Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Brother Bully Buddy Baddie: Rock School Dropout

First child, first son, first grandchild, first grandson, and born on the Fourth of July to boot. Yes, the sun and moon shone only for the Golden Boy, Bro 1.

He reigned over the 7 of us (me, my siblings and three cousins) with an iron hand, with Bro 2 taking the brunt of his bullying. I know I suffer a little survivor's guilt for not having interceded more often on Bro 2's behalf. But at the time, all I could think was, "Wow, glad he's not pounding on me."

Bro 1's first dozen years were pretty rocky for those who had to live under his rule. The words "tyrant" and "despot" come to mind. Whatever he wanted to do, the rest of us had to follow, unquestioning. Several times he declared he was producing a "carnival" in our back yard. He made us march up and down the street with signs, shouting, "Come one! Come all!" The carnival? He charged our neighbors to use our swing set and monkey bars! Or he would decide that we were going to put on a show for the neighbors. Again, charging them for the privilege. We would have to stand in front of them and "ad lib" whatever scene he imagined, without a script or scenery or costumes. One time in particular, I recall, the sole purpose of the revue was to impress a little girl he was smitten with. (Of course, whenever Mom caught him, she made him return everyone's money.) Another time he made me turn over my cache of silver dollars, collected and hoarded over several birthdays, just so he could buy a present for the object of another crush, his favorite babysitter. Yes, he was our very own Dennis the Menace.

Bro 1 created a brilliant game he called Rock School, and of course, we had to play it whenever he was in the mood. Our house was at the top of a small rise, and our front yard had a series of steps leading to the street. The "students" sat on the top step and one at a time, tried to guess in which hand the "Teacher" held a small pebble. If we guessed it correctly, we graduated to the next step/grade; if not, we had to stay there and wait for our next turn. In between, the teacher would put the pebble behind his/her back and "mix up" which hand held it. If someone made it all the way to the street, then that person became the Teacher and the game started over. When Bro 1 was the Teacher, it was almost impossible to move ahead. It took us, I'm embarrassed to admit, a very long time to figure out why. Bro 1 was a boy, and therefore had back pockets. So 90% of the time, he would deposit the pebble in one of his pockets, and present two empty closed fists -- we didn't have a chance of finding the pebble.

He's pretty good natured about listening to us reminisce about the Reign of Terror. He doesn't try to insist that we're exaggerating. Maybe he's secretly proud of his ability to maintain absolute control for as long as he did.

There's a lot to this birth order theory; I think oldest children have caregiver tendencies. Bro 1 has become a caregiver, all right, to his wife, two daughters, two dogs, sister-in-law, and mother-in-law, and has been a great support to me and my parents throughout my cancer adventure. (He's also obnoxiously smart, and the only person who's ever beaten me at Scrabble.)

If he hadn't experienced a total transformation around age 12-13, Bro 1 probably would have ended up in prison. But for reasons he's never explained to us, he did a complete 180ยบ and continued on that path, learning to use his powers for good. Somehow that little monster turned into a kind, considerate, thoughtful, generous brother. Miracles can happen.

P.S. I would apply all the same adjectives to Bro 2. I ended up with two great brothers. I guess childhood is not always an accurate prediction.

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