Two Brothers
(Tokoni 05/21/2009)


My brother and I are as different as a black-eyed pea and a green pea – both come from pods, but they’re not the same. I used to be fat; he used to be thin. Now the shoe’s on the other foot – he’s turned his six-pack into a keg, while I whittled my keg down to a . . . well, not a six-pack, but my stomach doesn’t arrive before my chest does. He’s dark haired; I’m more of a sandy blond. He’s clean shaven; I’ve got a mustache and sideburns. He’s thin boned; I got thick ones. His eyes are dark, mine blue-green. Not the same at all. We didn’t fight like cats and dogs; that would have been too civilized. No, we fought like . . . vicious human beings, which goes far beyond any animal conflicts I’ve ever seen. And yes – there were times we quite literally tried to kill one another.

My mom says he takes after her side of the family. As for me? I’m the spittin’ image of my dad, only uglier. And, like my mom, my brother’s a bit on the paranoid side whereas I’m a devil-may-care go-get ’em kind of guy who laughs readily in the face of disaster. He believes in trying to control his fate with a constant sense of desperation where I just kinda wait to see what fate throws in my lap, and deal with it then.

It’s always been like that, these striking contrasts between my brother and I. Even going back to when we were little kids – I was the ‘dare-devil’, engaging in stupid stunts, while he tended to lean more towards the conservative side – the ‘safe’ side. Not that he hasn’t had his share of adventures – we both have – but I love to seek them out whereas he would just wait (and worry) over the inevitable, trying to postpone it as long as possible, living the ‘safe’ life of endless work and money-grubbing.

One thing we have in common is that we both joined the Marine Corps when we were eighteen; but where I served a very successful term, he bailed out early, going “UA” (or AWOL for you other military fans) – until they threw him out on his ear. Not that I didn’t give the Marine Corps a hard time – one of my drill instructors said I was the most ‘hard-core’ (meaning ‘bucking the system’) recruit he’d ever met. And while my brother came out of boot camp a “gung-ho” down to the core Marine – me? Not so much. I was a ‘soldier’ before I ever got there. As a lifelong friend who has always known me said: “You are the only person I know who came out of boot camp the same as he went in.” I supposed that says something about my hard-headedness at times. It also says a LOT about how tough I was before I joined; I just came out a bit tougher. That’s the “soldier” part in me, which existed long before I’d ever given any thought to joining that particular organization. I already knew more about making war and surviving; shooting guns and dodging bullets, fighting with knives or barehanded – than the Marine Corps could ever teach me. And that, my friends, tells you something about my past.

When I look at him and I look at me, I can’t help but wonder: Where DID he come from? And I’m know he’s often wondered the same thing about me. (I remember him telling me when we were kids that I was ‘adopted’.) And this goes back to when we were little kids, I’m sure – because I remember wondering just what in the heck HIS problem was – when we were about to get beaten.

It’s become apparent to me this past week after discussing this with my brother that I ‘blocked out’ most of my memories of the ‘individual’ beatings – the ones where my dad would haul one or the other of us into a room and beat the snot out of us. I’ve known since I was little my dad has a cruel and sadistic streak – almost a perversion — though now he keeps it well hidden under that ‘caring Christian’ exterior he’s built up – trying to present one face to the public while . . . well, lets just say I think a weird, sick, and perhaps perverted heart lays beneath (see “Dark Suspicions” for more on that.) With just a few words my brother conjured up a vision I had forgotten – of my dad hauling us up by one ankle, dangling in the air, and then flailing away at us by the belt – over and over again. Far past the point of any ‘pain’ or discipline. I had “forgotten” that, or perhaps just chose not to see it. What I remember are the times we were beaten together, both in the same room. And that illustrates another major difference between my brother and I.

I remember so clearly how those ‘spankings’ would begin. First, the words: “Go to your room.” Second: The wait. Dad would always keep us waiting for a half-hour or so before showing up at the door. (A form of mental torture.) Why did we always close the door immediately after entering the room? I don’t know: perhaps as a form of futile self-protection, since we were not allowed to lock it?

And the difference in how my brother and I would ‘wait’. He would immediately start crying and wailing, as soon as ‘those words’ were spoken. I, on the other hand, was much more stoic. I would just sit there on the bed, waiting, while my brother ran around the room screaming and crying. Tears before the pain? No, that was not for me. I don’t know why. I guess – and looking back, I see that perhaps it is true: I was already “zoning out”, preparing myself for the pain that lay ahead. And there was that other factor: I wasn’t going to give my father the satisfaction of seeing me cry until the pain got so bad I had no choice. And apparently cry I did, for my brother reminded me of how “I could hear you screaming and screaming and screaming in the other room” when I was beaten by myself (something I don’t have anything but the fuzziest memories of.) And it took a lot to make me cry; I was stubbornly resistant to tears; still am, and haven’t cried since I was thirteen – thirty-six years ago. Tears, to me, represented a weakness; they still do, I guess. I know I stubbornly refuse to cry even now, even when, say, writing “Cat Scratch Fever” – which is the closest I’ve been to tears in over a decade. I guess it’s not the ‘soldierly’ thing to do. Not the ‘manly’ thing. I don’t know; the shrinks said it was a bad problem, that I need / needed to learn to cry for myself. But self-pity wasn’t allowed in our family, not at all. It was a punishable offense. I still can not allow pity for myself; nor can I tolerate other’s pitying me. It just drives me crazy (or crazier) and can lead to self-injury. Punishment for the pain, or the pity for the child that once was (and still is.)

