I apologize to my readers for not providing an article last week. My husband Tom and I were at my older brother’s home for a few days in Tucson, Az. My brother is very different. He not only doesn’t have a computer or the Internet he also doesn’t have a television. He has a dishwasher but prefers not to use it so he does all his dishes by hand. He says it is good discipline. He also, like me, is a book addict. He has thousands that fill every nook and cranny of his home. They are stacked on his sofa, in many bookcases, on tables, chairs and even on the bathroom hamper. He can do all of this because he is a bachelor and has been for many years. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any women friends. He has many. And since he looks like Sam Elliott with his large head of gray hair, a gray mustache and a white beard he could probably have no problem getting a date, something else missing from his life. Today, after my husband, Tom, he is my best friend. We write letters to each other, spend hours on the phone talking, always going over key parts of our childhood, trying to figure out why the dark times hit after such a great start in the earlier years. We discuss philosophy, religion, books, movies and especially our siblings and our parents, going over bits and pieces of our childhood as if we were trying to construct a puzzle, one that has so many missing pieces.
I have another brother who lives in South Dakota. His birthday is today. He is 73. He recently survived lung cancer but struggles with COPD, having to use oxygen 24/7. My childhood is filled with happy memories of my brothers. On my first day of school, each one taking one of my hands, they proudly walked me to school. They taught me how to play marbles and trucks in the dirt. We formed roads with our hands, built bridges with Popsicle sticks and with our miniature cars and trucks we drove throughout our back yard. I remember so vividly beautiful spring days with my mother digging in her flower garden, birds trilling from the limbs of trees and bees buzzing happily about while my brothers and I played trucks in the dirt. I even remember playing mass. We were strong Catholics and found the priest working his magic on the altar mesmerizing. So we duplicated it at home. During this period we lived in a small town in North Dakota. My dad was the manager of the Occident Lumber Yard as well as President of the local VFW branch. We went to rodeos, carnivals and parades every year, me always proudly with my two older brothers who I adored. When the spring floods came we moved in to town at the Gray Stone hotel. When the waters receded we went back to our now rain damaged house and had to clean out the mud that packed our yard, use buckets of water to drain the water from our basement and scrubbed walls and floors that had been rain damaged. I didn’t care. I always had my older brothers with me to help me and take care of me.
I write of my beloved older brothers because I receive so much email from women who were incested by their brothers and are still filled with anguish and sorrow at the memories. I so understand their emotional pain as my father raped me when I was thirteen, setting off five years of sexual, emotional and physical abuse. I say physical because my mother found out what he was doing, blamed me and made sure I received regular beatings from my father’s belt. She also told friends of ours that I was no good, unclean, dishonest, an evil person not to be trusted. Thank God I found out years later that the very people she said this to thought just the opposite of me and wondered why she was so insistent in her opinions. During all my years, the love and support and playfulness of my brother helped sustain me. I am sad that people I speak with who were sexually abused by brothers were never able to experience the love and support I had from mine. Dad showed us how to clean our 22 rifles, take them apart and memorizing the name of each part. He had been in the Marine Corp during World War II and guns were a large part of his life. He wanted my brothers and me to know how to use them properly. We went rabbit hunting in the winter and prairie dog hunting in the spring. It produced joyful memories to balance the dark and ugly ones.
All of us wounded children have some little pocket of joy in our life that we draw on. Perhaps we had a grandmother we adored, our maybe a grandfather who took us fishing or rowing a boat 0n the lake. Maybe we had a teacher that took a special interest in us, who nurtured our minds. Perhaps we hid in books, books that carried us away to other lands and other people. Maybe your parents loved you but didn’t know about the sexual abuse from your brothers. In the life of everyone, amidst the dark storms someone or something transformed us, protected us, gave us a lifeline, and kept us going. If we draw on those memories, locking our darker ones into a room never to be opened (unless we are going through recovery and need to open the doors so we can learn how to mend) then we will be able, one day at a time, to learn to love life again.