Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Cause for Celebration
The past few months, and especially the past few weeks, have been a difficult time in my life, marred so much by pain, by failure, by the demons of abuse and illness. On May 12, however, there occurred something worth celebrating: Thomas's seventeenth birthday.
"Hey, dude, I'm making some eggs. You want to get down on this?"
That's how my brother greeted me on the morning he turned seventeen, when he came down from the second floor and I came up from the basement at around ten o'clock.
"Yeah, sure," I answered. "Have at it."
This easy camaraderie has been a happiness to me in the years since I graduated high school, and is all the more surprising given the level of antipathy he and I had towards one another during my own teen years. I see now, though, what I couldn't see at fourteen: that most children have goodness in them, that Thomas was no exception, and that a lot of his spitefulness and acting out came from parents who alternately overindulged and severely disciplined him. That kind of thing could mix anyone up.
Around the time that our boorish, bullying brother Powell really started to spin off the rails, driving the eldest and youngest siblings together as the middle one was cleaved out, I made a decision: I would treat Thomas with decency and respect and see what happened.
The effect that had on our relationship is a testament to the extraordinary powers of basic kindness.
Thomas regards me highly now, more highly even than he regards our parents. And I love him.
Watching him mature into a sweet and affable young man, to whom amicability and, when he makes mistakes, contrition, come with equal quickness, has been one of the greatest joys of my young adulthood. He is flawed, to be sure, and given to many of the pitfalls common among seventeen-year-olds, but already in him there is a level of moral self-awareness that neither Powell nor my father ever achieved.
I saw a very tangible demonstration of this about six months ago.
Thomas and I had both been waiting to use the shower, and I'd decided to let him go first on the grounds that he'd be quicker than me. This mass of hair takes time to wash, after all. He only asked that I allow him to finish some chores before he took his turn.
I was initially okay with this, but when half an hour passed I called up the stairs.
"Thomas! I'm just going to get in. You're taking too long."
"No!" he shouted back. "Do not get in! You'll use up all the hot water. I'm seriously almost done. I'll jump in in a minute."
After another thirty minutes was gone, I'd had enough.
"Thomas!" I yelled again. "It's been an hour! This is ridiculous!"
"Can you just fucking wait!" he called down. "Holy shit!"
I stopped, taken aback by the explosion of disrespect, before finding my wits a moment later.
"Oh, you're not talking to me that way," I responded. "I'm going now."
"I'll talk to you however the fuck I want!" he called after me.
I didn't reply, though. There's no use in reasoning with a person when they're that inflamed. Instead I just went down the stairs, turned on the water, and enjoyed a nice long lathering in my bathroom. When I walked into the kitchen a while later I regarded Thomas coldly and proceeded to pour a glass of soda without any verbal acknowledgement of what had happened.
Before I could ignore him for more than a moment, though, he fell on me in a hug.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I wanted to shoot my dick off as soon as I said it."
I suppressed a laugh at his choice of words and, after pushing away, stared back at him with all the seriousness appropriate to the situation.
"That's fine," I said. "I'm not mad. But it is unacceptable for you to talk to me like that. I never speak to you that way."
"I know," he said. "I was totally out of line."
"Okay," I said. "It's alright, then."
That was it. And there hasn't been an incident since.
So, yes, I worry for Thomas. He's demonstrated some poor decision-making skills and exhibited a level of apathy toward academics that rings hauntingly similar to Powell. But I hope for him as well. I hope for him because he respects the people who respect him; because he takes ownership of his ethical infractions; and because for all the eye-rolling he displays when I bring up the SATs, I think he really does want to go to college.
Hope and worry epitomize my feelings towards this seventeen-year-old brother. I see so many stepping stones he could take but so many cracks he could fall through as well. If he wants it, if he works for it, there's a place for him to find fulfillment and success in this world.
I'll do everything I can to help him get there.