Sunday, May 29, 2005

My Bounty

My brother beat me as a child. It wasn't sibling rivalry; I never bested him, or even came close. I call it sibling survival. Fighting back just resulted in a worse beating for me. My father thought of himself as a strict disciplinarian, but he wasn't even close. He would come home from a job he hated in the Army to find me beat up and never gave a damn; getting to his liquor cabinet was more important than anything else. If I brought up the issue of my sibling survival or my father's ever-expanding thirst for spirits, my brother would say three magic words: "He provoked me." That was enough for me to get a lashing; If the bruises were small, I might get away with just the belt. If my brother decided to be more liberal with the amount of punishment he dished out or I commented about my father's ever-present inebriation, I would find myself on the wrong end of an extension cord. It was assumed that I would stoically take the lash on my ass, but if I pulled up, the back was fair game to get me back down. My brother got some corporal, but I got a lot more. After a few years of two beatings I didn't deserve instead of the none that the law promised me, I gave up. I managed to maneuver myself into a position where my brother thought of me as an ally against my father. The sibling survival was left alone to fester and occasionally revisit if I made any threats to tell my mom or insisted that I was above beating down any time he damn well pleased.

I've made peace with my brother. He's the only person I've ever known who's allocuted and apologized for what he's done to me. We're on good terms; he's a good friend to me now. My dad had to give up drinking or die early; he chose life. What really infuriated me was the ease with which he gave up the bottle. I grew up assuming that he couldn't stop, that he was a slave to alcohol addiction. Turns out he was just a mean lush. Damn. He could have stopped drinking and administering his brand of punishment any time he pleased. Sometimes if I complained while he lashed me, he would ask me if I thought he enjoyed the lash; I was unsure. I was deluded into thinking the alcohol made him do it, but now I think it was his favorite part of the day. The only time he ever gave a reason for his brutality was a lame attempt at an excuse by claiming my grandfather was even more brutal with him. I asked my aunt about it, and she recoiled in horror; she says nothing ever happened even close to what I went through.

I don't tell this story to get pity, seek revenge, or to simply complain bitterly about my past. I tell this story now to explain my current frame of mind. My brother has a career, a bachelor's degree, a happy life, and is getting married to a wonderful woman. My parents just celebrated their thirty first wedding anniversary, and my father retired from the Army after twenty good years of service. My days and nights are haunted by madness. I'm a headcase, and I've been one for a long time; my situation at home never helped any. Now I've got a materially better life; I'm no longer under the threat of my brother's fists or my father's lash. However, I'm still hurt. The sibling survival and lashes ended when I was sixteen: the same time my psychosis gripped me with no way out. This is what fuels my anger. Just as I began to find a way to live without pain as discipline, and self-loathing weakness revolving around sibling survival, I'm stricken with paranoid schizophrenia. I never had a choice, or a chance in hell. Right now, it seems to me that my life's meaning is pain. If I'm ever in a position to finally enjoy life, my chances for happiness disappear. I went from weaker little brother, to lashed-up victim, to stark raving madman. Growing up, I had a choice of interpretations to explain my struggle: either these horrors were out of my control, or I deserved every last bit of it. The largest part of that choice remains undecided. I still teeter on the head of that emotional pin.

I write to be understood. I hope that someday I'll wake up, and my readers will look at my words without fear, disdain, or pity; I will finally be strong and beautiful. However, this eludes me: my words are weaker and uglier every day I try to write them down. What do I do with my pain? My disease won't let me forget my past; every attempt I make at communication ends in rejection, confusion, and silence. Why bother writing? Every hour I spend writing my poetic missives is one hour my brother spends with the love of his life, and one hour my dad sleeps with a healthy liver. The torture of my words is my bounty for my experience. I'm angry, but it's too early to be tomorrow, and too late to be last night; I'll settle for now.

3 comments:

Patmos said...

I know you will say... Patmos, you are an idiot. Yet, I would have liked to feel the wrath of my father. I turned 33 this past year and it was not until this last year that I have even had his hand to shake, much less anything else.

I would sit with my brothers and sister behind the car, waiting for him to come home from work so that we could jump out at him and let him know, how glad we were that he had come home yet another day. One by one as they jumped upon him, he would throw them in the air, crying out their name. Yet when the little one (Patmos) would come running, it was his back, or his bad leg, or his long day that kept him from even reaching out a hand to me.

I would sit and wait my turn to be up to bat as we plaid in the front yard with a father that would work all week and was on call every hour of the day, yet when my turn would come, the heat of the sun or the cold air would bother him, to where we just needed to go inside.

When each were asked, what they would like to have for Christman, it was I that was told, we just don't have enough for you to get what you want this year.

When we would make our way down the candy section, each were encouraged to get their favorite, I was just handed what "we" could afford.

When we all got to tell our joke for the week, seeing who could make dad laugh the most, well, it was always too late for just one more from the little one (Patmos)

I watched as dad loved, I watched as dad laughed, I watched as dad played, I watched as dad cried, yet I never knew any of them for myself.

I do not say that your beating was better than my isle of patmos, I am just saying, I think it would have been encouraging to know even his wrath, than to have never known him at all.

Laurel Makepeace O'Keefe said...

I know what you mean Patmos..my stepfather showed me nothing but disdain resentment and ultimately complete neglect via literally ignoring my presence from the time i turned about 11 or so
---he couldnt wait for me and my sisters to get out of the house,and he told us this constantly as we were growing up he really just wanted a life with my mom and made it clear to us that he couldnt stand us-though hed vowed to my mom that he would treat us as his own children" she vividley recalls this--which means it really happened.

Sadly I was too young to grasp any of this and I just wondered endlessly what was wrong with me---why he couldnt wouldnt love me or even show me the smallest affection or paternal tendency--It was very very sad for me as i was a genuinely good kid...just as I can tell you were Thomas,from that boyscout photo ---*which just pulled on my heartstrings the moment I saw that shy,wry smile and thoughtful countenence-You were already quite special then Thomas...I am so sorry that you had to endure that trauma as an innocent child no less! You certainly didnt deserve any of it-----just as I didnt and should have been cherished for the sweet intellignet good hearted girl i was .
In any event Since being ignored felt like the worst kind of rejection back then..i think i began acting out---getting in trouble in small ways just to get some attention from this man who was supposed to be my dad,,well it didnt work-he just became even more disgusted with me than hed been previously--I couldnt win id never get waht i wanted or needed
now i wouldnt go so far as to say i wouldve been glad for some physcial abuse-as thomas had patmos, but i know the powerful feeeings behind all of it..

Thomas Jackson said...

My best friends were kicked out of their mother's home by a stepfather who wanted nothing to do with them. As an example, it was their stepfather who decided not to pay for community college tuition for the two; a new $700 picture window for the breakfast nook was more important. To this day, I don't see the benefit of having one pane instead of nine as more important than the education of someone you should at least pretend to care about.