The almond milk slowly tumbled out of the spout of the carton and onto the organic, gluten-free oat clusters. The days of cow’s milk, sugar-coated cereal, and Tang are far behind me, but the ritual will inevitably trigger a flashback of nostalgic memories.
It’s funny to me the things that we tuck away in our millions of file cabinets of memories in comparison to the things that we choose to put in the trash bin of life experiences. I’m guessing only the memories that leave a mark are the ones that remain for us to inspect later in life and attempt to find the value in the joy or the pain of it all.
I grew up in a small town and was raised in a poor family. The youngest of three kids and the only girl, vivid memories flit through my mind like movies replaying the tortuous sibling antics that I was told were representative of love between humans. I was taught that nothing compares to this sibling display of love and affection and yet I really have nothing to compare it with. I bought that pretty package of rationale that my mother fed to me about my two older brothers and their teasing and how this was a way that my brothers demonstrated love and affection. At this point in my life, and as a parent myself, I can say that those statements are a complete load of crap, delivered by an exhausted parent to their crying child.
Those of us raised with siblings learn to navigate the world of human relationships based upon our childhood patterning and family dynamics. Those so-called loving sibling interactions are at the forefront of the love experiment. There are many variables to the connection between brothers and sisters and I now understand these demonstrations were some twisted sense of pleasure or control on the part of the deliverer (speaking as the receiver, that is).
When I was born, my Dad was recovering from a major illness and was physically healing while my mother was emotionally healing from this traumatic time; she was raising small children, had an ill husband, and a pregnant belly. Luckily I have always been able to be relatively content alone.
My oldest brother was 10 years my superior and it seemed that by the time I was born that the gap between us left little room for a relationship until far later in life. This oldest brother of mine, was notorious for his delight with farts and wedgies. Actively acting out fart noises like a musical instrument or onto a family member, coupled with his perfection of wedgie delivery, brought this boy immense joy and made him quite silly at times. He also had a love of gardening and the meditative act of manure pile removal, but was also noted for his temper when someone seemingly stepped out of line of acceptable behavior.
One of my earliest recollections of my oldest brother was an attempt to entertain me, by dropping his drawers and mooning me. I didn’t find it funny at the time and I ended up tattling on him. This just gained an extra layer of space between us. This was the weekend when my parents had gone away and both brothers were responsible for their 8-year-old sister (aka me). During this same weekend, my middle brother took shaving cream and spread it all over his face, head, and neck and spiked his hair like a modified stegosaurus. The feeling of silliness that was created from this weekend was a feeling that a person wouldn’t want to lose.
In general, my middle brother (whom we shall refer to as Middle-brother) seemed to take the surrogate role of father figure in my life and had a greater acknowledgment and tolerance for me. Sort of. Although my dad and mom were married, my dad was often away and luckily (or not) my middle brother seemingly stepped in to help with me. Or rather, torture me.
This same loving, middle brother was the incessant teaser. Teasing me to the point of tears was the name of his game and this went on well into my teens. Once brought to tears, he would coach me into a more intense sob session by yelling the instruction to “bawl” in my face. I am seriously still inspecting what on earth makes a person happy to drive another person to tears?
When we were young, these were the days when toys were precious because we didn’t get them often and when we did, it wasn’t big or a lot. But they were so appreciated. So they were truly treasured gifts. Over the years, I was able to collect many baby dolls, Barbie, and a Barbie van. By the time I had gotten that Barbie van I’m guessing I was around 10 years old. Middle-brother would have been around 16 and lord only knows what prompted him into a game of King Kong with that Barbie Van. He shook it and shook it upside down until most the insides fell out and were no longer attached. Another Barbie destruction escapade was when he used fireworks to blow up my Barbie dolls. Interestingly we got to see the inside of a Ken Doll and from what I remember the doll actually had internal leg muscles. Actually, it was quite a fascinating little experiment. Who knew?
