Family legend tells the tale of how my brother prophesized my gender at the wise age of three. He went with my mother to her obstetrician appointment, and as the doctor rubbed a cold goopy substance around on my mom’s abdomen with a magic wand that made fuzzy alien pictures appear on a tiny monitor, she announced that I was a boy. The doctor turned to my brother and asked eagerly, “Are you excited to have a baby brother to play with?!” My brother turned from the strange image on the screen and glared at her defiantly. He put his chunky little three and half year old fists on his hips and proclaimed emphatically, “I’m having a baby sister!” As it turns out, he was right.
For the rest of my childhood I would hear this story told over and over and over again, and I would think of it whenever things like remote controls, dice, marbles, textbooks and scissors were being hurled across the room and aimed very intentionally at my head. I would think of it when I was shoved against the wall, chased around the house with knives or a gun and locked in a closet for hours. I would think of it while being held down and spit on, when my toys were dismembered and every. single. time. he told me I was worthless, ugly and stupid. I would remember that before I was born he wanted me, he demanded I exist, and I would wonder what I had done wrong. Why didn’t he want a baby sister now?
In my child brain, I concluded that the problem was me. I must try harder to be perfect, so I tried harder, but I was never perfect enough. I learned to walk in his shadow and to expect less of others and more of myself.
Then one day he changed. He stopped threatening me, he stopped breaking my things on purpose, and he even acquiesced to taking me to school, almost on time-ish. I received my first referral in 9th grade because I was over fifteen minutes late everyday for two weeks in a row. The little girl me didn’t mind though because she thought she had found her brother.
But then things got really weird. That he was no longer angry was a small consolation. He never apologized. He never felt sorry. He took what he wanted and felt entitled to have it.
The little girl didn’t understand. She only knew that her soul was dying, meekly whimpering GO! Go! goooo! So she left. Slowly she headed north, because she was lost and it was the most upwardly direction she knew of, and she kept moving until, as her mother points out, she traveled as far north as she could without leaving the contiguous United States. She dreamed of moving to Alaska.
The little girl, who thought if she was perfect enough the brother from the story who willed her into being, would come back and love her, eventually grew up. She dated men who were much older than her. She dated men who were too intense, who scared her when they got angry, and she would grow still and silent. She had friendships with men with poor boundaries, who would touch her without asking because she didn’t know how to tell them not to. She learned. The hard way. She made friends with men who loved her appropriately, who could control their anger, who never told her she was stupid or ugly or worthless.
She is still learning.
She will never have the brother from the story, he no longer exists, and perhaps he never did. That the tyrant, whose rule she spent her formative years living under, turned out to be a paranoid schizophrenic may explain his behavior, but it does not excuse her suffering. It will never be okay. It will never be okay.
There is only moving on, moving forward.
A decade later she will walk into a house and find her brother sitting on a couch. She will feel nothing. Not sad or happy. Not angry or afraid. He will just be a man sitting on a couch in her family’s house. She will realize she has found north, that she has found a way to move forward and come home.