12.25.2007

A Christmas Memory, or How I knew My Brother was a Psychopath

As I sit next to a warm fire, basking in the glow of Christmas lights, and gazing upon the multitude of wrapped boxes waiting for the eager hands of two small children, I find my mind wandering back to years of Christmas past...

It was 1987. I was 8 years old. I loved still loved playing with Barbies and Cabbage Patch dolls, but only just barely, for just around the corner were New Kids on the Block, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, CD Players, and Prozac (which I wouldn't end up needing for another 12 years, but it was introduced in 1988 in case you were curious). I worshipped no other God than my 14 year-old brother, who ruled the universe in such a way that I would have probably willed my heart to stop beating if he directed me to do so.

He had been begging for a keyboard that year. You know, a synthesizer/piano deal so he could make like Harvey Hancock... or Yanni. I disremember which, but I do recall his sending me out on a sleuthing, fact-gathering mission to see if such a gift had been procured by my parents. Going to dad was no good. The man invented the word "stonewall," and would probably have been the one guy to not only survive a POW torture camp, but become part of the upper-management during a short tenure. This is a man who, during a small stint in the joint when I was younger, befriended all of the guards by wiring free cable through the jailhouse. Yeah... dad was not bound to break under the strain of an 8-year-old girl asking what her brother got for Christmas.

But mom... yeah, mom was different. Mom had a weak spot, and it was one that was passed down to her daughter. It's the thing that basically turns one's mouth into an open floodgate once one buys a present for another individual.

"Hey mom, what's up?"

"I just got Brandon the keyboard he wanted! Want to see it?"

"Really? Cool! Yeah!"

Like a good little spy with my head stuffed with an eight-year-old's version of a detailed schematic for a semi-advanced keyboard, I went back to my brother and spilled all. I gazed at him adoringly as he told me thank you over and over again. Brother was happy, I was happy. But I was worried. Mom was somehow going to find out I'd told. I just knew it.

"I swear to GOD, Allison, I will not tell Mom. Don't worry."

Of course this was a good two weeks before Christmas. It might as well have been an entire year. I knew that if I didn't do everything my big brother told me to do over that entire "year" that he would tell my mom that I spilled the beans about his big Christmas gift. My mom even came up to me a few times during that "year" and asked: "You didn't tell Brandon about that keyboard, did you?"

"No way, Mom!"

I was such a horrible liar as a child--still am, really--but fear has a way of amping up one's self-preservation skills, and I was terrified and therefore still safe. She didn't ask again. But Brandon had me firmly in the palm of his hand still, and I was his little slave for that short period of time. I couldn't sleep at night without images of my mother's reaction to my treachery flooding my juvenile brain. I saw Brandon opening the big box and simply saying: "I knew I was going to get one of these, thanks to Allison. Cool." And my parents both looking at me saying: "YOU!!"

Then came the big morning. The living room had been transformed into a Toys R Us Wonderland. I had a She-Ra Crystal Castle fully assembled under the tree, with a Barbie Corvette (silver with pink interior) parked in front. Yay for me! I spied the bulky, oblong package just beyond this that I knew was my brother's instrument of tyranny, but would then become my key to salvation once opened, because such forms of blackmail lose power post-holiday. It would also be the last present he opened, just so he could hold the scythe over my little neck just a little longer.

The moment of truth came. Brandon, wearing his new black fedora with the white band around it with his new denim jacket (again, it was 1987, people), started peeling back the shiny paper that held our little secret intact. It was going to be the moment where I was going to become the innocent bystander or the little pariah.

"Oh my god! WOW! Thank you! Thank you!!"

Brandon's elation was so authentic, so convincing, so potent, that I knew his little game of taunting me, at least where that keyboard was concerned, was over. The ways young teenagers scheme to torture their little siblings, after all, are endless.

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