My dad, at one point, was actually able to build me a small playhouse that I loved and that I felt very privileged to have. One day I ran through the yard to my little playhouse to have a tea party with my dolls. When I walked through the door I found one of my favorite and oldest baby dolls hanging from the ceiling with a rope around its neck and a hole in it's head. The hanging was evidently preceded by an execution-style shooting with a hunting shotgun. Of course, I did what any little girl would do, I cried and tattled, and delivered a proper burial for my doll.
In the wake of his pleasure-seeking at my expense, Middle-brother would take my baby dolls and rub their faces against the block wall of our basement. I am guessing this was either experimental on his part or simply entertaining for him at this point.
Over 40 years into this life and I have just found out that he stole money from my piggy bank. For whatever reason, this really upsets me and feels like it happened yesterday.
Although it was not often, I thought it as always cool when Middle-brother would include with his friends. In fact, when I was 14 I was so lucky to be afforded the inclusion into a horror movie marathon with him and his friends. Through the watching of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Return of the Living Dead, I attempted to be cool but this kind of entertainment has never worked well for me; I’m a pony and rainbow sort of gal. So I sat with my pillow in front of my face to try and hide. Middle-brother would not allow this, of course. He would pull the pillow down so that I couldn’t hide. I suppose I wanted to be included so badly, that I chose not to leave the room. At some point afterward, he decided it would be a good experiment to gently squeeze my head as Jason did in Friday the 13th. Also as a result of this movie marathon, and the instilled fear, I ended up sleeping under my bed for the entire year to follow. I figured I would beat the monsters to their hiding place and I would know that there was nothing in the darkness except for me.
I remember the day that he accused me of drinking all of the milk just so that he would not have any. Because I rebutted, it was a physical altercation of slamming me against the refrigerator with his forearm against my chest. As usual, I left crying and demanding to be left alone.
I remember the end result of the plate of chicken gizzards that he served to me. I have no idea what he told me they were in order to get me to taste them, nor why I trusted his direction at this point. All I remember was me tasting them, commenting on how they tasted pretty good, and this then was followed by an eventual admission of what he had fed me. I gagged and gagged and gagged and spit them out onto the plate.
Probably the worst and most torturous event that I remember is the day the marshmallows went missing. When you are raised in a poor family, it is the little treats that are amazing and you learn to appreciate and love every little bit. My mom had bought us Lucky Charms (because, of course, they are magically delicious, why else?). In this household, I would have to hide any special treats from my brothers or they would devour them.
So one morning I went to the cupboard for our special breakfast candy of Lucky Charms and grabbed the milk and a bowl and I sat at our small country table. I opened the box, and of course, the prize in the box was already taken out, but I moved beyond that part. I poured the lightly coated sugared cereal pieces into the bowl, and my excited heart almost exploded with anticipation. The best part of it all was the marshmallows! I began to pour and pour and pour. Not a single marshmallow came out of that box. What in the world was happening? We got jipped, Mom!! Did someone steal the marshmallows? Talk about a disappointed little girl.
After some intense sleuthing, I had found out what had actually happened to the missing marshmallows. Middle-brother went through the arduous task of emptying the entire box, eating every last marshmallow, and replacing the cereal back into the box, before I could get to them, just to see me cry. Of course, mom gave the boys the usual reprimand which did absolutely nothing to change behavior. I ask again the intent and the point of making me cry. As an adult, there should be no wonder why I have trust issues.
Yea, that middle brother of mine sure was something. I remember his stretch monster, and his space toys, his beer can collection, and his dimples when he smiled. A lot has happened since those young and formidable years of life and I ironically miss that jerk sometimes. Even though the escapades were ridiculous torture, I survived it all somehow, with limited mental scarring (debatable) and the comfort and care of my life as a child far outweighed the abuse. I guess I wouldn’t trade it and I wish I could have held onto those years and stayed in those spaces for eternity just to keep feeling the warmth of family and home.