I love my brother so much it hurts. When he was born three years and ten months after me, it was as if I had a real-live baby doll. Our mother was uncomfortable performing the traditional tasks of motherhood, so I fed him, changed his diapers, read stories to him and tucked him in at night. With a baby brother, I had no need for simulated plastic toys.
Our father was in the military during the Viet Nam era, so we moved every nine months. Another town, another school, the only thing constant was the baby brother I adored. With my father on TDY (temporary duty) overseas, we could almost have a normal childhood. Days filled with sunshine and laughter. Nights in front of the television. A reprieve from the rigid rules of discipline inflicted on children too young to understand their purpose. A respite from the physical abuse which served no purpose at all.
When our father returned home, it was usually to pack us into the family station wagon and drive us across country to a new military base. Travelling was a series of 18-hour marathons without potty breaks or scenic detours. Our mother made sure we never drank anything for fear we would ask to use the bathroom along the way.
My brother was what is now called a “hyperactive” child, constantly squirming and twitching with nervous energy. He could never sit still long enough to win a bet with my grandfather ($1.00 for 1 minute), so being in the car was a special kind of torture for him. I often wonder if my mother secretly slipped tranquilizers between the slices of our PBJs, just to keep him calm.
When our parents divorced, my brother was only four. Much of the memory of my father’s brutality simply failed to lodge in his young consciousness. Unfortunately, I fear the memories are buried much deeper.
Our mother married another abusive alcoholic shortly after divorcing our father. Her second husband brought with him a daughter from a previous marriage who was half-way between our ages. She liked to pick fights and accuse my brother of lying. He would then be forced into confessing, whether or not he had perpetrated the deed. For awhile, it was difficult to tell when my brother lied and when he told the truth. He lived in a perpetual fantasy world of his own creation.
My brother and I grew apart when my mother divorced again and moved away. I was fifteen and decided to stay with my grandmother. From then on, I worked. In a couple years, I was out on my own, working to put myself through college. It would be almost ten years before my brother and I saw each other again.
During the intervening years, my brother developed into a physical ghost of my father. The movements, the mannerisms, the machinations of his body terrified me when I first saw him as an adult. Nature, not nurture, had given my brother this form. Would genetics also place the psyche of a monster inside my brother, or would he be strong enough to transcend his fate?
Now, my brother is married with children of his own. His son was born three years and ten months after his daughter. By all accounts, he is a devoted husband and father who would never imagine harming his children.
My brother and I dealt with our childhood demons in opposite ways. I, by embracing the truth. He, by denying it happened. If asked, my brother will swear our father never laid a hand on us—a version of events manufactured by and promulgated by our father.
Because of this, my brother and I have grown further and further apart with each passing day. Not because I insist on confronting the demons, but because he is afraid to. So, as grateful as I am that he does not remember, I expect that one day, the demons will surface.