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Black and White

Often I have pictured my sibling relationship with my only, younger brother as good child versus bad child. I feel that to describe our difference in a nutshell, imagine if you took us out to dinner and offered beforehand to treat. I would look at the menu and choose a reasonably priced item, not wanting to burden you. My brother would each and every time choose the most expensive item listed. This was as true when we were children as it is now.

We have always sustained a love-hate relationship. I was never a violent or physical child. I wouldn’t injure toys, and had a hard time watching other children injure and break them, because I imagined that they had feelings too, plus some other child would miss out on playing with it once broken.

From the time he was very young he threw loud screaming temper tantrums, which my parents largely ignored. Only he never grew out of that habit. His behavior was always excused, if he smashed towns I built with toys, broke up forts, as he is younger and the temper tantrums were something he would grow out of.

Responsibilities: if I wanted to earn extra money, which when young came at .25-.50 cents a week, it would come from taking out the garbage around the house daily, or picking up after the dog in the yard. Normal chores like making the bed were par for course, as was setting and clearing the dinner table, a task never asked of my brother.

Around age 10 he visited a therapist as one night when I was watching him for a bit, he yelled at me he may as well kill himself over some disagreement we’d had, waved a butcher knife around and poked himself near his head unexpectedly, causing him to put down the sharp object and cry. Luckily my folks came home soon after. There was a period of time around then, when he would simply smash his head on the ground repeatedly, or on walls.

There were many occasions were we got along and I would be his best form of entertainment. His depression though, and more extreme his temper tantrums were a big deal in our household.

When a teenager he would frequently just not get up in the morning to go to school. I believe he missed at least 50 days his senior year. Yet straight from high school he was accepted to a local state school.

I myself had graduated high school early. While going to high school I worked jobs, went to cosmetology school at the same time, maintained a 3 year relationship with a boyfriend, had and went out with girlfriends. I graduated a junior college and went on to a state school and worked in London for a short period as an apprentice in a hair salon.

At one point on my return from London, my brother and I had a huge fight. I discovered that it was really hard to study in that house, as he pretty much ruled it with loud piano playing, singing, loud arguments, or doing as he pleased. I was 21, sitting on the couch quietly studying. The day before, against the wishes of my parents he had lit a fire in the fireplace, even though it was very windy outside. The result was it became smoky inside.

The day of our large fight he had come home from where ever, and decided to open every door and window in the house, including the ones to the room I was sitting in, so he could “air out the house” while he vacuumed, even though it was cold outside.

I wound up moving out of the house and in with my grandparents for a while, deepening my surface level understanding of how disruptive those fights and his loudness were to my studying. As an adult and teacher, it has taken me these many years of observing my own study skills and needs, and those of others to see how an organically quiet environment lends itself to concentration.

Over the years our relationship has been smooth, unless I disagree with him. It seems that my parent’s modus operandi is to be afraid of my brother with his looming though not-spoken-of-since threat of suicide and loud tantrums. To avoid this they step aside and let him do as he will.

My brother became the kind of person who would call me at midnight and beg me to cut his hair. Who would invite me over for dinner, only to ask me to go last minute to get mint at 10 p.m. or basil, which would turn in to a “sprig of garnish” for a dessert or some such thing. He would beg me to come see his piano students recitals, and then have me bring the donuts.

I finally had it with the, “please do this for me to prove you love me or I will be so very sad” behavior when he begged everyone to come see him play piano in a dance performance down in Long Beach. His playing was last minute, and I already had paid for tickets to a concert. I moved the moon to be the only one “there for him”, and decided that was enough. I don’t need to move the moon for him; he can have a recital or play piano in concerts, and I don’t necessarily need to be there.

Right when I got married, my father decided to let my brother who was then 27, move back home as a way to help him with his tremendous debt, and with the fact that he then three years ago hadn’t paid his taxes in 5 or 6 years. There was no plan set up, no restrictions or guidelines, just more blind enabling of a lost parent trying to support a child however possible. Enabling and psychology terms would be lost on the macho side of my father’s mind. He has never gone to anyone for advice or help about parenting.

My brother, who had accumulated at least 50 grand in debt living on his own for 8-9 years, informed me and my fiancée that he was relieved he could finally be irresponsible by moving back home. To him this did not mean finding a stable job, or paying his debt and taxes, it meant living rent and utility free, while ordering Armani Exchange and Gap socks online. Going out for drinks, and starting up on a business credit card a “Cabaret”, featuring himself as a host, and giving himself a venue to show off his singing at.

Since he moved back home I have heard the theme from my mom of her divorce-level stress at having him at home once again. How my brother is just like her father, dominates their not large home, won’t even say good morning because he has a rule about not speaking when first up (mind you at 10 a.m. each day, after going to sleep late at night) because he is too grumpy to be civil.

Watching television shows, and negotiating his singing and piano practice, having people over around his schedule are all in the equation. He has not once paid rent, now since 2007, nor offered to pay a bill.

Last February after one of his monthly Cabaret shows, he totaled his car. His solution for that was to go and get the fanciest car with the most bells and whistles they would let him leave with, costing him a monthly car payment fee of $700 a month. He could have had the same vehicle for half of that monthly price, without all of the fancy toys on it.

A few weeks ago, he attempted to host an 80’s night at a bar in West Hollywood. The culmination of which was getting in an accident again, totaling in less than a year another car, and being dragged in for a D.U.I. Upon telling me on the phone a few weeks ago that he was going to get a lawyer and sue the man who hit him, he also came to the point that he no longer had this car expense, that the insurance covered the whole thing.

I said to him that I had said nothing about his car situation this whole time, but this latest development was really a silver lining. That when my parents had been out of town for a few weeks a short while ago, he complained he couldn’t even afford groceries with this car payment. Now, he could find a car for at least half that price. Not having rent to pay, or utilities, it was really a question of doing the right thing. Of course he then wanted to regale me with the reasons why he deserves such a pricey vehicle, to which I just hung up the phone on him.

I have kept any communication with him minimal since then. Last Friday he had court appearance number one about the D.U.I. I had not called leading up to that, not wishing to argue. I find it hard to keep my mouth shut at this point and listen as everything he does is so destructive, not just to himself, but to my parents whom he doesn’t take into consideration at all. He is still the same person who will sit down, and when you offer to pay for the meal beforehand, will take you for all you are worth without so much as a light-flashing any acknowledgement of gratitude, not even for a quick second. 

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