When Claire, a pixie-faced 6-year-old in a school uniform, heard her older brother, James, enter the family’s Manhattan apartment, she shut her bedroom door and began barricading it so swiftly and methodically that at first I didn’t understand what she was doing. She slid a basket of toys in front of the closed door, then added a wagon and a stroller laden with dolls. She hugged a small stuffed Pegasus to her chest. “Pega always protects me,” she said softly. “Pega, guard the door.”
James, then 10, had been given a diagnosis of bipolar disorder two years earlier. He was attending a therapeutic day school in another borough and riding more than an hour each way on a school bus, so he came home after Claire. Until James’s arrival that April afternoon, Claire was showing me sketches she had drawn of her Uglydolls and chatting about the Web site JibJab, where she likes to watch goofy videos. At the sound of James’s footsteps outside her bedroom door, she flattened herself behind the barricade. There was a sharp knock. After a few seconds, James’s angry, wounded voice barked, “Forget it,” and the steps retreated.
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