i scream you scream

I taught Joita “I scream. You scream. We all scream for cake.” when she was little.  For years she thought that was the saying.  She even laughed and corrected someone once.  She’s still a bit miffed at me for doing that to her.  Nina, on the other hand, likes to say, “I scream. You scream. We all scream for sushi.”  Kids are funny.  Even without adult humor intervention.

Sibling humor intervention is often somewhat less amusing.  Sometimes I was a jerky older sibling.  Not usually or even often.  But sometimes.  There was one time, I couldn’t have been more than 10.  I was probably older than 5 or 6 though.  Which meant Peter had to have been around 4 or 5.  I was thinking about this particular incident because at dinner one night last week Nina and Joita were at each other’s throats, irritating not only one another, but me as well with their constant bickering.  They asked if Peter and I ever fought.

I told them about the time we’d gone out for ice cream as a family.  Mom wasn’t a fan of the local ice cream parlors (she was a Baskin Robbins gal).  So we had to drive farther than was pleasant to be in the car with one another.  Cruising in the Red Bomber – dad’s spirited little red Chevy Chevelle – with the cracked black fake leather seats that got hot as blazes in the summer.  No A.C., crank windows and the smell of stale cigarette smoke – the overflowing ashtray and yellow stained windows added to the ambiance.  Dad would be smoking away with all the windows closed except those little triangular *vent-windows* that did nothing to dispel the gagging fug of second-hand smoke.  And I’m quite sure our sibling squabbling did nothing to enhance the pleasure of the drive for dad either.

We got ice cream cones and before we pulled out of the parking lot I decided to amaze (or antagonize) Peter.  I pressed my ice cream down firmly with my tongue into the cone.  Then I held it upside down and said, “Look, I’m magic.”  Peter, younger, stupider, more gullible and less worldly, looked on in awe.  Then he turned his ice cream upside down.  And in the time it took him to say, “I’m magic too” the chocolate scoop fell out of the cone, onto his leg, rolled off onto the seat and liquescently came to rest where the seat and its back came together.  I laughed.  I’m laughing now recalling it.  Peter was even more stunned (though less awed).  My father practically swerved off the road screaming, “Jesus Christ!” Following this heartfelt prayer he mumbled, “That fucking kid could fuck up a free lunch”.

Dad pulled over, still muttering about Peter’s stupidity.  He twisted himself around, grabbed the ice cream from the seat with his bare hands, dragging his fingertips deep into the crack in some vain attempt to *get it all* and, wiping it up all together jammed it back on Peter’s cone.  “There!” he said disgustedly, turning back and wiping his hand on paper towels, still muttering to himself.   Without another backward glance, he thrust back a wad of napkins, instructing one of us to clean up the rest of the seat.  Peter looked heartbrokenly at his filthy blob of melting ice cream.  Dust and dirt coated it as it dripped down the cone onto his hand.

I wish I could say I stopped laughing to help him.  I wish I could say I offered him some of my ice cream (hey, I felt  bad but not that bad).  I honestly don’t remember what happened next.  Whether he threw his ice cream out the window or whether one of my parents did.  I don’t remember him eating that ice cream.  It was a long painfully silent ride home.

So I told that story at dinner and Nina and Joita were horrified even as they snickered.  Joita, always one for social justice, put down her fork and challengingly proclaimed, “So, it seems you owe uncle Peter an ice cream.”  Nina chimed right in, “Yeah mommie! You owe him ice cream!”  I had to laugh.  I texted Peter and told him that I’d told the girls *the ice cream story* and that they felt I owed him an ice cream.  He wrote immediately back, “I know exactly what ice cream story you told them and damn right you do!”  I responded by telling him he was welcome to come and claim his recompense any time.

Shockingly, he called a few days later and asked if he could come the following weekend.

