Between He and I

Published in Willow Review

Dear Bro,

I forgive that, when we were young, you chased me down and tickled me until I peed my pants. I understand that our oldest sister beat the crap out of you, so you took it out on me, the youngest. It’s only natural.

And I’m a good sport. I have often told that funny story on myself, the one about how the older kids took off all my clothes and locked me outside, and you hung my clothes from the gutter on little hangers. It’s human nature. I know you wanted to be part of the pack, laughing at me from the roof like jackals. We were young. I was four and one half, to be exact.

You were my older brother. I was proud when you branded yourself the “smart” one, studying, always studying, always locked up in your room with the big red desk, hiding in there with our grandfather’s ship-in-a-bottle, doing God knows what with your flat-top wax. You allowed me to bring my grammar workbook into your room—the only safe place in the house—where I curled on your bed like a kitten licking my adjectives and adverbs.

You only emerged from your bedroom, with your hair waxed straight up, when the chaos in the hallway grew too loud to ignore, when our drunk mother would rage around beating our sister, your twin, all because the poor girl shrieked and fought back. A lot of good it did our sister. She died crazy as a bing bat.

But that was never for us, such clanging drama. You and I stood silently in horror as they fought like cats in a bag. “Stop, stop,” I cried but no sound emerged from my dry tiny throat. I looked the damsel in a silent movie. And you, you shivered, literally shivered, you bug-eyed mouse with a masterful flat top. We lost our voices then and began a life of survival by avoidance. It served us well. I, I developed bronchitis and severe strep-throat but you, wide-eyed and twitching, you plotted to become a doctor and leave that hell hole. I admired you.

I’ll go ahead and say this. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to embarrass you. Here goes. It was strangely easy to disregard the time you said you wanted to make love to me. You didn’t mean it, not really. I was 19, and hey, we were drinking and smoking in your bed with the Ouija Board asking it all kinds of crap about you. I pushed the floating planchette toward all the answers I wanted because I had read your love letters, between you and that girl, the nice one that you should have married.

“You moving that thing?” You asked me. No, I shook my head. No.

I can forgive you for marrying, instead, a deeply deranged and utterly insecure maniac. A true spider. I can overlook that you brought the spider into our lives, because we all need someone to love and we all need to move on—as they say on the news programs after major disasters. I can forgive you for playing Mighty Mouse to her Damsel in Distress, because you never rescued your twin in the hallway, but you shouldn’t have let the spider alienate you from very single one of your friends and family, including your children, your own children who came of age and fled their family with their hair on fire.

Same way we fled our family, I guess.

I can forgive you all that, because I know when and where we lost our voices. Raised by high society alcoholics, we were. But did you have to trade our lovely extended family in for the spider’s low class, misshapen, alcoholic brothers in the West. You could have, at least, traded up, don’t you think?

I can forgive that you allowed the spider to keep you from visiting your dying sister, your twin. She was crazy after all. Oh wait, I forgot, you were let off web for one day to go down to see your dying sister, but you had to take your daughter with you. The spider would have chaperoned but she had been insulted by our therapist cousin so—tra la.

I could excuse that you turned your own mother’s death, our mother’s death, over to the spider. After all, she thinks for you, so certainly she can grieve for you. Then you don’t have to grieve at all, do you? Do you think choking your voice is a viable life plan? Do you hope, brother, to get out scot-free? Apparently that’s exactly what you think.

So when our mother died, I sat in my grief, without you, instead I sat with your spider, while she bemoaned the distribution of our mother’s stuff, until I realized that the spider is a bottomless pit of dissatisfaction, that no matter how much silver you lay at her feet she will forget, literally forget, what she is given and return to her misery, a misery that is fed by a song of wrongs, wrongs committed by everyone around her, around you, around us. This is the song that never ends. And it goes on and on my friend. The spider started singing it not knowing what it was and she’ll continue singing it forever just because this is the song that never ends.

And you, you smile and clap your little hands, agreeing with every verse: Our mother, our father, our grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, all of your friends, all of my friends, your children, my children. Oh wait, forgive me, there was one relative she liked: our charming, but paranoid schizophrenic uncle who controlled and abused his sweet wife to death. Do I need to point out the obvious here?

