Dear Sister: A Memoir of Secrets, Survival, and Unbreakable Bonds

Image of Dear Sister: A Memoir of Secrets, Survival, and Unbreakable Bonds
Release Date: 
January 30, 2024
Grand Central Publishing
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“20,000 phone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines each day in the United States.

One in four women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime.”

Dear Sister is the searing, painful, intimate story of one of those women. But it is not only Nikki’s story—it is the story of many—those who turn the gun on their partner and who face an insensitive and inadequate justice system and an incredulous family and community who often just “don’t believe” the person in the orange jumpsuit.

In Nicole (Nikki) Addimando’s case, the violence was chronic, complex, and acute sexual, physical, and emotional abuse and torture committed by her partner, Chris, the father of their four-year-old son and two-year-old daughter, a man adored by the community, especially the many gymnasts and their families who knew him as coach and mentor.

Michelle Horton, Nikki’s unsuspecting sister, leads her readers on the journey she herself takes, from the shocking knock on the door through the next several years until she and her sister hear the jury’s verdict: Guilty. Murder. And later, the sentence: “19 years to life in a maximum-security prison.”

Michelle’s writing is straight-forward and unflinching, vulnerable and bold—as any good memoir should be. She takes us on the hellish roller-coaster she rides as she comes to realize the fullness of the horror her sister has hidden from her for so long.

But Nikki had told her story to many others including a therapist, Sarah, and a network of friends. Some “in the group who understood the realities of domestic violence and how our local system worked advised caution—they didn’t want to ignite a flame and unwittingly cause an explosion. They were witnessing what looked like an escalation in violence and they were scared Chris would kill her.”

Sarah “had gone to the DA’s office over the years and spoken about Nikki’s abuse, raising red flags, including a lethality assessment administered several times, which showed that Nikki was at the highest level of risk for domestic homicide.”

And that wasn’t all: “Nikki’s case was conferenced by the county’s Universal Response to Domestic Violence (URDV), which was a coordinated, multidisciplinary team including the District Attorney’s Office, Family Services, the courts, probation, Legal Services, local and state police, and several domestic violence shelters.”

The sexual violence against Nikki wasn’t confined to the bedroom: it was shared with countless others on porn sites. “The abuse was recorded and uploaded in videos that were so violent and disturbing that a police officer in our hometown had tracked the porn site, taken screen shots, and compiled a report for the DA’s Office.”

When presented with an affidavit for Chris’ arrest, Nikki “froze. She was terrified. Her numb hands weren’t working well enough to hold a pen, so Sarah wrote down what Nikki said, while the officer and a domestic violence advocate waited. They waited five hours. They waited until Nikki finally said no.”

Anyone familiar with typical behaviors of battered women is not surprised by Nikki’s behavior. “In reality, there was nothing stopping Dutchess County from pursuing an evidence-based prosecution without Nikki’s participation.” That, however, did not happen and Nikki was left to return to another night with her partner.

This is an agonizing, tragic story, a story that will drain you, and fill you with rage at the inadequacies of the legal/justice system but arm you with determination to improve the system. It’s a story of family secrets, of silence, shame, human frailty.

It’s the story of the innocent children, their love for their mother, the collateral damage they suffer and will suffer throughout their lives.

It is also a story of family resilience, infinite love, friends, and communities caring, banding together to support and advocate for Nikki and the family, the power of media, of a national campaign, the power of persistence, of truth, of reasonable people.

It’s a story you won’t forget. It is a story that matters because it’s more than Nikki’s story.

It’s a story you’ll continue to read about every day.