(Cousin Craig is back…)
Dear Cole’s Mom (AKA—Katybeth),
I don’t know how odd this is, or if it’s even noteworthy. But ever since I can remember, my brother and sister have been trying to kill each other. I have been hurt by both, of course, but I’ve always felt like either a training ground or simply collateral damage. I was rarely the main target, although there are physical and many, many psychological scars that tell a different story. And reader, let me just assure you that, although I know that every family has stories that everyone knows and no one speaks about, these are . . . well, decide for yourself.
As in any long war, both sides have their story as to why the war started. The justifications change over time, but the result is a long, cold war that, on occasion, heats to a boil. The “Civil War” to one person is “The War of Northern Aggression” to another. As a witness to my siblings’ battles, I will try tell these stories from the perspective of the youngest sibling and a witness to their battles. I won’t take sides; I will simple carry the task of the humble storyteller.
My family grew up in a small Florida subdivision. The houses were bordered by two main roads. As we got older, the roads became a busy highway with traffic rushing by on both sides. The other side of the highway was home to a grocery store and a hardware store. The grocery store, a forerunner of Walmart, was Skaggs-Albertsons. The hardware store was an early version of Home Depot, known as Handy City. The names are not particularly important, but what is important is the scale. These were big stores, bordered by large busy streets. It was no place for kids of our age to be playing, so of course, we flocked there. This was back in the days when parents practiced benign neglect. The day this story took place, I was left behind at home, but eyewitnesses have verified the tale.
It was a hot day, as most are in Florida. My brother and sister, still new to their adversarial condition, were playing together in the parking lot of the big stores. They were ramming carts into one another, until my brother said, “Hop in! I’ll push you around.” My sister was excited and hopped into the cart. He pushed her around for a while, making his way toward home (which required crossing the busy highway). Eventually, he told her to get out of the cart. She refused. There was no sense in arguing, so he kept pushing the cart, until he reached the road. And then he pushed it onto the road. The level of traffic depends on the witness reports, but most say that it was a steady stream that had just been released by a nearby light. Seven lanes and a median and one girl, about 14 years old, in a shopping cart. The good news is that, while brakes screeched to a halt, my sister lived, and I am able to end this family tale happily ever after. Well. Sort of.
One quick digression—we were raised Catholic. Turn the other cheek, forgive and forget, and love one another were all tenets drummed into us each Sunday (and which we thoroughly drummed back out the rest of the week). I cannot speak for my siblings, but I can say that some of these lessons are still with me. I live now by the nearly Christian maxim, “Forgive. Never Forget!” Evidence supports the fact that I am not alone in holding this outlook.
One day, my sister and brother went to a churchyard that was adjacent to the neighborhood. Workers were in the process of adding onto the main building. Stacks of cinderblocks, wood, and sand were stacked beside the church. My parents were very clear that we should not, under any circumstances, go anywhere near the area. My brother was already hindered by a broken arm, so his effectiveness was limited as an agent of chaos. My ability to climb was equal to my inclination—zero. All went well for a few days, until one evening, my Mother noticed that my brother was missing. First, she questioned me (the youngest). “I don’t know where he is,” I said, honestly. It was such a rare occasion that I could answer honestly without recrimination from one side or the other that I basked in the glow of the moment. My sister, when asked the same question, replied that she had no idea, but she could not bask in my moment. Later, it was discovered that my siblings had found their way to the forbidden churchyard, and while playing on the cinderblock stacks, had caused a small avalanche. My sister, knowing that this was not a good thing, took off, leaving our brother somewhere under the rubble. Eventually, he was pulled out and survived with some stitches and a broken leg, but her leaving him for dead was duly noted. Let me explain the philosophy that my sister lived by: “When questioned by Mom and Dad, you have two options. The first is to tell the truth and take your medicine. If you choose this option, everyone is unhappy. The second option is to lie. If you lie and they never find out, everyone is happy. If you lie and they find out, no one is happy in the moment, but at least you were happy for a little while. As she explained to me, lying is the best option because it offers the best chance for total family happiness. In other words, my sister lied out of love.
Our house was not special; it was one of five designs in the neighborhood. But our house included a tool shed. My dad built the shed to keep his tools safe from us. All kids seem to love a parental challenge, and we were no exception. As soon as the shed was built, it became a game to see how quickly we could break in without damaging it or alerting my dad. Once in, we had access to all his prized tools. One day, my siblings broke into the shed to procure the ladder they needed to climb up on the roof. Why? Was it because the roof was there or because roof climbing had never been explicitly forbidden? I don’t know (as the youngest, it wasn’t up to me to ask questions). I watched from below as up they went, slipping and sliding, giggling and enjoying each other’s company. But their fun abruptly ended when my brother shouted “Oh shit! Dad’s coming! That’s his car!” He quickly climbed down the ladder, and upon hitting the ground, grabbed the ladder. “Jump!” he shouted at my sister.
“Bring back the ladder!” my sister cried, without result.
“You are going to get such a beating when Dad sees you!” he said.
Tears streaming down her face, my sister squatted and jumped off of the roof, landing in the thick crabgrass below. Fortunately, the only thing she broke was her dignity. I’ll end the story with a direct quote: “Dad wasn’t coming. He wasn’t coming at all.”
These are but a handful of instances in the life-battle between these two pillars of my existence. The war has cooled, and we’ve all grown up, but still I wonder how long peace will reign.
I am a happy only child. Very happy. What about you? Care to share any sibling horror stories in the comment section?
Odd Loves Company!