Chris McCandless Sister
I am Chris’s older sister Shelly McCandless, fourth
child and youngest daughter of Marcia and Walt.
Walt and Billie started their relationship when my mom was pregnant with me. In 1972 both families still lived in California. I was seven years old at the time, Chris was four, and Carine was one. At that young age, I watched as my mother finally summoned the courage to leave my father, fed up with his infidelities and abuse. She filed for divorce, packed six children into the station wagon and drove us all to Colorado. She had a difficult time receiving any financial support, and through his continued threats was intimidated from pursuing legal action. Eventually my mom had to go back to California in 1976 and file through the court system. Then again in 1978 she had to continue through the District Attorney in Ft. Collins, Colorado to try and receive payment. The payments were infrequent and often not in full. As Walt and Billie were finding financial success in the early 80’s, my mom had to push to receive arrears. She worked three jobs to barely make ends meet. We were not set up for a successful childhood and we often received good will from the people at our church. Walt and Billie fully understood the financial struggle my mother was having but they continually fought back to try and keep their funds. I tell you this because the interactions were not “seamless” with my father and step- mother as they have implied. What was seamless was the comfort we found in each other as brothers and sisters. I can remember countless times they had my back, Chris included.
I have the deepest respect for my mother and her bravery, escaping with six kids in tow and becoming a single mom. She has always held a space in her heart for Chris and Carine knowing that they were not responsible for my father’s infidelity. She is our model for unconditional love. Carine and her daughters have become part of her family and she embraces them whenever they visit our home.
From my early teens I spent my summers and family vacations with Chris and Carine. I also spent my last two years of High School in Virginia. While living there I saw first hand how the abuse I witnessed as a young child was continuing for Chris and Carine. Unfortunately Billie, also suffering under his control was at first unable to change their future. Then when their financial success brought the chance of freedom, she was unwilling to take the risk and instead became his partner in ignoring the devastating results. Domestic violence has an effect on your psyche that lasts a lifetime. It sinks into your bones and your soul so that no amount of time can remove it. What you do with those memories determines your path in life. Chris’s path was cut short. I imagine Billie might still be walking hers with veiled pain and concealed regret. I too am a single Mom. It is not the easiest road financially, but you do what is necessary to protect your children.
I am my father’s daughter - brash, fiery, pensive and controlling. However, I have worked hard to use this energy for the good of the environment and the protection of all of the people I love. Thus I spend a large portion of my time volunteering for local charities that support my true intent. While I view Walt and Billie’s recent devotion to “helping young mothers with needy children” admirable, I don’t remember them embracing those philosophies during my youth. Furthermore, if they had ever acknowledged this irony rather than deny it, I believe their story would have an even greater impact, enabling them to reach out to and help even more people. I have to be honest that I find their charitable acts to be self-serving. I recall no good deed being done by them without strings attached for their own recognition and validation. It saddens me to see this pattern continuing, now in Chris’s name.
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”
A note from Carine McCandless