Friday, April 8, 2011

Brother-Units: Pro or Con?

What a silly title!

I am peeved at both of my full-blooded Brother-Units, something that's rare and usually built up over time.  When I had but seven or eight years under my belt, they used to do things like begin a rousing game of Hide-and-Seek, and then leave -- one off to play baseball, the other perhaps to steal a car.  I was good for at least an hour of unrequited hiding -- probably longer, in truth, because I loved and trusted my big brothers.

My first memory?  The two of them on the floor with me -- I'm not sure where, what country -- and me with saggy diapers.  I remember the saggy diapers clearly, as they distressed me, and troubled my sense of fashion decorum.  They had a paper cup-- I remember a pattern in orange and white, I remember its coat of wax -- and were calling me, urging me on, telling me to sniff the cup's contents.  I loved and trusted my big brothers, and dutifully took a deep whiff of the ammonia, which left them rolling around, hooting, guffawing, and -- probably -- farting.  The memory ends with my present-day eyes stinging and watering, as much the result of that long ago prank as the deleterious effects of my glaucoma drops.

My next memory -- well, it's short and they're not in it.  I was in Turkey, seated on the curb in front of our apartment building, and I was engaged in eating gravel from the gutter.  I looked to my left and saw the departing end of a donkey.  I looked to my right and saw a large tortoise -- well, maybe it wasn't so large, as a quick bit of research tells me it was probably a spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca ibera), which is not one of your bigger tortoises.  There were people, too, I am sure, but I don't remember them -- just the flavorful crunch of gravel recently flavored by a passing turtle and an ass.

Okay... fast-forwarding... still in Turkey.  We'd been left by a Mother lacking the least bit of  maternal instinct.  It was something like the third day that the three of us had been on our own.  She wasn't so lame as to have left us unsupervised -- No, we had Ali, a neighborhood teenager who was serving as our babysitter.  We were out of food and about out of sorts, so Ali had appealed to a neighbor woman, who very much enjoyed feeding us and then contacting our clueless Father, letting him know where our family sedan was parked, and had been parked for several days.  (There is nothing like learning that your wife is cheating on you with her gynecologist and has abandoned her three children when you return early from a trip in order to surprise her -- and your daughter -- on their birthday!)

So... before the memory of being under the dining room table crying at the sound of raised angry voices and shattering dinner plates, there was the memory of Playing Chicken -- Ali and I against my Brother-Units.  I was way-y-y tall on top of Ali's shoulders.  Brother-Unit Grader Boob was years away from achieving 6' 4" and Brother-Unit Tumbleweed has always been, well, short.

I suppose those were our last moments of innocence -- me, with my eyes closed, giving them hell by swishing my arms around in the fashion of a girly windmill; they, just boys, somehow trying to give it to Ali without doing serious damage to the blinded whirligig on his shoulders.  It was noisy, we knocked stuff over, it was fun. 

Gold damask bolsters with tassels.  (Is that possible?)

Stupid gossip of a neighbor. 

Somewhere in all that is the origin of my ambivalence about birthdays and mothers.  I was her "29th birthday present," mostly due to a hit of pitocin.  And then, bam! our collective birthday also commemorated the discovery of her wanton whoring (What do you think?  Too strong?  Just right?  I live for le mot juste.)...

Other Brother-Unit memories?  Grader Boob telling me my pet miniature turtle looked a little pale and needed to be put out into the hot summer sun.  That's right, baked turtle.  But it allowed for the fun of a hot summer funeral.  I am told that I kept digging that turtle up to see what was happening to him.

Then there were the Various Teachings.  Like How To Ride A Bicycle Without Training Wheels.  The boys had been requested by the Father Unit to please take my bike riding training in hand.  He gave them permission to remove my training wheels when it seemed I no longer needed them.  They didn't hear the end of that sentence, apparently.  He left on yet another trip -- but, wise man that he was, now left no wanton whore of a wife behind.  He was barely out of sight when off came the training wheels and I was plopped onto my bike, walked out to the pavement, and then -- knees pumping, knees pumping -- pushed to top speed... and released!  I'd never even accomplished the length of our driveway alone, never built up enough speed to have to apply brakes.  I'd never used the brakes!  This fact didn't dawn on anyone in sufficient time to stop my close encounter with, first, the big blue official mailbox, and, second, the light pole, the trusty anchors and landmarks at the end of our block.

Brakes?  We don't need no stinking brakes...

It's apocryphal, and probably revisionary, too, but word is that I also lost a tooth in that training run -- and that the Brother-Units got to play Tooth Fairy after bandaging me up.

In other injurious episodes -- one of them threw a dart into my upper arm.  I caused the accident by coming around the end of a fence while they were having target practice.

