Thursday, August 19, 2010

I Wish He Were Mostly Dead

Published in The Stillwater News Press, November 2010
Published in The News Connection, April 2011

"He is so immature!  He is the most annoying brother on the planet, and doesn't even try to be nice to me."

"Give him time, sweetheart.  It may take a few more years.  I know this sounds crazy, but someday he'll be one of your best friends."

After making this statement, I try and throw in a few stories, attempting to back up my ridiculous claim that my teenage daughter and her younger brother might one day be friends.

I would fling myself onto my parents' bed, sobbing, "I hate him!  He's so mean to me!  Why did I have to get him for a brother?" I vacillated between wishing him mostly dead and wishing him entirely dead.

For good reason.

Dave (18 months older), my sister Debbie (21 months younger) and I once stayed up late watching the watered-down TV version of "Psycho," where the hotel proprietor dresses up as his mom - whom he has previously murdered - and slaughters hotel guests with a huge kitchen knife.  The uplifting content of the movie petrified us beyond words, so my sister and I decided to sleep right there in the living room when it was over.  Dave laughed, chanting "bawk! bawk!" as he left for bed.  Taunting had no effect.  Nothing on the planet would have compelled us to move a single solitary inch.

Minutes later, we heard a scream.  My mom had gotten out of bed, walked into the hallway, and come face-to-face with a middle-aged woman wearing a wig, nightgown, and carrying a huge kitchen knife.  She was lurking in the shadows near the living room, watching us huddled together, shaking, in the middle of the living room floor.  Instead of scaring the pee out of his fraidy-cat sisters, Dave nearly gave his poor mom a heart attack.

Debbie and I spent an entire month plotting revenge but gave up.  Some things simply can't be outdone.

To be fair, Dave could be nice.  He had it in him.  Once as he was dropping me off at my class in elementary school, I remembered too late and with great anxiety that I had forgotten to bring a clipping from a redbud, Oklahoma’s state tree.  Fifteen minutes later, Dave showed up in the doorway of my classroom, redbud branch in hand.  He had scoured the neighborhood until finding one.  Only after delivering his gift did he go to his own classroom, a full twenty minutes late.

The Love Boat and Fantasy Island were our favorite TV shows - Debbie and I waited all week for Saturday night.  Dave did not share our same viewpoint.  If he walked into the room during one of those shows, we would scramble to our positions in front of the TV, arms out, risking life and several limbs to prevent him from changing the channel.  Dave's advantage was momentum, which he was able to gather while sprinting the full length of the room.  Being robbed of so many sappy endings was unjust, inhumane, just plain wrong.

Dave figured he was doing us a favor.  Which he probably was but still.

Big Jerk and Huge Retard were the meanest names I could think of, and I reserved them for Dave. I rarely verbalized them, but I sure as heck thought about it.  Especially when he did things like read my journal and unplug the phone while I was in the middle of a terribly important discussion about boys with my best friend.  But then he would do something that made me feel slightly guilty for the name-calling.  Like at the beginning of high school, when I hadn't yet figured out how to socially navigate the lunch hour, and Dave invited me to join him and some friends.

Thanks to Dave, the guilt never lasted long.  Bless his sweet little heart.

I was at Dave's complete mercy when it came to getting a ride to school, was always ready to leave before he was, and would watch in utter frustration as he put his shoes on very slowly just because. 

Until one morning.  For the first and only time in history, Dave was ready before me.   He pulled the car into the street and leaned on the horn.  Worried about annoying the neighbors, which Dave clearly wasn't, I ran to the car without shoes on and yanked the door open - just in time for Dave to drive forward a few yards.  Feet flapping on the concrete, I tried unsuccessfully to jump into the moving car.

He stopped briefly, but drove forward again, erasing any doubt as to whether the driving and stopping had been due to driver error.

Dave then stepped on the gas for the third time, making the unfortunate mistake of pushing his luck.  The right front tire, which had been creeping perilously close to me, rolled right over the top of my left foot.  Not my toes, not the edge of my foot - smack dab over the top.  Lucky for both of us - for entirely different reasons - no bones were broken, the scratches and bruises weren't even too bad.   But bones could have been broken, the scratches and bruises could have been very bad.  And Dave knew it. 

