I was the only girl among boys. I had one biological brother who was older than I. He and I shared the same mother and father. My other two brothers were younger and each a result of my mother or father’s second marriages, so technically, they were half-brothers. My brothers, sparked by my parents’ actions at times, picked on me more often than they were nice to me it seemed. They called me names and pulled my hair, stuck their tongues out at me, and all the other behaviors that siblings exhibit in childhood. I hated it. But I loved my brothers. They picked on me, but they were protective of me. That goes without saying about my older brother.
“Brothers and sisters are as close as hands and feet.”
His life was sad and tragic. When he was born, my grandparents, both sets, fell in love with him instantly. He was a fat little baby, a fat little toddler, and as he grew, he became a fat little boy. When we were growing up in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, there weren’t many overweight children. My brother was the exception. For that, he got teased at school. That’s depressing enough to think about, but what’s more deplorable is that he rarely got a break from it at home.
At my mother’s house, we heard insult after insult being hurled at my older brother. These insults were almost always geared toward his weight problem. “You are such a fucking lard ass. I can’t find pants big enough to fit you.” “Pull your damned pants up! No one wants to see your fucking blubber hanging and bulging out of the top of them.” “You definitely don’t need to eat dessert, probably for the rest of your fucking life since you are so damned fat.” It was ceaseless and relentless.
These verbal assaults surely must have broken his spirit. So when he was 12 years old, he requested to move to our father’s house. My mother took this as a direct affront, and refused to communicate with him for an entire year after the move. But things weren’t much better there. With our parents, we had a choice of living in hell or living in hell.
My step-mother decided that she should be his personal nutritionist. She would ration his portions of food in the hopes that this would help him lose weight. Certain foods such as candy, pudding, sugary cereal, cookies, and kool-ade, she restricted, which wouldn’t be so disturbing had she not given my younger half-brother (her son) and I the freedom to indulge in these sweets whenever we wanted. It wasn’t just the liberty of consumption, it was the fact that she purchased these foods for us regularly and reminded us of their presence in front of him. That must have been torture for him. His weight loss would have afforded him this liberty of consumption as well. But he never lost the weight.
Instead, he resorted to stealing food to hide in his room so that he could devour them in solitude, away from her disapproval. I’m not sure where all the food came from; some probably came from the pantry at my father’s house. Other food must have been purchased or shoplifted at the grocery store. Maybe he stole food at his friends’ houses. I’m not sure. But I am absolute in my argument that had it not been for her obsession with his weight, his circumstances would have been more advantageous.
The most painful memory of my older brother was when I was just fourteen years old. It was June; school was just out for the summer. I longed to spend every minute at my grandmother’s, but first I had to go to my father’s house. He was taking us to visit his brother for a week, and his other brother’s family was joining us. Great. Two weeks with the Three Chauvinist Brothers was not my idea of jubilation. When I arrived at my father’s house and discovered that my older brother wasn’t going, I was annoyed that he was spared the turmoil and chaos of the trip. He had a summer job, and at 16, could drive himself. The only other Book Worm in the family got a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. He gloated when he reported the news.
We spent the first day there at a nearby beach. most of the day with my head was in a book, or I was lying on a chaise in my daydream world, far away from my present location where I was held hostage. We drove back, tired, sweaty, sandy, and hungry. About an hour after we returned, I walked into the kitchen/family room and saw everyone sitting very solemnly. The next thing I heard was my father moaning, “No! That can’t be right.” My Uncle took him into another room.
I was very confused, but I could tell by the adult’s demeanor that something was wrong. I sat quietly in the corner. I don’t think that anyone realized I was in the room. They whispered words quietly among themselves. I could only make out bits and pieces. Was someone hurt? Why weren’t they talking? Why weren’t they cooking dinner? Why were they just sitting here? Who was on the phone? I could hear the other kids, my half-brother and cousins, outside playing, laughing, talking, running. Their life was going on a usual. But inside the house, it was very much the opposite.
One of my aunts said, “We have to tell _(insert my name).”
“Tell me what?” I replied as they looked at me surprisingly.
Attempting to embrace me, she told me what I had feared the conversation was about. My brother was dead. He was killed in an accident. A car accident. His car was the only car involved. He tried to pass another car on a country road. As he turned the wheel to get back into his lane after passing, he overcompensated and went onto the gravel shoulder. To avoid the ditch, he jerked the vehicle back to the right, and nearly flew into the ditch on the opposite side. The vehicle flipped three times, ejecting him from it where his head hit a large rock. He was traveling at a very fast rate. He must have been in a hurry. I stood there, my heart pounding. I heard her words, but couldn’t quite understand them. I played them again and again in my mind. He’s dead. He’s dead. He’s dead.
I couldn’t feel the tears as they welled up in my eyes, but I felt them roll down my cheeks. I knew what those words meant. Yet, I had never heard them said about anyone I ever knew before. I would never see him again. He wouldn’t be home when we returned. He wouldn’t be. That was it. And it was final.
I remember the agonizing look on my father’s face. He had loved him. Yet, he never knew him. He didn’t know about his love of writing. He found dozens and dozens of notebooks years later after my brother’s death that contained my brother’s writing. He didn’t know about his dreams of being an aviator, possibly joining the air force. That’s because they never talked. All my father knew about my older brother is that my older brother did not share his love of sports and hunting. Therefore, he wasn’t worthy of my father’s time and attention.
There are other secrets, much more sinister than my father could fathom. Those were not mentioned in his writing. Perhaps, like me, those secrets were too dark and evil to write about. Although my brother and I rarely talked about it, I knew these secrets were the reason that my brother fled to my father’s house, hoping to find comfort. He was emancipated from the physical abuse when he came to live with my father, his wife, and our half-brother where he was expected to adhere to conformity. He resided in another kind of hell. A hell where you aren’t good enough. A hell where your opinions didn’t matter. A hell where you are nearly a non-entity. No matter what you do, say, like, or care about, no matter what you think, it’s not important. In living in this conditional environment, my brother’s self-worth was nil. His emotional bank-account was overdrawn. Because of his death, he no longer had to endure either of the two haunted worlds in which he lived his tormented 16 years of life.
My brother went from a home where he was beaten, battered and abused to one where he was humiliated, ignored and unloved. By death’s pilgrimage, his spirit flew away from a life where acceptance was nonexistence to one of pure salvation. His independence cost him his life. He is forever free.