Just as I caused the Louisville Slugger, a nice bit of ash, to connect with the back of my head as Grader Boob took a healthy psych-out warm-up swing.  I had a neurologist who thought that particular loss of consciousness might have been a factor in my subsequent development of epilepsy, but we've not shared that tidbit with GB -- who was mortified at the time and would be more than mortified now. 

A shame, because if ever there was ammunition for emotional blackmail, getting knocked out by your brother's macho swing of a baseball bat... and then developing a freaking disease -- well!  But no, we don't do that.  Our reticence probably can be traced to the shenanigans of our Mother, the Wanton Whore.

I have a great deal more stories about Grader Boob than about Tumbleweed, of course, because Tumbleweed departed our family for healthier social units, and for girls and marijuana, too, I suppose.  He was a frequent and determined runaway who didn't, of course, really want to run away. 

I've told that story before and don't feel like telling it again. 

I started this blog entry with the intent of digging these boys out of the holes they've dug themselves -- for they've reverted to the Bad Old Ways, it seems, of keeping quiet when they should be talking, of bottling up that which is corrosive and without value.  They're not talking to me.  Not as in... I did something and they're mad and therefore we don't speak.  No.  More like, communicating makes me nervous, makes me vulnerable (sorry -- vulnerable is about as bad as artisinal), so I'll just go to ground...

I started this blog entry with the additional intent of scoping out birthday present options for Tumbleweed's upcoming Big Day on April 20.  If you think that's kind of silly, it's just a birthday, just a stupid present, and so on, well, then, you need to read the first post in a series on "gifts."  It's cleverly called The Gift and dates from December 19, 2009.

Yeah, somehow Tumbleweed is at the heart of so much.  Not his doing and certainly, clearly, not his preference.  He's lived, I think -- and my information is minimal and minimalist -- a good life and is a good man.  It's been pure self-deception for me to have spent so much time in my less well-lived life convincing myself that Tumbleweed was a survivor. (Survivor is about as bad as artisinal and vulnerable.)  Tumbleweed, my friends, is and always was... just fine.

Arriving at "fine" is not a bad result for me here at the end of a Friday blogging segment -- but it's probably one more hell of a blur for you, Faithful Reader.  So I dug up Tumbleweed's first substantial entry into the lectionary here at elle est belle la seine la seine elle est belle.  It was called Split Infinitives and was published January 25, 2009:

Yesterday was my mother's birthday, and mine. Once upon a time, I was her 29th birthday present, even if I was induced and hastened with pitocin. She has great stories about my birth and my brother Grader Boob's arrival -- but I've never heard a peep about my eldest brother's début, the child she so adored. He no longer uses his given names. He asks to be known as TW, for Tumbleweed.

I will have to find the cover to Dylan's Nashville Skyline, because there is a moment, truly frozen in time, when he adopted that same stance, guitar slung over his shoulder, hat tipped back, gunny sack at his feet. He stood next to a basketball goal we had at the end of our driveway and was looking out toward me and Grader Boob -- we were playing softball in the back yard.

I just happened to turn and look. I was too young and stupid to understand what I saw. But I did *see* him. He was old, so young, and sad, so sad. He had traveled cross country in one of his attempts to find our mother, to draw her to him in his need. He would go to her parents' home, hoping she would come back to the States for him. But she was busy with Litter Number Two and her new husband -- a lovely man that I wish TW had met. Necip would have been very kind to him, would have given him the world. Necip died a few years ago. He was a wonderful person. He would have wrapped TW in love and safety, as he tried to do for me. As he *did* for me!

The forever mystery is: What happened to all of her adoration? There are missing passages to the story that it seems I will never know. When I reunited with her, she was shocked to learn that TW was not with us, that he had been gone for many years. She broke at the news. It seemed to deepen her love for him -- he was all she could think about, all she would speak of. Yet, when I found out he was alive through a moment of indiscretion on the part of my half-sister, it was made clear to me that she wanted nothing to do with him. What happened?

You are probably rolling your eyes and thinking "Why not just ask?" I don't know the answer to that; I don't know why I cannot just ask.

As Nancy, the aunt, noted a few weeks back, what in the world does TW, the Elder, have to apologize for? His mother left him, his father never searched for him when he ran away from home -- in fact, his father took the family and left the country! He told me and Grader Boob that TW would be joining us in three months. Three months came, three months went.

I will never forget the confrontation -- Grader Boob, in the midst of the growth spurt that would eventually make him 6'4", in front of the Father, who sneeringly attested that he had no idea where TW was -- and the fist, rising, rising. It's imprinted in my brain, burned into the grey matter, dancing along neural pathways.

