You know what I always liked about my little brother? I don't either. Oh, he has one or two good qualities but somehow he manages to taint them one way or another. For instance, he's really smart but he can't seem to appreciate the line between being smart and being a smartass.
Here's an example: One day I got stuck on a trig problem and asked him if he could help me. He's one of those math whizzes so he saw the solution right away and showed me how to do it. I was just about to say 'thanks' when he added, "Of course, if you had a logical bone in your body you could have figured it out." I was immediately reminded of why I should never ask for his help. He gets way to much satisfaction out of slamming me. He's even a jerk to Mom and Dad sometimes, which is why he's grounded about six months out of the year.
He wasn't always that way. Up until about three years ago when he began going through puberty and his voice changed, he was really a sweet kid. He was helpful, worked hard, totally dependable. I've always heard that testosterone does strange things to otherwise civilized males but it must have awakened a 'nasty gene' in his brain.
Benny – formally Benjamin – is fifteen now. He prefers to say he's almost sixteen but if he doesn't get his act together, sixteen may be an unattainable goal. In spite of the fact that he's been growing like a weed, he manages to keep himself from looking like a six-foot long stick by working out every afternoon. He's still slim but his chest and arms are well developed making his female classmates giggle and drool whenever he's within pheromone range. Makes me want to gag.
There's a little over a year's difference in our ages. I guess our folks decided to get the family thing done in one quick flurry because right after Benny was born my dad got a vasectomy done. Or maybe he had some sort of prescient inkling of what he had just fathered and said, "Well, that's enough of that!"
I, of course have always been the perfect child. If you believe that, I wonder if I could interest you in a good deal on the Golden Gate Bridge. I went through all the foot stomping, crying, petulance and demands to be left alone all girls go through between the ages of twelve and sixteen. I once heard my dad tell my mom that life would be so much simpler if kids could be buried at twelve and dug up at twenty. I'm almost seventeen now and I'm over all that stuff. Mostly.
But recently, things changed between Benny and me. That's why I'm writing this narrative; to try to get my thoughts organized. So here's what happened:
Dad's younger brother died suddenly. I mean really suddenly at the age of thirty-eight. It couldn't have been too much of a surprise because I'd heard my dad say more than once that Greg – that was his brother's name – wouldn't live to be forty if he didn't find some way to get off the booze. Benny and I had never met him. He'd been invited to family events and holidays but it was his choice to live a solitary life on the streets. I always thought he must be mentally ill but Dad said he just didn't give a damn about anything.
Anyhow, Mom and Dad were going to fly back to St. Louis for his funeral and spend a few days with Grandma. They could see that Benny and I weren't terribly excited about going with them so they gave us the option of staying home with some very strict conditions attached. I know what you're thinking; no sane parents are going to turn their mortgaged house over to unsupervised fifteen and sixteen year old kids. Well, get a load of the conditions: 1) There would be absolutely no - count 'em, zero - guests in the house during their absence. 2) Any of three neighbors were to call them if they had even a hint that anything wasn't normal, like strange cars in the driveway. 3) Any infractions would result in loss of driving privileges for me and thirty days grounding for Benny. I didn't say anything but they should have threatened to burn the collection of dirty magazines hidden in his closet. That would have assured his compliance.
Two days later, they left for St. Louis and Benny and I left for school. That evening I thought I'd play the good little homemaker and cook a nice dinner for us. I grilled some salmon steaks and made rice pilaf and a nice salad. Benny's response? "I think I'll just have some cereal."
Well, I lost it. "Look here, you little shit! If you think I'm going to put up with your asinine, infantile behavior for the next five days, you are sadly mistaken! From now on I'd appreciate it if you would do your damnedest to stay completely out of my sight." I left everything on the table and stomped up to my room and slammed my door shut. I was so pissed I cried and that made me even angrier.
