In January of 1967 Jim Morrison taunted us to Break On Through to the Other Side, and so I did. It wasn’t the intent of the lyrics, I know, but I’ve always thanked my own kids for choosing me as a mother, as if there is a moment on the other side when they had this option. I imagine that they saw me in my entirety- caught on an unknown camera, no filter or smile for the masses. Laughing, loving, cursing, screaming. Perhaps there was some recognition that there was enough to work with and that I would be molded into the best I’ve ever been. Applying the same understanding to my own birth implies that I saw the most positive traits in my parents and chose them to be in my life. From my father I got my wit, my brains and my laugh and from my mother, my heart, my speed and my sense of humor. I thank them for these gifts, as they are the characteristics in myself that I like the most. My most salient trait however, my strength, is from neither. That one is my own.
The war in Vietnam was escalating and Eddie Van Halen was celebrating his 12th birthday somewhere in the Netherlands on the day I was born. There was a huge snowstorm in Missoula and Mom barely made it to the hospital in time due to the storm and her inability, despite multiple attempts, to summon Dad from a poker game. He was winning and didn’t want to leave. Of course in 1967, they did not know my gender until I was born and both were excited to have a girl. Mom and Dad had fallen into a routine and the initial shock of being married with children had subsided. Mom was less nervous, just slightly, and had gained the confidence that she could do this mothering thing. Dad was less shocked at the announcement of my arrival and awarded me a warmer reception than he had my brother. Birth order theory would describe the middle child as receiving the least amount of attention from the family but this just wasn’t the case. As my parents became more familiar with and accepting of their roles and responsibilities, me as their second benefitted greatly. Mom describes me very differently than my older sibling. She says I was happy, confident and secure. I suspect that comes with being a known quantity, and due to the fact that Mom and Dad were both able to show me affection more freely.
The inequity of attention and affections did not go unnoticed and ended up creating huge conflicts between my older brother and myself throughout our lives. Mom tried to draw Jerry in and make him feel more secure in the new arrangement with a new baby, but she just didn’t know how. Jerry saw Dad oozing affection toward me and jumped up into his lap, on top of me, to receive a little for himself but he was scolded and told to get down. My birth increased the distance between Jerry and Dad and added to Jerry’s insecurities. Understandably, Jerry harbored a deep-seated resentment toward Dad and at times, bitterness toward me. We fought hard as Jerry easily targeted me as the source of his anger and I was easier to take on than Dad. I learned to fight and would use any advantage I could, usually in the form of sabotage, as the physical advantage was clearly Jerry’s.
Our fighting was very physical, not unlike two brothers, and usually ended with me being physically restrained or overpowered by my much larger brother. I learned to take a punch and Jerry taught me to always move forward and make the first move. He taught me how to punch with the force of my weight and not swing like a girl. It was helpful with later altercations but never benefitted me when I fought with Jerry as he was so much bigger and stronger. If I wanted any advantage, I would have to rely on a surprise attack and then get the hell out of the room as quickly as I could. I drew on my extensive cartoon knowledge and fell undetected from trees, quietly hung at the top of narrow hallways for the drop down, balanced buckets of water atop doors and perfectly timed Jerry’s approach around corners with a board to the gut. My victories were usually short lived as Jerry was faster than me and would catch me if I didn’t get a fair enough start. I became like Cato Fong trying anything to get a piece of Jerry. It was a vicious cycle; we would fight, I would be overpowered and I would plan my revenge attack, which would start another fight. This is how we lived.
One late night Jerry came stumbling in. He was only in the 8th grade but because no one was keeping tabs on him, he basically did whatever he wanted. We had fought earlier in the day and I was unwilling to let it end with his physical victory. I decided my revenge would take the form of a modern day tar and feather so I poured a full bottle of syrup on his sheets, sprinkled it with a box of Corn Flakes and lightly covered the concoction with a blanket. The excitement of hearing Jerry scream as he fell on top of the crunchy mess was blanketed by the anxiety from his response. Both emotions flooded my veins with adrenaline and I ran to Mom’s bedroom for protection.
We lived with this bizarre dynamic for most of our lives. I got tough and learned to fight, characteristics that would benefit me later. There was never any question as to who the real culprit was and we would band together in tight unity, forgetting all grudges to defend each other.