Catholic authority had soaked into my essence, influencing my world from all sides: Mom, my older brother, School, Creation itself taught me I was second, and guilty just for existing. I was the good Catholic girl though, and even had a hard time cussing. If I practiced to myself, f-k, the sound of my own voice paired with the wrongness gave me vertigo. There was a summer day I had decided not to wear a shirt since I was as flat as a boy anyway. Walking down the street, why did I feel half-naked and the boys did not? The attention wasn’t worth losing just being, so wearing a shirt was easier. I wanted so much to be an altar boy. Year after year I demanded like a squeaky wheel, what is the logical reason why I couldn’t be up there like my brother. God wouldn’t be so unfair too?
My brother went to guitar lessons for a while. I had craved the piano, taping paper keys to a board laid across the arms of a chair and stretching my fingers to imaginary music. After bugging my mom for lessons, she finally relented, walking me down a few streets to a woman’s nicely furnished house with knick-knacks in a glass curio, on the mantle, on the piano, on the coffee table, everywhere. A small curly-haired white dog occupied an ottoman. The lady would sit me on the bench, open the page of notes, show me once and leave the room. I plinked the keys as best I could. I think the lessons lasted a month before they decided I wouldn’t have a future with music. Years later, my mom remembered that too. She said she brought me to piano lessons to make sure I wasn’t some sort of musically gifted savant like Mozart, which was quickly established. How good did I have to be?
God only knows why I was less important; the reasons always just appeared. I kept playing by the rules, hoping one day the reasons would justify themselves. One day they would have to come around in my favor, but the rules kept changing. The only thing consistent that made sense: I was not good enough, no matter how hard I tried to please. By the time a brother shouldn’t share a room with a sister anymore, I didn’t even try to negotiate. I knew I would be the one sleeping on the living room couch.
When school was out, I missed school. My third 3rd grade teacher was Mrs. LaCaseirre, almost retired with cat-eye glasses and a tall bouffant hairstyle. She rewarded her best students with letting them clean the blackboard. Recently I found the same brand of glass cleaner that she used, the scent bringing me right back to the last month of the year when most of my time was spent learning how to quell daydreaming. Evening PTA meetings usually meant people patting my head and saying, when you go to college…
In 5th grade there was Mr. A. a barrel-chested little person about as tall as his students. He was the first teacher who encouraged me to be myself. I was a little kid, a couple years advanced and bright enough to be skipped again, but that would have been ridiculous since I was already too small. When I got schoolwork done early, he would let me spend class-time doing whatever, encouraging creativity. For a while, I was devoted to making little scale models of parks out of construction paper. Taping together a rectangular tray, I would then glue in ponds, 3-D folded benches, trees, elevated roller-coaster paths for walking fingers, and oval or figure-8 tracks for imaginary bicycles.
Mom and Dad had let my brother and I live our own childhood. Was this neglect? When life becomes wearisome, my own perspective makes it seem they just didn’t care. When I honor myself, and try to honor them, they were teaching us to live bravely, and they were brave enough to let us do it.
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A Sort-of Poem:
Love is… A Brother’s Hand
On the Clearance back shelf of the Dollar Store stand rows of sloppily painted Santa’s-Elf-Gnomes,
Palm-Tree-Snowglobes, Pink-Plastic-Cowboy-Guns with a Rhinestone-Deputy-Badge, and other What-Were-They-Thinking wastes of under-appreciated labor. Rows of “Love Is….” paperweights were popular in the 70’s. Treacle blobs of mushiness, melty children with huge dewey raindrop eyes cling to each other. People just don’t buy that cheap sentiment anymore, so these dusty blocks of vapid mass production stare out ignored like a pathetic Easter Bunny Island, and Xmas Island, Land of Misfit Corporate Mistakes.
Love Is…. A Brother’s Hand. How noble, this bigger blobby cartoon hero holding the smaller blob’s trusting hand. I search for one that I could give my own brother, so he could smile and say, You remembered….
Where’s the one with hands around the little one’s throat, choking, his thumb pressing into my adam’s apple until he senses when she begins to fear suffocation, only then letting go? There’s gotta be one with a board game, where he quits if she starts to win, so she learns to lose if she wants to play. Where’s the affectionate wrestling, lets call it Sibling Rivalry, twisting her weaker arm around her back and only relenting if she gives up saying the magic word uncle. Say it like you mean it UNCLE.
The Golden Boy could be no hero, no comrade. His allegiance is his friends and Little Sister is a just girl tagging along. Where’s the one with her bicycle on the ground after she flew over the handlebars onto the shoulder of a highway, bleeding alone because she couldn’t keep up? Only one year older but acting so much more, just as lost as the younger but finding some sense of control by overpowering the weaker. Unwilling to stand up for his sister, instead he says quit your whining. Perhaps it’s simple Darwinian competition kicking her out of the nest.
Where’s the one where the sister stands hiding behind the corner at the end of the hall, wondering what a friend meant when she said, you could kick him right there, and just when he is even with the hallway’s end, obliviously unaware of the awesome amount of pain he is about to experience, she springs from the corner and Ninja levitates her leg around in the air, karma giving back everything she’s gone through into her foot
contacting right there——> X!
as he clutches himself, going down, gasping once, then breathless, turns gray, then green,
then slow motion keels over…
YYYYES! she exclaims and pumps her fists in her first victory. Gets grounded for two weeks because how dare you hurt your brother but so worth the sentence.
Where is that one?
Love Isn’t….. here.
Love is …… a Rescuing Pegasus
……. a Terrible Avenging Angel
……. an Armored Knight