On 9/22/2013 my spirt was set free. And, as any creature let loose after years in captivity, it had to re-learn the hunt before it could feast.
That Sunday morning over 5 & 1/2 years ago was the day my sister Anarae, age 20 at the time, was brutally murdered by Anthony Lee Nelson with the help of Ashley Conrade, both now serving time in the Minnesota prison system.
Short of an address to a group of grieving loved ones at a memorial service (see Part 1 from 12:19 to 23:18) and a 76 min 1:1 phone call with Stephan Molyneux, I haven’t spoken about Anarae’s murder. I haven’t know what to say.
Now, however, nearly 6 years on, my nights are again alive with dreams which have illuminated a truth worth telling yet otherwise lost deep inside my dark night of the soul.
My spirit, it appears, has discovered its way back home, well fed and looking to share in the bounty. He speaks in fragments, flashes & bursts, piercing sweaty sheets in the wee hours of the morning, leaving me to weave scant, small truths together in time, much like a fog inevitably lifted by the rising sun.
Continue below to discover tastes of what I have unearthed thus far, including backstory you haven’t heard before.
Anarae and I have a checkered past, not absent of fondness, but I wouldn’t describe our bond as close in the sense I now use the word. We were more like fellow competitors in a race for the respect and admiration of others, most notably our parents and peers.
I taught her to play chess at 6 – she taught my son at 3 and then went on to compete nationally. I was junior class officer, football captain and graduated high school with a 3.93 GPA – she went on mission trips, was first chair in band and graduated with a 3.98. I went to a top 3 engineering college and accumulated massive debt – she was accepted to NYU and opted to attend U of MN on scholarship. I taught basic computer skills to inner city Detroit youth – she tutored struggling Minneapolis teens in mathematics. I was a student of von Mises – she a disciple of Marx.
On and on like this – shooting stars, alone in the same sky.
To be fair, she was 10 & 1/2 years younger than I and, where age wasn’t enough of a barrier between us, geography filled in. At 18, I catapulted myself 750 miles from home and never really looked back; she was in 3rd grade. Even so, we had so much in common, so much to gain from a richer relationship – what really kept us apart? The haunting reality of the answer is small truth #1:
you can’t love in another what you hate in yourself
In our case, we both hated how we looked in the mirror, although we coped differently. Undiagnosed, but akin to Body Dysmorphic Disorder, she fought against internal pressure to look differently where I submitted to vanity. Both approaches lacking, we couldn’t even make eye contact without facing unresolved trauma. Let me explain.
I remember crying repeatedly in elementary school after being labeled the fat kid and later wrestling with anorexia before discovering the weight room. Even after years of hard work and developing, by objective standards, a highly desirable physique, I’ve never been comfortable shirtless at the pool.
Similarly, Anarae struggled with her weight from a young age, which morphed into bouts with bulimia by her early teens. Where I escaped to the weight room she stared into the mirror – practicing positive self-talk by reciting affirming mantras to her naked reflection in the basement of our parents home. Her messy hair, minimalistic hygiene and less than inspiring levels of physical activity were, to her, acts of spiritual resilience designed to be a sort of exposure therapy. For me, there was something both inspiring and unsettling in her approach.
Looking back, our common insecurity might well have served as fodder to fuse us together, instead it detonated, forging a chasm much more disparate than geography and age.
Next question: why did it detonate? Digging on, I arrived at small truth #2:
healthy relationships are a cyclical process inclusive of self knowledge, open dialogue and shared experience
Had we rightly been able to identify the angst we saw in each other’s eyes as our own we would have stood a chance at diffusing the tension and healing historical wounds. Speaking for myself, I lacked sufficient self-knowledge; translation – I had secrets from myself and therefore struggled with open communication. Hence, we could be in the same space and feel isolated; reference the shooting star analogy.
For more on my struggles with healthy connection and how it ties back in to a childhood mostly devoid of the experience, read my previous post here.
As it pertains to Anarae, when she needed me most, I couldn’t be there for her, no matter how I hard I tried.
I don’t say that with regret – I know I employed every muscle I had available to me at the time – nor do I blame others for not picking up where her and I fell short. Rather, I offer up this perspective as a beacon for my readers, lest you avoid the rocky relational shores in your own lives.
After all, what happened to Anarae was no freak accident – it was entirely preventable. Predators like Nelson draw their victims into thick woods of deception towards a live trap with shame as the bait. Self-actualized, well connected individuals don’t enter the wood alone, or at all, and are repelled by those who degrade as a means of predation.
To bring it home, less than two months before her murder, Anarae re-engaged with Nelson possessing full knowledge that, concurrent to their first round of dating, he had concealed an ongoing marriage and pregnant girlfriend. Not to mention it ended with him going to jail for another parole violation despite self-proclaimed efforts to clean up his act. Throughout the earlier relationship, and more so afterwards, I pleaded with her, as did many others, to get away, to seek help, to never return. She couldn’t hear us, she was in the woods on a solo mission, ensnared.
The rest is in the papers but the horrific details and flowery obituaries obscure the learning. Those of us who remember Anarae, who loved her or tried, deserve more. I don’t proclaim to have the answer but I will share with you what my prodigal spirit has been recently whispering into my dreams:
honesty, like love, can hurt, but without both, we are truly alone