As I mentioned in My Faith Journey, Part 1, my older brother (one year older) was off-the-charts-hyperactive, so much so that my parents put him in a boys home for nine months when he was just eleven years old. I promised to blog about this further in a future blog, so this is it.
The fact that my parents voluntarily put him in a home for boys should be very telling – it’s hard to overstate the significance of this. Despite only being ten years old, I was very aware that this made our family and my brother distinctly different – I didn’t know of any other families who had done the same thing.
My Mom broke the news about my brother going to the home one-on-one to me and to help explain to me why this was happening she told me that my brother had something wrong with his brain. She held me in her arms as I sobbed, processing my grief that my brother had some kind of brain impairment. Soon after, I was crying on my own about this and my brother asked me why I was crying so I told him what my Mom had said about his brain. He said “I do? It doesn’t feel like there’s anything wrong with my brain” as he probed his head. He went and asked my Mom about it and she told me in front of him that she had never said anything of the sort. Seriously Mom?
Anyway, what drove my faithful LDS parents to voluntarily put one of their own children whom they loved under the 24/7 care of a non-LDS institution? It had to have been something profoundly significant, because my parents were generally good LDS members trying to do the right thing. We went to all our church meetings, had regular Family Home Evening, went on family vacations, served at the local church welfare projects, spoke in faithful LDS terms and concepts, lived the Word of Wisdom, had a big happy family (or so I thought), and everything else.
My brother had an intense drive for stimulation that was practically insatiable, and he got it however he could find it. He was generally out of control and my parents couldn’t get a handle on it. At least that’s how they understood it at the time. He could trigger my Dad at the blink of an eye and he and my Dad argued and “fought” like cats and dogs. My Mom broke a wooden spoon on him once. Once he even got in a kind of fight with my Mom and she tried to grab him but he was too quick and darted away leaving my Mom spinning and losing her balance.
Here’s a memorable example: We had a heavy duty ceiling fan in the kitchen of our old mansion home which was crucial for comfort because we had no air conditioning. So for entertainment one day he threw his shoe up in the blades to see what would happen (he did a lot of “to see what would happen”). I just watched, always careful not to get between him and his entertainment. He laughed with glee as the fan blades shot the shoe at some unexpected angle around the kitchen and knocked whatever thing off the countertops or table. So he did it again. And again. And again. Until one of the fan blades broke off. And this was AFTER he had been in the boys home for nine months.
But what my brother spent most of his time and energy on getting entertainment from was me. I was his go to entertainment. It wasn’t fun for me. It took me five decades to understand what our daily fights were really about and I finally realized it was this: I didn’t like being a shoe for him to throw up into the fan blades, i.e., I didn’t want to be his entertainment toy. When I couldn’t take it anymore – and my fuse got shorter and shorter over time – I’d stick up for myself and that’s how the fights always started.
If this sounds like it was just a typical case of brothers fighting (i.e., boys will be boys), then I’m still not getting my point across. My brother actually enjoyed the fights while I hated them. Let me put it this way: when my brother died in his early 30’s, leaving behind a wife and three young children, in the midst of my grief and shock at his passing I also felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. Although there was a part of me that loved my brother – the part that cried when my Mom told me there was something wrong with his brain – there was another part that felt relieved knowing that I would never have to face my tormenter again even though we were adults and hadn’t fought physically for at least 15 years.
Going back, in between fights (which wasn’t long) and when he wasn’t in need of so much stimulation he would engage me as if nothing had ever been wrong between us. This always felt weird and was kind of puzzling to me. Only recently did I realize that the fights never bothered him in the first place but that he actually enjoyed them because they gave him so much juicy stimulation. I hated them and he loved them. Because he was older and stronger he was never really concerned about the outcome. I can’t think of one single fight in which I ever got the best of him. Which explains why he would move on about our fights while I was harboring more and more resentment. The everyday fights went on for well over a decade.
I didn’t realize it as a child, but there was also a lot of resentment building inside me toward those in my family who had the ability to intervene on my behalf, but weren’t – specifically my parents and older siblings. As a kid, I thought that part of the reason my parents sent my brother to a boys home was to protect me. But while my brother was constantly in conflict with my parents, it didn’t seem like those conflicts ever had much to do with his treatment of me. Connecting those dots led me as an adult to conclude that sending him to the boy’s home had nothing at all to do with protecting me. In other words, if my brother had treated me just as he had but my parents hadn’t had the same level of challenges with him, that they never would have sent him off. So to test my conclusion I asked my father recently why they sent him and he gave me the answer I expected: it was because they couldn’t control him and it really had nothing to do with me.
So why was there so little intervention on my behalf? I’ll address this question in future blogs and show how my Emotion Journey is intertwined with My Faith and My Pain journeys. But in the meantime, I hope the source of the anger I acquired as a child and plagued me throughout my life is starting to become evident. Remember this: I didn’t choose it – it chose me.