Don’t Hit My Sister, That’s My Job

When I was a kid my family lived way out in the country and my brothers and I had a ninety-minute bus ride to school. I always sat in front because I was one of the youngest. I dreaded the stop a few miles away from home where this kid Danny got on the bus, because he would pick on me the rest of the way to school. After a couple of years of constant bullying, one morning he said, “Want to be my pal?” I had no idea what had suddenly changed his mind about me, but I was thrilled that he finally wanted me to be his friend, so I eagerly said yes. Then he said, “Okay, Personal Ass Licker!” I was only eight. I was shocked, and felt ashamed to have fallen for such a dirty trick. Danny smirked at me as he found his way to the back of the bus where the older kids sat. Fortunately for me, also in the back of the bus were my older brothers. Dean, the middle kid and four years my senior, had overheard what Danny had said, and asked Don, older yet by eighteen months, to have a little chat with Danny once they got to school. I have no idea what transpired, but I never had another problem with Danny after that.

My brothers and I have always had a close bond of protectiveness. All I had to do was say the word, and I no longer had to worry about being bullied on the school bus, walking anywhere by myself, or having no one to play with. We could always figure out something to do, even if it was stupid. We used to see if we could beat the garage door by riding our bikes really fast and sliding under, bike and all, at the last minute. We stopped doing that when I got stuck under the door and the boys spent two hours trying to get me out, then taking the blame when Mom got home. During the winter, the boys and I would pile triple-decker-style on our Radio Flyer to see if we could make it around the curve at the bottom of the hill near our house. Invariably, I would fly off because I was the smallest and on the top. They’d pick me up and dust me off, and we’d try again.

When Don was old enough, my parents would sometimes go out and leave him in charge. He hated being our babysitter, so he would disappear with his friends, leaving Dean and me to fend for ourselves. On one such occasion, Dean and I were playing with the neighbor kids on a rope swing that was hanging from a really tall ponderosa pine. Dean pushed me extra high and I jumped, landing on my elbow and breaking my arm. I don’t know how Dean got ahold of Don, but Don did exactly the right thing: he laid me down on his own bed and kept my arm immobile with ice on it, staying right there with me until my parents got home and took me to the hospital.

During my teenage years, when I was being bullied a lot (see my article “An Open Letter to My Eighth Grade Self”), Dean would detour from his walk home from the high school to meet me at the junior high so I wouldn’t have to walk home alone. Later, when he got his driver’s license, he would pick me up from school in his 1964 Buick Skylark that he refers to now as “hell on wheels.” He put a killer stereo in it and used to drive around with Boston and Styx blaring as loud as possible. It was so impressive that I couldn’t wait for him to show all those junior high kids just who they were messing with.

Especially into my late teens and early twenties, Dean and I were practically inseparable. We would spend hours cruising all over town just talking, or hanging out at his apartment. Don was in the Marines for much of this time, so Dean and I grew especially close. We told each other everything, troubleshooting problems like we were each others’ therapist. We also hosted some legendary Halloween parties.

One time, Dean asked me to cut his hair and, since it was the ‘90s, he wanted one of those bi-level fades. I figured it wouldn’t be too hard, as long as I could keep the razor in line. I had just started the haircut when the phone rang. It was Dean’s girlfriend, but I figured I could still cut his hair while he was on the phone. I was starting to do the back line when Dean laughed suddenly, throwing his head back right into the razor blade. BZZT! Oops! I accidentally shaved a spot clear to the skin. I tried to fix it, but he ended up looking like a third-stage cancer patient. He finally had to shave himself completely bald and wear a hat for a month until his hair grew back. He still gives me a hard time about that…but it was really his fault. Not mine, his.

We did all sorts of things together. We built and flew model rockets, worked on his engine and stereo system, and went to lots of movies. At the time, there was a drive-in just a few blocks from Dean’s house, so we piled into his pickup on the weekends and saw every movie that played there. The last movie ever at that theater was The Lion King, which we saw at least five times. It’s still his favorite Disney movie.

After I got married, my husband and I moved across town, and Dean and I saw much less of each other. I ended up introducing him to my boss at my summer job, and they hit it off so well they got married about two years later. We hung out as couples for a few years, but because we all have full-time jobs, it’s hard to keep as close as we used to be, especially in the last decade as Dean’s kids have gotten older. In our hearts, we’re just close as ever, but since we don’t spend as much time together anymore, it’s hard to renew those bonds which were forged so strongly when we were young. Yet it is these bonds that give us strength when we need it most.

Don, with whom I wasn’t too close as a kid because of the gap in our ages, has become much closer to me in recent years. He comes over at least once a week, and we talk almost every day. Even now, when Don and I do online fantasy-game quests together, I’ll hear him tell some monster, “Leave my sister alone!” which makes us both chuckle. It’s nice to build a closer bond with him now that we’re older and our age difference doesn’t matter, but we both miss Dean’s close involvement in our lives.

My brothers and I are still fiercely protective of one another. We celebrate our triumphs, and we cry together when we lose someone. When one of us is weak, the others supply the support needed to bring him or her back to rights. No matter how much we screw up or feel like we’ve failed, we will always love one another unconditionally. They both supported me when I was at some of the lowest points of my life. Maybe it’s time for me to return the favor.