There is a faint scar under my left eyebrow. It is becoming more pronounced as I age and most visible in the early morning after waking. It is reminding me that scars age, too, as remnants, symbols of the past pressing deeper into the skin, refusing to be hidden.
I am a child. My brother, three years older, is angry at me. I am not sure if it is something I did or if he is sick of my presence as his shadow. Again. The full ingredients that are clear? No adult supervision; our ground zero. Anger. A paintbrush thrown at me with force enough to break the skin over bone. Pain. Blood. Tears. A disembodied voice saying afterwards: “Lucky.” “Could have been the eye.” Only these crumbs of episodic memory have survived across the decades. In the same timeframe, my brother has become a stranger, only our birth roles as siblings lingering. Now I wonder: Who was the lucky one, again?
These days my brother and I text, “Happy Birthday” and “Merry Christmas” with the additional safe words, “Hope your family…” and “Take care.” Before texting overtook phone calls as our primary mode of communication, we would call each other on our birthdays, and at least hear each other’s voice shape and sound the words. Occasionally, we’d digress in content, but never too far. Darkness lived, pulled at the edges of the perfunctory.
The last time he called me, his voice was soft from alcohol. After the niceties, tears joined the softness. My brother seems to only have access to our shared history and related emotions after a few beers. “I’m so sorry. I should have killed him. I’m so sorry for leaving you there alone.”
This is the fourth brief, guilt-ridden apology I’ve received from my four, older siblings in 45 years. My siblings had all gotten away from “him.” They left me behind, at age 12, in a five-year exile with my mother and her abusive, ex-Marine partner. None of them have ever asked what happened in those years. They didn’t want to know, because they knew. Or at least they could all imagine, having already lived through the prior six years together.
Hearing my brother’s suffering laced through his tears made me sad, followed quickly by a wave of empathy. These responses have always led in moments when the past comes up raw and unbidden between any of us. I have always rationalized that my siblings, then ages 15…