But how I remember those ‘dual’ beatings, when my dad would come in, leather belt in hand. Slapping it against his palm. Looking at us – and it gives me shivers, because NOW I can see in his face some perverse pleasure – something my brother (again) reminded me of. “He got off on it,” my brother said last week. “He loved it. I don’t know what made him stop.”

And my brother – how frantic he would become! Have you ever seen a terrified cat locked in a room with a threat right there? How it races around, blindly attempts to climb the walls, dodges in corners and holes – anything to escape the punishment it thinks is coming? That was my brother. And it drove me CRAZY, I swear! I remember begging him before my dad would come in to STOP crying STOP wailing, SHUT up and sit there quiet with me on the bed and WAIT until you are hurt until you begin crying. His crying hurt me emotionally. But he never would. I recall one time my brother diving beneath the bed – then my dad, reaching under – and yes, dragging him out by one foot, holding him in the air, and whaling away at him – with me sitting there, knowing I was going to be next. Looking back now – it reminds me of those shows where there are the prisoners of war sitting in their cells listening to the cries of their comrades being tortured – and knowing they are going to be next. I had at least ten years of this type of behavior; of being in ‘that cell’, listening — no, WATCHING — my ‘comrade’ – my brother – getting tortured while I awaited my turn. It’s no wonder I cracked and went crazy, huh? PTSD – yeah, I reckon that’ll give ya some.

I am sure my stoic attitude was a problem for my dad. It probably meant he had to beat me more and harder to get me to respond – to give him his ‘thrills’ – because I would hold in my tears and screams as long as humanly possible – or at least as long as a child can. My brother, on the other hand, was an easy target – just say the words to him: “Go to your room” and he’d start the friggin’ show. I don’t know which gave my dad the most pleasure.

And the beatings: always the same. “Strip. Drop your drawers.” And you would step out of your pants or shorts because you didn’t want them tripping you up, sending you crashing to the floor. Falling to the floor wouldn’t stop a beating; it only made it worse. I don’t know that we wore shirts – we rarely wore shirts back then, clothes were too precious of a thing for everyday wear. But I do know we’d keep on our underwear most of the time – unless we lost them somewhere during the spanking and beating. And I know I learned early on: face the bed because that first lick WOULD send you flying – and it’s better to hit the bed head first than the wall. Every time.

Yeah, he and I are different – very different. I don’t fear poverty; he does. I don’t fear extreme danger (though I’ve learned to be wary – pain is pain, after all, and without medical insurance, I can’t afford to be hurt.) I can still bear a lot more physical pain than he can. (According to my wife and docs, more than most folks can.) I have literally had chunks of flesh gouged out of me (just like with a spoon) – and I looked down and laughed – and calmly went on working (my wife was like ‘whut the hell?!! Doesn’t that HURT?” But – it merely stung.) Not that I don’t feel pain. I just ignore it better.

My mom likes to tell the tale of how when I was a little child the nerves in my hands hadn’t grown properly, and sometimes she would smell something burning. Going into the kitchen she would find me, my hands on the red-hot burners – just to see what was going on, I reckon. I don’t remember those times. But I’m thinking – perhaps – there were times when I wished that numbness would extend all over my body – sinking inside, perhaps, and taking over my soul.

Becoming completely numb. That’s what it was about sometimes.

And I guess that’s why I became and did and behaved and went crazy, the way I am today. Ever since I was twenty-one, and “The Machine” part of me broke down – I’ve been working on escaping that numbness of mind, soul, spirit and emotion. And, I guess, I’m still working on it now.

Only this time I think maybe I’m trying to breath some life back into that child; that teenager – to feel their pain – the pain they’ve hidden from me – for so very, very long. In order to ‘heal’. After all, as another abuse survivor once told me: “to feel is to heal, and I want you to heal yourself so that you can feel — all the wonderful things that are you.” And, I reckon, she was right on target with that, for I wrote it down, and treasured her very much for all she did for me.

In case you are reading, “Bean” — somewhere out there — this is just to let you know: I’m still working on it, and miss you sometimes. Thanks for all you did.

(Tokoni 05/21/2009)

Advertisements