Posted 12-27-2003 at 13:17:04
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I don't know what it is about the holidays that brings back all those old memories of growing up in the sixties and seventies, but it seems that this time of year, my mind is buried firmly in the past, and every remark made, takes me back to the days of Fat Albert, slinkies, and silly string. Slip 'n 'slides, Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots and 'You sank my Battleship!' The Jackson Five, and The Osmonds on Saturday mornings, and Hee Haw, every Saturday night.
Jenny made a remark this morning about how peaceful it was to have Jake out of the house, gone on a week long hunting trip, and how now she had control of the T V, and how nice that was, and suddenly I was transported back to those days of remote control skirmishes with my own brother.
I don't know if every young girl see's her older brother as an alien being, but I sure did. Being younger, I used to get home from middle school a full hour before him, and I remember praying that he would get hit by a bus, or forget how to find his way home, so that at four o'clock I could watch the Brady Bunch. We only had one television back then and for some reason, not only did he claim seniority, he got away with it.
At three fifty nine p.m., he would come into the living room, all six feet two inches of him, ducking as he came through the door, and take up the small room with his silent, brooding presence. The first thing he would do is sit down on the ottoman and take off his size thirteen shoes, and if the resultant odor wasn't enough to run you out of the room, the opening strains to 'Star Trek' would do it most every time.
"Moooooom!" My sisters and I would cry in protest. To which she would invariably respond...
"You've had the television for an hour...go do your homework."
I never did though. Rather than sit and study math, I would sit and study my brother, while he lost himself in the latest dilemma facing Captain Kirk and the Enterprise, and looking back, it's a wonder that he didn't put me off the male species for good and all.
At sixteen, he had every physical deformity that the male creature undergoes during that transition from teenager to manhood. His skin looked like a moonscape. If it wasn't currently in a state of eruption due to chronic acne, the craters from previous eruptions were clearly apparent.
Being thirteen I was just starting to find an interest in boys and it never ceased to amaze me that this creature that I shared a home with, had drawn the interest of several females and the phone, which never stopped ringing for him, was constantly ignored by him with a resounding, 'I'm not here!' Especially from four to five o'clock, or 'Star Trek' time.
He looked like a caricature in person. Everything from the huge hands and feet, to the over sized nose, out of proportion to the rest of his body and exaggerated. He had a perpetual sinus condition that left him hawking and honking to the point that it made you nauseous to be in the same room with him longer than fifteen minutes, and never, ever, in my life did I think I would come to miss that sound. Until my older brother, mired in the turbulent throes of this critical juncture of his life, ran away from home.
My first clue that something was wrong, upon coming home from school one afternoon, was the fact that the family car was not parked in the driveway. My mother only drove it in a 'have to' situation, so the fact that the car was missing was alarming, at best. I found my younger sisters, subdued and quiet in the living room and my mother crying at the kitchen table. I went to my sister Judy for information.
"He stole the car and ran away!" She whispered, before I had a chance to open my mouth.
"Who do you THINK?"
Mom's audible sniff reminded us to talk in muted tones as we discussed the possible implications of this bizarre turn of events.
"How we gonna get to the grocery store with no car?" Little Dianne whispered.
"Why would he do such a thing?" Judy wanted to know.
Being the older sister, they looked to me for answers. Of which I had none.
I contemplated asking my mother, but as she sat poised to answer the phone on the first ring, I opted not to.
I merely found my place in Daddy's chair and sat waiting to see what was going to happen. At four o'clock, Judy and I sat staring woodenly at the television screen as The Bugs Bunny cartoon hour gave way to the Brady Bunch.
"Here's the story...of a lovely lady..."
Dianne, not knowing the seriousness of the situation, literally clapped her hands in glee, and I hushed her.
"Who was bringing up three very lovely girls..."
At this point Dianne chimed in with...'all of them had hair of gold, like their mother...'
It was all too foreign, and I didn't say a word as Judy got up and turned the television off.
"Hey....!" Dianne objected. A frown in her direction from both Judy and I, sent her packing, sulking, to the bedroom.
He was gone a week. A very long week and when he was found by the police, sleeping on a bench at a park in Temple Texas, sixty miles from home, he was brought home looking like he had lost ten pounds, his eyes scared and having a haunting quality to them that I will never forget. He had run out of money to buy gas, but his ultimate plan had been to get as far away from home as possible.
My sisters and I only learned snatches of details as we eavesdropped on Mom and Dad's whispered conversations, and my brother spent hours locked away in his room. It took weeks for things to return to normal, and to this day I don't know what possessed him to take such drastic measures, but I do know that even at my age, I saw something dramatically recognizable in his face, a misery so clear and obvious that it made me ache way down deep.
There was an invisible wall around him that couldn't have been more impenetrable had it been formed in concrete, but gradually he settled back in to his normal routine, and at three fifty nine p.m. every afternoon, he would come into the living room, all six foot and two inches of him, and somehow the opening strains to Star Trek had suddenly become a pleasant, reassuring sound, and I would tiptoe out of the room, carefully, quietly, and give him his space so that he could escape whatever demons he was dealing with, and have that one hour of fantasy that may have been the only thing standing between him and another foray into the hard, unforgiving world.
I was surprised to find that I was grateful that he had this one hour of peace, and never, did I ever think to give him any grief about it again, and to this day, the theme song to Star Trek causes an aching nostalgia in me that is both painful and sweet and will invariably make me think of my brother, and remind me to tread softly where my own kids are concerned, especially during these tremulous teenage years, as one never knows what lurks in the hearts of the young, and how frail the ties that bind them to us, can ultimately be.