I was treated with caution and deference after the foot incident.  For several weeks in fact.  Dave even bought me donuts on the way to school.  Honestly, the caution and deference started to get on my nerves.  But never the donuts.

High school social life got a bit tricky.  Lots of girls were crazy about Dave.  I had suspected as much for a few years, and the phrase "Dave Boyce Is IT!" written in swirly letters on a bathroom stall at the high school confirmed my suspicions. There was no evidence of similar sentiments towards me amongst the boys, so that left me in the dubious social position of the girl whose brother was IT.

But we managed. Gradually, over time, things began to change.  We started talking.  We dated each others’ friends.  He helped me with math, even though I couldn't reciprocate.  I asked for his thumbs up or down on outfits - the oversized sweater with leg warmers or skinny jeans?   If he was being a jerk, I called him on it.  We went on a group date to prom.  I cried and he did what he could to make it better.

At some point, I no longer wished him entirely dead.  Mostly dead on occasion, but never entirely anymore.

Immediately after Dave graduated from high school, he left for an out-of-state summer job.  I still had a few days of school left.  A friend (Jeff Berry) saw me in the hall and asked, "So, do you miss Dave?"

I surprised myself by bursting into tears.  It occurred to me – probably for the first time - that it wasn't just my brother who had moved away.  It was one of my best friends.

And I really missed him.

My daughter always listens to my stories politely.  But then she sighs, occasionally rolls her eyes, and says, "Whatever, Mom.  That's never going to happen with us."

I guess I'll have to give her some time.

It may take a few more years.
Dave & I at a dance w/ friends - 1985
Prom - Senior for Dave, Junior for me - 1986
2010 - Mostly Grown Up
2010 - Rob (left), Kirsten (second from right) - They'll get there


  1. Very sweet. One of your best ones yet!

  2. I LOVE the old pictures! My brother was mean to me growing up - he's five years older - and now we are great friends.

  3. this is one of your best ever... loved it!

  4. What a great post! Brings me back to me and my older brother. Only I idolized my bro despite it all. I always wish I didn't, but I did. Funny, huh? Thanks for all that you share. Miss you!

  5. Great writing, Susie. I loved this and miss you!

  6. LOVED it! That was so CUTE! Dave has read it, right?

  7. Susie, you are awesome! I have been thinking for days now of how to respond and have come to the conclusion that some things simply cannot be outdone :).

    However, I will break my silence--not to "out-do," not to defend, simply to respond...

    In a way I must not have changed much, because I still found myself chuckling at the thought of Mom's heart dropping out of her chest when she encountered me in the hallway.

    And I still remember how terrible I felt running over your foot. In a sick way, I admit, because one minute I thought it was funny--really funny--and then when I realized you were really hurt, and more importantly really upset, I was mortified.

    And I would still help you in any way I could.

    However... a few things have changed...

    1) I have lost my math skills
    2) You have become an even better writer--this essay is fabulous! If I ever write a book, I'm coming to you for help. How did you tell this story in so few words?
    3) I cried at the end of this essay where you reveal that you cried in response to Jeff's question. You may have even told me that story before (it sounds familiar), but I'm sure I didn't cry then.

    I can't believe you took the time to write this--it means a lot to me. Thank you! Yes, I was a Big Jerk and a Huge Retard, so it means a lot to me that you saw through that and see through that and care enough to write about it and our relationship.

    I love you. I was looking at an SHS yearbook with Bob a few weeks ago (yes, I know) and saw your picture, and Bob said, "Susie is a good person," and he proceeded to provide the evidence. Amen, Bob. Susie, you are a good person! With your kids, with your husband, with your friends, your community... and most importantly (of course) with me, your Big-Jerk-Huge-Retard Brother.



    P.S. I want high-res copies of those pictures :)

  8. Ummm, wow. Your essays just wow me.

    I think back on my poor brother. Back when he was two, we dressed him up with big floppy, fake straw wedding hats from KMart, a dress and high heels with goops of make-up. Do you think he can make me sound as good so the audience would cry like you just made me?