My brother is about a year and a half older than I am. You would think as a child I looked up to him, respected him, relied on his wisdom and more mature intellect, and as is so often the case in older / younger brother relationships, he was “the boss”.
It wasn’t like that at all.
My relationship with my brother, like that of our parents, was abusive in many ways. And it started early – very early on – before my memories of our relationship had even begun.
When my brother was born, he was apparently a scrawny, hairy baby – so much so that they called him a monkey. As for me, I was born dying in a small overseas hospital (which is why, technically, I am an ‘immigrant’, though I was born to American parents – and had to be naturalized). Despite that initial bad start, though (this was in ’59), I recovered and went on to become a fat, happy – and strong baby. Of course dad had nothing to do with me: he’d wanted a girl. Not that it mattered much, since he was rarely home; always on maneuvers or training or TDY or something . . .
My mom likes to tell the tales of how, when I was still in my walker, I would pick it up and running down the hallway, mow my brother down like he was a bit player in a demolition derby. Another tale she likes to relate is how she kept hearing the toilet flush one day – and came in to find that I had stuffed by big brother in the toilet and was attempting to flush him down.
Other tales I did not know I learned just this past mother’s day – such as how my mom and the other military mothers would gather their babies and go out into the field where the Army was practicing maneuvers – NATO exercises – to be with ‘their men’. This was during the Cold War, post-European WWII, and times were much different. When the officers came around the mothers would hide us babies with the British soldiers, who would give us jellies in their vans – up until the day the women forgot to hide the diapers, which were draped across the bushes like so many white flags. Apparently the officer in charge understood, because he did not put an end to the practice, though warnings were issued.
She also talks about the alerts – the times when the military would gear up for a Russian invasion across Germany and France. She would be on her own, two babies in hand, with all the required gear that the Army demanded the mothers have. “You never knew if the alert was real or not,” she said, “and it was a frightening time. There you are, all alone – your husband has been called away – while you are preparing to flee an invasion. You are on your own to evacuate.” She wasn’t the only mother caught like this; all of them were, and I’m sure if there are some old military moms out there who were in Europe at the time, this all sounds very familiar. Her greatest fear was that she would lose one of us kids, which tells me something: despite her never saying she loved us, she obviously did.
But back to my brother and I.
I was the bigger brother, if not in years, then in size. I always was able to dominate him, and he knew it. I think it gave him some sort of complex, and I know he hated me for that. I won’t go into the particulars in this story, but he often got his revenge in painful and subtle ways. (And sometimes not so subtle.) This difference in size and ages – me being bigger and stronger (and often it seems, smarter and wiser), and him being a smaller, thin boy – only added to our troubles, and was a source of friction throughout our younger lives. Even when he became a Marine and I was still in high school – and he tried to beat me up for mocking him – he found it didn’t work. I just sucked up the pain like a candy straw (something he was never able to do) – and pounded him so badly that all his Marine Corps training and discipline came down to naught. To this day he won’t take me on, which is a good thing, because while we get along, we still fight with words, and there is a certain amount of anger and spite between us. He works all the time; I don’t (disabled). He even works when he isn’t working, and works some more – always trying to make one more dollar, whereas I don’t care. When we talk, he talks work, nothing but work – that’s what everyone who knows him says about him – whereas work is often the last thing on my mind. I would rather know how happy your are, what kind of life you’ve had, what trips you’ve made, the things you’ve seen. Not him. People don’t like talking to him because of his attitude, his all consuming focus on work, whereas they don’t seem to mind talking to me. For him, if it’s not about money, it’s not about anything.
Am I bitter about my brother and my relationship? Yes, I am, in a lot of ways, but I know I’m not going to change him. He won’t listen to me, and I get tired of listening to him – about how I should do this or do that to be making some more money. I’d rather be living life large, having great adventures (the only thing you can ‘take with you’ – and never lose) – than talking and getting angry about who did or didn’t do what to benefit me.
As I’m sitting here writing this thing, I am asking myself: do I love him? Yes, in some ways, I reckon I do. I wish I could love him more, but mostly I feel sorry for him and the path his life has taken. Yes, he started with an “interesting” life — just as I did – but now he lets the love of money drive him, blind to anything else. He has a tunnel vision of sorts, and is missing out on life’s riches, while I try my best to seek them out – adventure, love, and such – even if they do involve hardships. High adventure and deep feeling emotion – that’s my style. But not his, not anymore. All he wants is the safety he thinks money can buy him. And his wife (insane!) is exactly like him. They don’t understand why I write the way I do – she wanted to know how much money I was making when I told her I was writing a fictional book (“The Boy”) – and thinks I’m a fool for working ‘for free’ on something that probably won’t ever make a dime. And they would never understand that I do this for myself and pleasure, and to help others sometimes – and not for making money. Ditto volunteer work. They just don’t understand it.
One thing my brother and I shared as teenagers was an extremely violent temper, given to us by our parents. Very, very, very violent. Disturbing to most – even my wife was (and is) disturbed by how terribly, horribly violent we were to each other. To say ‘extreme violence’ is a gross understatement. We had fights with guns and swords, fists and arrows, knives and razor blades. We put bullet holes through the house. We actually wanted to kill the other but never did. And the reason why?
Because we feared our mom even more.
That’s something my wife finds VERY disturbing. Strange, isn’t it?
There’s a lot of stories about me and my brother, but I wanted to get things clear before I went on with the rest of my story on Tokoni – that ours was NOT the normal big / little brother relationship. Ours was violent and bloody – quite literally. We wanted to kill each other. Really. The abuse that was perpetuated on us by our parents got magnified a hundred times more between us – and it went far, far beyond any normal sibling rivalry. Even our friends knew that, and sometimes were afraid for us. And my brother blames my dad; despises my dad; and isn’t too fond of my mom, though he feels obligated to ‘take care of them’ — unlike me, who really couldn’t care less. There are problems with my attitude towards my parents; my mom often complains I don’t call, and my dad that I don’t visit — but I don’t let their problems bother me. After all, it’s their life, not mine. They laid the foundation for our relationship; not me.
More on this later sometime, as these stories ramble on.
For ours was not a typical household (if you haven’t figured that out by now), nor was my brother and my relationship a loving one. Not by a long shot. Which means coming up, I had to do it alone – brother or not. And there were many times I found myself wishing that he’d never been there. And, as he told me over and over again when we were kids: he only wished I was dead.