I cannot escape my own guilt. I searched for him -- for years -- but did not find him. Yet, when I was told where he was, he wasn't hiding. I don't understand why my efforts failed. I *did* make contact with someone who knew him -- my first semester of grad school at UC-B -- but it never went further than this person who responded to one of my ads. If TW was hiding, he hid out in the open.

[That was a long and nervous week, that week of fielding this woman's phone calls in response to one of my newspaper ads. She definitely knew him, said he was in Oregon "overseeing some property," and that she would have him call me in the next few days. I canceled all my classes, skipped my own seminars, took the phone off the hook whenever I had to run to the bathroom. I prayed and prayed, I was so sure that this was it -- that I had found him.]

TW had me tell Grader Boob that he was so sorry, that he wished things had turned out differently, that if ever he wanted to talk, he would be there, ready. Hear the echo of Nancy's rage -- what does he have to apologize for? We all owe him a debt that is impossible to quantify, a debt that should be recognized and paid down, crime by crime. I owe him. And if Grader Boob would get his head out of his ass, he would see that TW did what he had to do, and extend him the graciousness and understanding he deserves. Again, I just don't understand. Grader Boob is the sweetest person in the world -- but hard as a rock in these instances. Why? [I *have* asked! The answer is a terse "he could have found us anytime." Maybe, maybe not -- and might he not also have been somewhat deterred by past experiences with the family unit?]

TW was homeless and eating out of garbage cans when he was 15 years old. He sent a love letter to his mother, far away then, in Ankara, saying "come to me and I will make you beautiful with mine eyes." (Okay, so he was well read.) He lived in the drug culture, was shot, fathered a child with a porn actress, a child that he really doesn't know (but I heard his pride through the telephone line), living with her mother now in Bangkok. Somewhere in there, he found himself, fell in love with the Grand Canyon, knew it intimately, and became an expedition guide. "In order to feed the cats," he works as a bookie. When we found each other, late in 2007, he had broken his shoulder after falling on an icy sidewalk, and lost (or quit, I am not sure which) his job in Vegas. He painted houses in Lake Tahoe over the summer, and recently was part of a start up betting operation... but has been "replaced." He hints that he is ill but will not tell me anything specific. He is extraordinarily kind, dedicated to what he believes is right, and funny as hell. We were talking about the health history of the people to whom we are related, because his daughter had some questions about the prevalence of breast cancer and diabetes, and I asked him, "How are your eyes?" -- because our grandfather went blind from glaucoma, which I also have. Without missing a beat, TW answered: "My eyes? Small, dark, and suspiciously beady."

My brother Grader Boob was born in a London cab. TW, age 4, was in the back seat with her and when they arrived at the hospital, he attempted to commandeer the taxi, refusing to let anyone out until the new addition was adequately explained. "He was not here when we got in the car..." is how his spotless logic worked.

But nary a word about TW's birth. "I know he was born, because -- after all these years of studied neglect -- he is still here" is how my spotless logic goes.

Somehow the accretions of the past year or so made celebrating my birthday impossible. No, that is not true. Not impossible. More like obscene. I was in a great deal of pain, to the point where making it to the bathroom and washing up was almost too much. It hurt so bad that I couldn't find sleep until 4 am this morning, and then was up again at 6 am -- but happier, because my birth day had passed. My shoulder feels close to exploding, but I forced myself to clean the house -- a clean start to this new age of mine. I needed to do something nice for The Fredster, who was so understanding of my depression yesterday.

The mother had her daughter email me, belatedly, with the familiar message that she would get "something in the mail to me tomorrow." I so wanted to respond "don't bother."

But I want her to bother. I want her to very much bother.

I want to split her infinitives.


  1. Brothers.
    I have one.
    Nuff said.

    Dare I wish you a happy birthday anyway?
    Yes, by gum!
    Happy birthday anyway!!!

  2. hey, hey, hey! the camino looms large, are you very excited?

    okay, i could let it pass without a word, but i worry that vast numbers of people will read your comment, think it is my birthday, and send me money.

    it ain't my birthday. the mother-unit and i share that day in january. that's how i know when we've reached the dead of hopeless winter.

    no, it's the tumbleweed's BD that is coming up -- the 20th of april, him and hitler. the king of the incredible "gift box."

    [not hitler. hitler is not the king of the incredible gift box.]

    by gum!

    i have an idea, actually, but it's kind of weird and requires creativity. and paint. and my grandfather's pith helmit.

    but of course, what else could it involve?

    as he is not writing me these days, i hope he's open to a gift. i got the distinct impression -- after lamely giving him a gift certificate at xmas -- that he, in turn, sent me prisms and crystals that just happened to total the exact amount of the gift certificate... can you say OUCH?

    i'll figure something out.


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