While I didn’t believe he’d actually have the wherewithal to follow through on this plan, I did have a few discussions with the kids about the potential for his visit.  I had to explain the distinct probability that he would not get it together enough to actually show up.  There was also the possibility that he wouldn’t be *presentable* enough to be with them.  And by that I meant that if he showed up not in his right mind or appeared to be *under the influence* I would not spend time with him, or allow him to be around them.  Nina let the message of my apprehension go over her head.  She chose to focus on where we would take Uncle Peter for his long-overdue ice cream.  We have several good ice cream shops close to us, at least 7 perfectly good options.  Joita got quiet and withdrawn.  She didn’t participate in the discussion at all.  I could see her zoning out, clearly uncomfortable.

Later that evening, sitting side by side on the couch reading, Joita quietly closed her book and said, “Can we not bring your brother to Cabot’s?” {Cabot’s is an ice cream shop close to us that is our family favorite} I said, “Sure.  How come?”  Joita squirmed in discomfort and averted her eyes, looking down at the closed book in her lap.  She explained that Cabot’s employees are mostly high school students.  And while many of them are not necessarily her friends, they all go to the same high school she does.  And then looking as if she would burst into tears of hot shame, she said she would be embarrassed to be seen with Peter.  We had a long discussion about that kind of shame and being ashamed of being ashamed.

Jo felt she was not being a *good person* by feeling embarrassed by Peter.  But she was and is embarrassed by him and I told her that feelings are not right or wrong.  They simply are.  I wondered with a flash of pain and panic if she ever felt ashamed of me.  Joita, my expression mirrored on her face, shared that she would feel terrible if I were ever ashamed of her.  Quickly adding that she was never ashamed of me.  {Pause}  Except for that one time in the airport when I starting dancing the Cupid Shuffle and got everyone in line dancing with me.  I smiled, remembering.  And then assured her that Peter’s situation was different.  And that I could never be ashamed of her.

In the end, Peter made his way to our rather sleepy city on Sunday.  It took him buses, trains and a commuter rail, but he did it.  He texted from a fairly close train stop and I drove to pick him up alone.  I made it clear that I would have to see him and make the determination as to whether he was in any shape to be with my family.

He actually looked fairly clear-headed.  For him.  He was dirty, dressed poorly and smelled somewhat rancid.  But he seemed able to focus and engage.  We spent some time together, sharing stories and catching up before I brought him home.  He was quiet and gentle with the girls and was genuinely happy to meet Ruby for the first time.  Even if she didn’t share his joy and stayed shy the whole time he was with us.  We walked to the closest ice cream place all together with Emily and our next door neighbors.

Sitting in the ice cream shop Joita noticed that Peter was the only one to get his ice cream in a cup and not a cone.  She teased him, “Guess you’re still traumatized about that cone incident huh?”  We all laughed.

It’s hard to spend time with my brother.  For so many reasons.  It takes an act of courage to connect with him.  Even beyond the fact that, like Joita, I am also ashamed of being seen with him in public.  To never know what you’re going to get.  To never know when the other shoe will drop, or when you’ll get that phone call.  To see him so down and out, homeless and filthy and frail and vulnerable in so many ways.  To never know if it’s the last time you will see him.  Spending time with Peter requires near super-human patience.  As much as I understand his limitations, he can be incredibly frustrating, stupid and stubborn.  His brain so damaged from so many years of drugs and trauma that he is practically impossible to relate with.  Conversation needs to be concrete and superficial even though he believes and tries to act as if he were a Rhodes Scholar.  His knowledge of the world is stunted, limited and often backwards.  Yet he is quick to give advice and correction.  The guy is infuriating and pathetic and broken beyond repair.  And he is the only sibling I have.

About halitentwo

i am. god is. we are. as soon as i write something about me i change, am different, evolving. i am trans. i am a parent. i am a partner. i am a human. i am attempting to live a well-lived life in the spaces in between, beyond definition, fluid, dynamic, omnifarious and always changing. hopefully growing.
This entry was posted in brother's keeper, family of origin, parenting. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s