I was getting creamed. An endless barrage of snowballs were pegging me, seemingly with wills of their own...from the left, from the right, on the shoulder, in the chest. My safety, not to mention my dignity, was in constant peril. I was trying my best. Every tactic I could imagine, every ploy I could remember from my snowball attacks on the tree in our back yard - that always worked perfectly - fell prey to a perplexing blitzkrieg of snow and taunting from my elder brother. His cadence was irregular and yet rhythmical. I knew his bullets were going to hit me. I almost even knew where they were going to hit me, but there was nothing I could do, the pacing was too great. How on earth could he make them so fast? Did he have some lackey over there helping him? Does he have better gloves than me? What!? His pinpoint accuracy was beyond my understanding. Could a mere three more years of experience possibly make him such a better snowfight artist than myself?
I needed help, no doubt, but as my mind wandered I knew no mortal help would do. I needed something grand, something major and cataclysmic. Some kind of underworld extraterrestrial help was what I needed. A Jabba the Hut type figure -- that would do the trick. I'd love to see his eyes when the giant, slug-like slavering beast barreled him over, pinning his legs to the floor of his snow fort, as I stood atop the fortress wall riddling him with snowballs until he, for the first time ever, called out the designated words of surrender, "Alright, alright. I'm a worm. I'm a lowly, maggot-eating worm and you're the snow god." A painful blow to the temple brought me back to reality. Why doesn't he stop, or ease up, or something? He knows he's better at this than me. Fear, desperation, envy and other weak attributes of the spirit can make one’s mind race in directions it had never thought of before. I was wallowing in all of them (and a couple that I don't think had names) when a new tactic, one I never could have previously conceived of, popped into my head. I remembered a line from an old violent war movie I saw that said, ‘when your back is up against the wall, you need to give a clear and incisive show of power to send a message to your enemy that you are not one to be trifled with.’ That's when I got the idea. I had only heard of putting a rock inside a snowball, or saturating the weapon in urine. I had never actually tried such a thing. I was still too young to consider it, much less act upon it. It seemed drastic measures were best reserved for overly militant and terrorist snow activities -- or at least the older kids. That's the kind of thing you read about in ‘Soldier of Fortune.’ But this was my brother. Where does one draw the line? Is there no mercy? Just then a snowball hit me square in the throat. As I was speedily rubbing it to relieve the icy pain in my windpipe and listening to my brother's clod-like, pre-adolescent laugh, "Ha ha ha," I made up my mind. A rock in the snowball, yes...though not too jagged."
I waited behind my shelter for some time, not throwing anything. He maintained his stream of snow missiles pelting my fort, but still I waited. It took time and some uncharacteristic patience on my part, but eventually my brother realized he was getting no resistance to his high performance onslaught. He paused for a moment, evaluating the situation and then, genuinely bewildered, he slowly walked out to check and see if I had run away. In the purest form of guerrilla snowfare I then popped up and hurled my secret, unsanctioned weapon. It worked brilliantly. His head twanged back like a spring coil doorstop and he dropped like a sack of dirt. I paused for a moment, feeling as if I either realized the key to getting through my life with some degree of comfort or that I had just committed my first act of blatant evil. I started running over in clunky loping strides, almost jumping, to jeer and gloat and collect my first victory whimper when my brother, almost supernaturally, popped up on his feet with his back to me. It was a classic horror movie scenario. I felt the kind of tired dread they showed in the old Godzilla movies. Like when Godzilla had just beaten the tar out of the Smog Monster, or Rodan, or some such, and he's left the evil beast for dead. Still, somehow, the monster hops back onto its feet as fresh as ever and Godzilla can't believe his own eyes. I was feeling a combination of, "Oh no, this can't be!" and "Oh man, he's gonna kill me!" I had one option left. I knew I was dead meat anyhow (dead, skinned, filleted and barbecued), so I decided to attack in one last painful hurrah. I ran screaming towards him knowing my fate was sealed. But my last blaze of glory would, surely, earn me a place in the wintertime warfare annals (Of course, thinking back on it, those guys in the movie got their butts kicked too.)
Little did I know, as I attacked with all my passion, that my elder brother had a fiercely acute and advanced sense of warfare about him. "Aaaaah! Aaaaah!" I heard the pitiful scream, "My eye fell out! My eye, my eye! Where's my eye?!"
