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Oh Brother

July 15, 2002

I’ve talked about my dad and my mom here, but not my brother. A thread today on The Usual Suspects inspired me to fill that gap.

Scot is my only sibling and is three and a half years younger than I am. He was born with a cleft lip and palate and that meant he required surgery while he was still a baby, but I don’t remember anything about those very early days. I do remember spending a lot of time playing together around the time I was starting school. We had one set that had a cloth about three feet square printed with a grid of streets and railroad tracks that we’d spend hours building a city on with the special wooden blocks (there were wooden trees and wooden cars, too). That’s the one toy from childhood that I’d love to have today, but I don’t know what became of it. After I learned how, I’d read stories to him. I remember him throwing a tantrum one day because he didn’t want me to go to school and leave him. He set his little wooden stool up in front of the front door and camped out on it to keep me from getting out. I remember him screaming as my mom told me to go out the back door instead.

Some time along the way, we started having awful battles. I suppose that’s not surprising, given that we heard and saw our parents fighting a lot. I had the advantage in language skills, so I used verbal taunts as my main weapon. He, like my dad, was more physical; his favorite attack was ripping my skin with his long sharp fingernails (scratching is too tame a word for it), and my arms still have faint white scars from his handiwork. Even during the worst of those times, though, we would bond together in situations where the two of us were outside our normal environment, like at a babysitter’s house or an extended family event— the “us against the world” effect, I suppose.

Our fighting tapered off quite a lot as we got a little older. It probably wasn’t coincidence that we settled down after Mom moved out of the house with us and she and Dad weren’t at each other so much. In our later growing up years, I resented all the energy and money spent by my parents on Scot’s problems. I didn’t understand why he couldn’t get his act together; I didn’t understand why he couldn’t be more like me. He probably resented having to follow my smart and well-behaved self through all the schools he attended.

I moved two states away to go to college and never really came back home; he pretty much stayed where he was. We rarely talk, and I’m not sure I want to, since I still don’t understand why he’s made the choices he has. (Yeah, I know, if I don’t talk to him, I’ll never have even a chance to understand.) I only see him when I go to visit Mom, and not even every time I’m there. After our dad died, I did make more of an effort to connect with him directly, but after a couple rebuffs I backed off again. He did recently ask my mom for my e-mail address, so perhaps that’s a sign that he’s ready to reach out more.

I hope my mom lives a very long time, not just because I wish good things for her, but also because I’m selfish. I dread having to sort things out with my brother after Mom’s gone, and I fear that when she’s not around to bail him out, he’ll turn to me. I don’t know if I have it in me to help. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised; maybe we’ll both be able to act like grownups by that point.

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