, so his actions could not be wrong. This weighed heavily on us, especially after returning home from church and the Sunday school classes our parents taught.
I respect the charitable work my parents perform in Chris's name and hope it has had a positive effect on their lives as well as those they help. One such effort is the new “Back To The Wild” book they are publishing of his photographs. I do not wish to hinder the success of this project. I do feel the need to state that none of Chris’s siblings were involved in the creation of it. In my opinion it lacks an essential balance to be a true testament to Chris and his journey. It is a simple fact that other than Walt and Billie, no member of his memorial foundation has any personal knowledge of the true environment Chris grew up in. I do want to recognize that my parents adjusted the "Early Years" content on this site. They also removed what they had originally planned to include as a similar section in the book. Having seen it online, I informed them that it was extremely upsetting to my siblings and myself because we felt it was defamatory and unfair to Chris. I am optimistic that this section will also be absent from the follow up DVD, and hope that their admirable decision to omit it might bring some healing to this family.
(UPDATE - Unfortunately my parents have released a new version of their book "Back to The Wild", actually claiming Chris as the author in the i-books listing - a testament to itself that this is truly an "un-real" version of Chris's life story. The first page of this book begins with the following intro..."We can only speculate why a young man, right after college graduation, would set out on the open road. Why did he choose to sever communication with his family?"..... Of course, my parents know why. How sad that this book that claims to be the life work of someone that stood for TRUTH above all else, actually begins with a lie. Furthermore, the "Early Years" section has been reinstalled, providing misleading information and a false sense of the childhood that made Chris who he was. I am saddened that my parents have learned nothing from his death, that they hide behind the guise of a foundation and use his name to try to erase their own mistakes and rewrite our family history. I am disappointed in the people that assist them in doing this, while proclaiming their intent to honor Chris they have achieved just the opposite. His brothers and sisters will continue to speak the truth. We stand behind Chris and his true story.)
Please understand that I wish no ill will befall my parents. I know that they will read this and I do not want to hurt them. I am well aware that many children in this world have a much more difficult upbringing than we did. I want to acknowledge the good things they did as parents. In this regard I can only speak to the direct experience of Chris and I in our household, as I am conscious that these same opportunities were not always available to our siblings. They introduced us to nature and that was such a great gift. We were well fed, well educated and well traveled. We went regularly to the doctor and dentist, had a nice clean home to live in with a beautiful yard, had cars to drive to high school. We were able to pursue sports and music. Being a parent myself, I know these things are not always easy to provide. They taught us how to work hard although I feel our purposes for doing so are different than theirs. Their financial success and these subsequent provisions to us seemed to be their proof of good parenting while we were threatened to ignore the other side of our reality. We appreciated the good times. We did not expect our parents to be perfect, as we certainly were not, but we did expect to be able to trust them and feel safe and loved within our own home.
I worked as a consultant on both the book and movie. It was difficult to define that delicate line between supporting Chris with an honest accounting of the childhood that led him to the decisions he made, while not causing further pain to my family. I asked that Jon Krakauer not write about specific occurrences and he respected that request. Sean Penn continued that trust in the making of the film. Due to the editing of my narrative in the film, I regret that there is one portion that mistakenly implies that we did not know our brothers and sisters growing up. Sean Penn and I discussed this at length. With obvious time constraints in mind, he correctly decided that to completely and honestly explain how our two families overlapped would seem to sensationalize the family drama and cause more pain to my parents. Unfortunately, rather than respect or appreciate these submissions, I feel that my parents are attempting to take advantage of vague portrayals of our history with their efforts to create a new one. To imply things were different than they were goes against Chris and everything he stood for. Their written position that they were "dedicated" to making sure there was "seamless interaction" between our two families is a stark contrast to the painful events that were woven into our childhood.
Walt & Billie began their relationship when she was working as his secretary at Hughes Aircraft. Marcia was pregnant with Shelly at the time. Three years later, Shannon was born to Marcia just 3 months before Billie gave birth to Chris, then Quinn was born between Chris and me. Marcia was eventually able to divorce Walt and he married Billie when I was 4 and Chris was 7. After Chris and I learned of this, we always felt guilty that our father’s other children and wife felt abandoned. Still, to this day, Marcia and all of her children regard us with love and respect rather than the products of a painful affair. I state these facts not to condemn my parents, but to shed light on Chris’s true mindset. From the time we were small children, still unaware of how children come to be, I remember Chris being consistently told through our mother’s tears that the family struggles began with his birth, when she became “stuck” with our dad. Chris carried this unfounded guilt with him until the wisdom that comes with age resulted in feelings of betrayal and eventually anger. This mislaid blame was never rescinded, only ignored. Seeing no alternative but to completely remove himself from the pain he could not manage, Chris had just cause to leave in the way that he did. For him it was a matter of survival. He overcame adversity to live a positive and beautiful existence on this earth. His brothers and sisters understand and respect that.
We indeed had the privilege of family vacations. Yet aside from smiling children frozen in time through family photos, I am disturbed by their quote “All of this was driven by a desire to make sure that all felt as one and that hopefully they would continue that fellowship through the rest of their lives.” In reality they often made attempts to pit us against each other in an effort to prevent unity and communication. Yet they now take credit for the close relationship we siblings maintain to this day. We are our family. It is a fact that Walt and Billie consistently refuse to talk honestly about the past whenever their children reach out to them for healing and closure. We are still blamed for their poor choices. Their persistence of these implications is what caused the loss (not the death) of Chris, and continues to prevent the possibility of a relationship with their 7 living children, 9 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
Without a genuine opportunity for closure, I still struggle to find a healthy balance between appreciating what my parents did right, my need to forgive them for what they did wrong and my commitment to ensuring Chris’s true voice is never silenced. I know that if they would be willing to look into that mirror of honesty they could understand my position rather than be angered by it.
I am grateful that Chris and his story have touched so many lives in a positive way. It is a beautiful legacy and well deserved. Although remarkably intelligent and confident, Chris was also quite modest. It would surprise him to have had such an effect on so many people all over the world.
With sincerity, I thank you for reading my thoughts.
Honor Each Day,
A note from Shelly McCandless
Here is a youtube video of an interview with Carine on the Oprah Winfrey show.
Carine is registered with Random House Speakers Bureau and speaks at
Universities around the world on the story Into The Wild. Her profile
can be found here www.rhspeakers.com.