I reeled into a fearful kind of shock I had never experienced before. I froze in a total lack of comprehension. I looked around my immediate area somewhat relieved that I hadn't found the eye. I couldn't even begin to imagine what I was supposed to do. My mind began racing again, in fear and desperation (though this time envy was appropriately absent). I conjured up the most frightful images; trying to explain to the kids at school that I "thought it would be funny" as they all stand around peering into the oval chasm of my brother's head... or my parents shaking their ‘tsk tsk’ heads at me (and me thinking I'll never hear the end of this one) as my brother cries pathetically from his one eye at their side. With one misjudged toss of a rock I have, instantly, martyred my brother into favored sainthood and cast myself into the dark bowels of always being the "wild, unpredictable one."
The psychological terror was more than I could take for the moment. After that brief assessment it took not even another thought to address the situation. I ditched my brother and ran as fast as I could back to the house, snow still dripping from my hair. I tossed my gloves on the kitchen counter and turned to my mother, who was fixing some food at the sink and, trying to gauge the true severity of the situation, said, "Y'know, don't you think it would be great if I didn't have a brother?"
Mom did a time-out thing where she put down what she was doing and, as far as I could tell, in her mind was acting out her best June Cleaver fantasy and stopped to tell me a story. "You know once upon a time when I was a little girl, I had three brothers that I could've sworn their only joy in life was to make my life miserable. And if I had the option to not have any brothers at that time I would have taken it in a second. But those three brothers who seemed so terrible at that one time in my life have grown up to be your Uncle Jim, your Uncle Harry, and your Uncle Terrance, and, looking back, I can't imagine what my life would be like without them." I listened with my best intent. I honestly did. But in the back of my mind I couldn't help the thoughts that said, "Yeah mom, that's great. I'm glad you got that off your chest. But would you feel so thankful for your brothers if you, for instance, happened to have lopped off Uncle Jim’s head, punctured Uncle Harry’s lung, and paralyzed Uncle Terrance from the waist down?"
I sulked off with a ‘Yeah, thanks mom’ nod of my head and let her feel that she eased my unrest. But I was headed upstairs to ponder my fate. My first step out of the kitchen left me with the sharpest shock of my youngish life. There he was sitting on the couch... reading a magazine for goodness sakes! My brother. My eyes veered down to check, and neither of his eyes were sitting there in his lap. He gazed up and gave me that smile. That smile that all big brothers know how to give. That smile that says, ‘If you were any dumber I'd have to walk you around on a leash.’ Never before had I been taken so far in. This was a ruse of epic proportions. Had he been planning this for weeks? Did he improvise it all from the start? How could he have beaten me home? I was, at the same time, stripped naked, defenseless, embarrassed, and my psyche trodden on by an army of snide, superior-minded brothers but, too, I could not help but be awed by his expertise and all in all slickness in running me through the emotional ringer.
I knew I would never get him back for this. Never. It was a onetime flash of brilliance that could never be duplicated. That is not to say I didn't want to. In that stunned moment images of recourse flew past my eyes so fast I almost could not do both, recognize the visions and stand staring, dumb as a post. The images that came through included him hanging in a dungeon-like setting by his ankles, him being disowned by my mother and father, and I even rekindled my alliance with Jabba the Hut in another scenario of his personal penance. Of course these were all the end results of some master plan. Unfortunately the actual plan to realize these goals never made it anywhere near my consciousness, so the idea of realizing any of them was moot. It was not unlike the way many of us plan what we'd do if we had a million dollars even as we forgo the reality that we don't know how to get a million dollars. When the imagined acts of retaliation finished rolling like a movie trailer I caught a breather. In that moment I saw him and, somehow, I saw me. It became so apparent in the big picture. Resolve was the only course of action. Though it wouldn't be easy. He'd already seen me taken aback and stutter in my step. The only advantage was my eyes were fixed on him the whole time. Albeit they were glazed for the most part, but they were still there. I regrouped as fast as one can close an open jaw and pressed on.
"A time will come, my brother," I said to myself as I stepped closer to the couch on my way upstairs, "when you will no longer be older than I." I, somehow, could see the resolve in my head sans the fear, sans the desperation, envy and anger. "And on that day you will know the feeling of being unsure of your place in the family, of your place in the world, even unsure of your place in your own mind. And I will be there to see it. I won't laugh, and I won't rub it in, but I will be there to see. And maybe on that day we will no longer be brothers. On that day we will be equals. On that day we will be friends." Fighting for every ounce of composure I've ever had, I walked by nonchalantly and, sure of my rightful place somehow, someday, said, in my best nondescript voice, "Glad your eye got better."
For more of the stories, feel free to email me.
P.O. Box 581083
Minneapolis, MN 55458-1083
Copyright © Burton