Updated: May 17
When my mom broke up with her boyfriend, I was at an age where it wasn’t “cool” to spend all my time at the Boys & Girls Club. I would lobby my mom to let me and my brother stay home alone. I had become really good at bribing her with housework. I probably missed weeks of school, calling in sick and offering to clean different rooms while she worked. She couldn’t refuse; it was her weakness. So I became the new babysitter.
What I hadn’t realized at the time was I had experienced a mental shift. I had zero control with so much going on around me. I started acting out, and the unfortunate target was primarily my younger brother.
Becoming my brother's boss and bully
He was at an age that really annoyed me as much as he annoyed my mother’s ex-boyfriend. And considering she never intervened between those two (that I’m aware of), I was pretty confident that she wouldn’t come to his aid with me either. I was also tired of feeling a sense of responsibility for this 7-year-old. In my fifth and sixth grade years, I abused him both physically and mentally. The guilt I feel from this is still immensely heavy. I had emotionally taken on the struggles he wrestled with in adulthood. In my mind, I would reconcile the things I did do as normal sibling rivalry. But as I grew older, I realized how out of line I was.
It would range from pinning him down and then letting spit drip close to his face before sucking it back in. I’d pull his hair when he didn’t do what I said or I didn’t like something he did (like shaving his head). I forced him to complete chores that I had bribed my mom to do in order to stay home. I would threaten physical force, push him around, pin him down, smack the backside of his head or punch his arms. He had zero chance against me. He would be playing a video game, and I would turn the machine off in the middle of it. I would even “steal” the TV from him to turn it to the channel I wanted.
Sibling rivalry versus my mother, the savior
He would complain to my mom, and to my surprise, she did try to set up a solution to help him. (Again, I pondered on why this wasn’t the case when her boyfriend was mistreating my brother.) The first was that when I did those things, he should call her. That was an easy one to overcome. I would just physically block him from getting near a phone where he could call. That led to my mom instructing him to lock himself in his room until she got home. When he would do that, my anger and need to control the situation would surge.
I would physically sit outside of his door, taunting him for hours. He was stuck with the unfortunate scenario of knowing I was going to be right there to take my anger out on him if he needed to come out for something as common as using the restroom. That later evolved in my mom putting a phone, TV and gaming system in his room so he had fun things to do and could call her without me stopping him. Of course, I would try to physically block him from running to his room. When he did, that controlling anger would creep up again.
I would race to the other phone in the house to beat him to the call, and take the other phone off the hook so he couldn’t dial out. I’d find myself still angry that he was locked away where I couldn’t reach him and able to watch TV or play games. That’s when I introduced myself to the circuit breaker. It didn’t take long to figure out which one turned off the electricity to the back of the house. I would sit in the living room watching TV loudly, just so he knew I had bested him. To this day, my family will repeat those stories at holiday gatherings as if it’s hilarious. However, I think it had long-lasting emotional tolls for both myself and my brother.
I’ve had extended conversations with my brother, who later lived with me for about a full year sometime between 2009–2011. I’ve apologized. My brother does not like conflict, is relatively quiet and is uncomfortable with emotional conversations. I’ve watched him over the years when my mom or dad have tried to apologize for aspects of our childhood, and he will deny reality to make them feel better: “You were a GREAT dad! That didn’t bother me.” Meanwhile, I know he felt the opposite of his words. He has a habit of jumping over himself to cut off intense conversations and shuts down by refuting whatever situation that someone tries to reconcile with him. For that reason, I’ve never believed him when he’s told me that I’m forgiven, that it wasn’t that bad and that it didn’t have a lasting impact.