On brothers and sisters
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I have one sibling: my brother, who is a few years younger than I am. He is the basis for the character Colin in The God of Death and Second Chances (although he would be the first to tell you he’s better-looking).
Col, as I’ll call him, has historically been kind of an asshole. He’s incredibly socially fluent, totally charming, and he makes it look effortless. He’s married now, and the owner of a thriving business, but before he met his wife, he was a constant source of frustration to me; in addition to being popular, charming, and generally socially fluent, it always seemed like that he could more or less have any woman he wanted. Living in your brother’s shadow isn’t fun, especially when you’re certain he’s only blocking out the light because you’re medicated to the gills.
I bring Col up becuase of something a friend said to me this afternoon. I had been trying to figure out where I went wrong with an ex who had been through shit very similar to what I went through as a kid, and after grumbling for a while, I burst out with:
“What I don't understand is why some of us grow up to be predators and some of us grow up to hate predators with all we have. Every time I run into her online, I want to reach through the screen and shake her. Like ‘You were there, too! Why are you so horrible!?’”
And he said something I want tattooed on my arm:
“I wonder if it’s the influence of trying to protect siblings.”
He went on to describe an ex of his, also from an abusive dynamic, who was inordinately protective of his siblings, and who was very kind himself. “Their dad was just terrible,” he said, and he didn’t have to explain.
I sat there for a minute, and I thought about my buddy’s ex-boyfriend, and I felt better.
I have known women who betrayed their younger sisters, or who were utensils of their older brothers, and who took from others in that brother’s name. I have never seen one come to a good end. Not once. Something dies inside you when you do that, when you choose to identify with the monster who hurt you. You’re choosing them over you.
The downstream effects of that are bad. Moral injury results, leading to a permanent mercenary, survival mentality.
I never chose that. The neighbor who abused me killed my cat, and told me my brother would be next if I didn’t cooperate, so I kept my mouth shut.
And there’s a level on which I think Col knew. I told him about it last year, but I think there’s a level on which he always knew. We have been in knock-down, drag-out fights (including one time I sucker punched him as an adult—it was a decade and a half ago, I had been prescribed something that didn’t agree with me, and I still feel awful about it) over the years. Yet somehow, there’s a level on which we’ve always quietly been on one another’s side.
After I was asked to leave prep school, you see, Col stayed. My mom told me years later how he used to get in fistfights with guys who talked shit about his weird, crazy brother on a regular basis. He never let anyone get away with that.
People ask me questions I don’t know how to answer sometimes, about whether it’s manly to seek revenge, or whether I believe people are bad or good. My position on both is that, strangely, I am not a nihilist. I believe in the inherent goodness of other people, and I believe there’s hope, and I always have.
And that’s on Col. He’s been an asshole and so have I. Sometimes we still are. But we had each other’s back.
To which I’d say, “He’s certainly taller.”
Bear in mind that I’m his big brother, so when I say that, you know my judgement on the matter is completely unbiased.
By comparison, I’m Michael Cera in Juno (“I try really hard, actually.”)
There's a lot of heart in this one, I can feel it.
Good to be hearing from you after a spell.