Our mother became pregnant for the fourth time when I was six and my brother was two. As she became larger and larger the summer became hotter and hotter. There was no air conditioning. She became increasingly uncomfortable and I was given more work to do. From the time I was two my mother had decided I could do little tasks she didn’t want to do, such as giving my baby sister her bottle, and later, helping my mother dress herself. It became my job to fasten her bra. I had even had to change my first brother’s diapers when I was five. Of course, I also had to help with house cleaning by picking up whatever might be on the floor. My sister had to help some, but not as much.
As our mother became more and more uncomfortable, she cared less and less for any kind of equity among her children. My little brother, as he could manage more and more of the world, found my toys to be far more interesting than his and wanted them. I, of course, refused. He, in turn, objected. Our mother only wanted him to stop, so I was ordered to give in. My objections were over-ruled. My brother soon learned that I would be chastised for any complaint, while he could do as he pleased. He learned that I had no rights and was fair game.
After the fourth baby was born I was assigned a care-giving role second only to our mother. More and more housework was added until by age thirteen I was left alone in charge of the house and my brothers for most of the summer.
One game my brother played was very short lived. If the two of us were alone in a room, he would approach me and kick at my face. When I flinched he would retreat in victory. One day, though, I caught his foot and he smashed his face into the hardwood floor. He glowered at me in disbelief when he picked himself up.
“I told you I didn’t like,” was all I said as he limped away.
He never played that game again.
I don’t know when by brother began the other game, but it continued about a decade. To carry out this game he would, also, choose a time when he and I were alone in a room, within hearing distance of our mother, but out of her sight. He would then “trip” and fall. What he would trip on, a leaf or piece of dust, or whatever struck his fancy, was invisible. Then he would fall down as loudly as possible so she would be sure to hear. After landing with sufficient noise, he would call my name as if I had caused his fall. On cue, our mother would yell at me. Of course, it was my fault; I had been tormenting him.
He was triumphant!
Nothing I said would change her mind. I could only avoid being alone with him.
One time I had come home from college for the weekend and we were leaving a building. My brother was slightly out of practice, but felt some need to play the game now that I was home. He was ahead of me and Mom, I was slightly behind her. She did not see him fall, but heard his cry of accusation against me. Immediately she began to berate me and looked around for me. She was mystified why she could not see me.
“I’m right here,” I said very quietly from behind her ear. “I didn’t touch him. I wasn’t near him. I have never touched him. I’ve never caused him to fall. He has done it himself all these years. I’ve tried to tell you, but you would not listen.”
In astonishment and confusion, she could only huff and puff. Her thought patterns about my behavior were confounded. She didn’t say a word but continued to the car and we went home.
My brother never played that game again. His games were finally over. I was relieved.
A couple of years later he matured and decided I could be a friend, and we were friends, but it was a rough road to get there. A few years ago, he gave me back some of my toys that he still had. After he left, I sobbed in relief, only later understanding why.