I didn't leave my room for the rest of the evening. After I finished my homework, I just curled up on my bed with a good book and some peaceful music playing in the background. I guess I drifted off to sleep because I was awakened about ten by a knock on my door. When I opened it, Benny was standing there looking kind of sheepish.
"What part of 'Stay out of my sight' don't you understand?"
"Uh, Gretchen, I'm sorry about what I said earlier. I don't know why I say things like that. Just habit, I guess."
"When I see you make some effort to change your habits, maybe I'll take your apology seriously." I shut the door in his face and went to bed.
The next morning I was a little bit surprised to see that he had cleaned up the kitchen. The food had been put into storage containers and the dishes had been washed and put away. I was appreciative but I wasn't being bought off that easily. One little glimmer of remorse didn't mean the leopard had changed his spots.
I had a quick breakfast and headed for the mall to meet a couple of girlfriends. It was Saturday so I didn't expect Lord Benjamin to stir his imperial body from his bed before noon. I almost left a note to remind him that Dad wanted the lawn mowed and trimmed but I changed my mind. Since encounters with my sibling usually got my blood to the boiling point, I decided that, for the next five days I would make it a point to have no encounters with him, verbal or written. He could sink or swim on his own.
Imagine my surprise when I pulled into the driveway three hours later and saw him mowing the lawn. It was a hot day so his nut-brown body was dressed in shorts and sneakers. He looked so good that I had to grudgingly admit that, if he weren't my butt of a brother, I'd have the hots for him.
He waved at me as I got out of my car but I ignored him and went into the house. I sat at the kitchen table and scanned the newspaper want ads for a part time job. Summer break would begin in two weeks and I needed to increase my cash flow. I was hoping to find something a little more interesting than flipping burgers at McDonalds.
Benny came in the back door and sat down across the table from me. I knew he was staring at me but I refused to meet his eyes.
I finally looked up at him and asked, "Meaning?"
"Meaning I'm sorry for the way I've been acting and I'll try to do better. Just don't freeze me out, OK?"
"Why would you even care? Did you have some epiphany illuminating the fact that you've been a total shit the last few years, or what?" I could be a major league bitch myself when I wanted to.
He looked hopelessly frustrated as he shook his head. "Look, Gretchen, I don't know why I do those things. It's like I can't stop myself. I've been reading this article on early adolescent behavior and I've run across a lot that strikes home. One thing I read is that when guys are trying to impress a girl, they sometimes do stuff that has the exact opposite effect. I can't believe some of the crap that comes out of my mouth when I'm trying to get a girl to notice me."
"OK, let me get this straight. You're saying you go out of your way to piss me off because you like me?"
"Well, yeah. Something like that, I guess."
"Sorry, Bro. That doesn't compute."
I started to get up from the table but he grabbed my arm. "Gretchen, please just sit down and talk to me. I know I'm not saying it right but try to help me out here. Please!"
I was about to slap his hand but I pulled up short when I saw that the kid actually had a tear running down his cheek. Slowly, I sat back down and he took his hand away.
"OK, Benny. Truce for the time being. Try again to tell me why you make such an effort to give me grief."
He took a deep breath and sighed. "It's hard to explain. Take last night for instance. When I saw that you had knocked yourself out to cook a nice dinner, what I really wanted to do was thank you and give you a big hug. But I'm afraid to do that so what came out instead was this rude, stupid comment about the cereal. As soon as it was out of my mouth, I was kicking myself for being such an asshole."
Now, I was confused. "Why would you be afraid to hug me? We're brother and sister for pete's sake."
He looked at his hands clasped in his lap and shook his head. His answer was barely audible. "Because I'm not supposed to feel the way I feel about you."
"I don't understand, Benny. How do you feel about me?"
It took a while before he answered and when he did, he couldn't look at me. The tears were back and he could barely keep from crying. "I love you."
"Well, I love you too, Benny, even thought you creep me out sometimes. Brothers and sisters are supposed to love each other. I figure sooner or later you're going to turn in to real person and it'll be a lot easier."
.... There is more of this story ...