I resisted calling state services when she diagnosed your children with leukemia, melting bones, ADD, ADHA, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD and general unpopularity. She even told her young son once that nobody at school liked him.

I zipped my lip when you developed heart problems, digestive problems, leaky gut, Asperger syndrome, alcoholism and—most recently—dementia. Who was I to judge?

I sat and listened to the spider tell your children that you have been impotent for 8 years. Nice, and so appropriate, don’t you think?

I listened to the spider complain, to a room full of people, that you had hurt her 30 years before—30. Years. Before. And what was your sin? You were working your tail off, at the bottom of the totem pole, trying to become a doctor, long hours at the hospital, training and training, your life was not your own. But the spider chose to complain, and continues to complain for 30 years, that you, wicked you, left her home alone with an infant. (You know, the first baby, that child she used to get you to the altar.)

But what do you say when she announces this abandonment yet again, to a room full of people? You say, “Yes yes,” wagging your stupid head. “I am a horrible person.” And you seem to believe it. You should have said, “Shut the fuck up, bitch!” Everybody else wanted to say it. Your former best friend left the room in tears. Nobody can take it.

Each time I have visited you over the decades, I notice you have fewer and fewer friends. Nobody measures up to the spider’s demands. You are down to your last friend: the one-legged alcoholic next door. It’s a theme in our lives, isn’t it? Alcoholics.

But I understand, I thought she loved me too. But there was the moment, that chilling moment, when I realized, that if the spider talks badly about everybody, then certainly she talks badly about me. Oh no, I thought, she couldn’t, she wouldn’t, she loves me special, I thought—well, think again.

Hell Brother, I understand, I do, I, myself, flew into that spider’s web, dancing on shiny silks for 30 long years before she spun me into a little white pill and put me to sleep. I remember the moment exactly, she crept up and stuck me with this poison: It seems my best friend, my life long friend, had paid too much attention to me at my own mother’s funeral. The spider had felt excluded, poor spider.

Is this really where you wanted to go when you escaped our crazy house? To get the first student-nurse pregnant by accident. Right! We’ve all heard the story. How you had flown back to the West coast after our father’s funeral and was comforted by the spider upon your return. That’s what she tells us. News Break Brother: Nurses, don’t get pregnant by accident. Oh yes, she complains about how horrible you were during your medical training, but she got what she wanted. A doctor. She lets you buy her hundreds of dogs and cats, horses and houses, cars and boats, none of which satisfy her. Buy discard: buy discard. Oh well. It’s just money down a spider hole.

This is all between you and the spider. It is not my place, but sometimes it is so difficult. The closest I ever came to correcting the spider was when she said, while complaining about something ridiculous, of course, she used the phrase, “Between he and I.” I couldn’t believe my ears. Between he and I? This was a college educated woman, surely she had misspoken, but no, she repeated the offense thrice during the day. I did not correct her because I knew it would be the end of our relationship, and by extension the end of the relationship between you and me. I bit my tongue practically off.

But there comes a point.

While I had found my long lost voice years before, dusted it off, practiced blurting out, making mistakes, being vulnerable, being in love with myself in this crazy world, I always became voiceless again around you and the spider. It seemed to be the only way to be with you. And why not revisit the technique that saved us? I’ll tell you why not, because to kill a voice once is bad enough, to kill a voice after you have found it again is an unforgivable sin.

And here comes the point.

I understood and excused everything until yesterday morning when you looked at me and said, “Just between you and I… .” Between you and I? This I will not tolerate from YOU. Poor grammar is something, as Winston Churchill wrote, up with which I will not put. You know better than to use such language. You are an educated man. You, you in your middle sixties, have abandoned everything that is dear to me and finally you have vanished into the spider altogether. Poof!

I held on as long as I could. But there came a point. You finally broke my heart.

Your illiterate words woke me at three o’clock in the morning. Between you and I. Like a gong in my head. Between you and I. Echoing. You and I. You and I. I. I. I.

I sat bolt upright in the dark and cursed you for leaving, for leaving yourself, for leaving me. I packed my bags before sunrise and left you and your spider, forever.

Between you and ME, dear brother, we are done, over, finished.