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Monday, April 26, 2010

REVELATIONS

Growing up, I never wanted to admit the thought in the back of my mind that Danny was my parent’s favorite. Yes, I wet the bed until I was about eleven, or twelve years old and every time I tried to play football in the backyard with my father and brother my heart would go into tachycardia and I would say, “I’m having a heart attack!” My father would reply, “Oh you’re just a sissy, a crybaby, kids don’t have heart attacks.” I was only about eight at the time what else did I know to tell them? I hate, loath, and despise, the sound of a football game on television even now because I knew as a kid if I paused for half a second to look at one my dad was watching on TV he’d have me out in the backyard in a football helmet and shoulder pads. Somewhere there is an old black and white Christmas photo of Danny and me in our new football gear. I remember being so disappointed when we opened our presents, I’d much rather have had a Barbie, or an Easy Bake oven.

I still thought that if I behaved and was a “good boy” and made good grades in school I could win out over Danny who never studied, got bad grades, and was even held back in the third grade. The very thought of failing a grade was just unthinkable to me. Looking back I realize that maybe the real reason I got good grades and could read on a ninth grade level when I was in the fifth grade was because I could get the attention and praise from my teachers that I never got at home. Danny got attention with his grades, but not the good kind. I remember once when he was about thirteen my father was screaming at him at the dinner table about his grades and Danny just sat there crying. This was about the third night in a row of my father’s bullying and I’d had enough. I screamed, “Why can’t you just leave him alone? You make him cry every night and he can’t even eat his dinner, just shut up!” You could hear a pin drop after I said it, but that was the last time I remember my little brother crying at the dinner table.

Danny and I were often each others only companions. We moved so much that we had to make new friends often and that wasn’t always easy. In the 1965-66 school years we changed schools three times. We fought constantly over anything and everything, crossing the imaginary line in the back seat of the car, or in our shared bed was enough to get us going, but if anyone ever touched my brother they had hell to pay coming from me. I was such a frady cat and frightened by the skeleton I thought was under our bed that I crowded him because I wanted to be out of reach of that ever threatening boney hand. When we saw a movie about Lon Chaney Jr. with a scar on his hand shaped like an X turning into a werewolf, he took a ball point pen and put an X on his palm and said, “You see this? If you crowd me in bed tonight I’m going to turn into a werewolf.” That night I watched him sleep being very careful not to touch him to see if I could see any hair growing on his face.

He witnessed the beatings I got from my mother some mornings when she’d wake me by ripping the covers off slapping and hitting me, while yelling, “You like sleeping in that warm piss, don’t you, don’t you?” I’d head to the bathroom for a bath, crying the whole time and walk to school feeling dirty and worthless. Years later we discovered what my parent’s already knew. My maternal grandfather was a bed wetter and so was my father. Why didn’t they tell me that? When Danny found out his son was a bed wetter too he told my mother, “I’ll never make him feel the way you made Sammy feel.” Mother told me about it and said, “I can’t believe he said something like that to me.” I said, “I’m glad he did, maybe now you understand just how much you hurt me.” Often when we played childhood make believe games Danny wanted to be a super hero like “Superman” or “Popeye” and since it was just the two of us I was glad to play “Lois Lane” or “Olive Oyl”. He never told my parents because he knew it would get me in trouble and cause them to call me names.

Danny knew just how to work my parents while I was cautioned about taking care of my clothes because we couldn’t afford any more. I caught him deliberately dragging the toe of his boots on the sidewalk when we lived in Germany. I said, “Danny stop doing that, you’ll ruin your boots.” “I don’t care, I hate these boots and I want to ruin them so I can get another pair.” he said. Every year we were over there my mother would order our clothes from the Sears, Montgomery Ward, or J.C. Penny catalogues. I guess he noticed that mother never sent anything back if it didn’t fit because each day he wore a new outfit to school he’d come home take his clothes off, throw them in a pile at the foot of his bed and say, “I’m not wearing those anymore cause they itch me.” After mother ordered him another entire wardrobe and when it arrived in the mail he suddenly picked up everything and hung it in his closet. He then had twice the amount of school clothes that I had. If mother asked him to do chores around the house he would fuck things up so badly she’d never ask him to do it again. Once she told him to start the dishwasher while she and I went to the store. When we walked in the front door there were soap suds three feet high spilling from the kitchen into the living room. We were out of Cascade, so he used Joy in the dishwasher instead. It took mother and me two hours to clean up the mess and the dishes all had to be washed by hand to get the soap crust off them. Yes, he was dumb alright, dumb like a Fox.

As we got older in our teens the fights were less frequent, but more intense when they did happen. I had to work after school to earn the money to pay for my school clothes, car, gas, and lunch, while he never worked because he had football practice. My parents bought their first movie camera and projector not to take film of my baby sister, but to take movies of his football games. He ate like a pig to put on weight and outweighed me by at least twenty pounds by the time I was sixteen. I would look at his clothes in a sweaty pile on the floor of our room only to discover he’d worn a new white pair of my briefs to football practice and now they were so dirty and stretched out, no amount of washing could ever get them clean again. One day mother and I were pulling up in front of our house, I saw him squatting down changing a tire on one of the cars wearing one of my favorite shirts. I got so mad I got out of the car, walked over, grabbed the shirt by the back of the collar and ripped it off him. It ruined the shirt of course, but I made my point. I’d worked hard for those fucking clothes and he had no right wearing and ruining them.

When mother told me I’d have to move out of the house at nineteen because they couldn’t afford me even though I was working full time for her for no pay, I was hurt to go back home once to discover one of Danny’s football buddies living with them and mother making breakfast for them both. When I confronted her about it she said, “Mike lives out in the country and it’s easier for him to live here and go to school than to make that long drive.” When I asked, “What about money? You said you couldn’t afford me.” She said, “Oh his mother gives me eggs from their farm to help.” Eggs? A fucking couple dozen eggs was enough to live under my parent’s roof. What the fuck was up with that?

Relatives made an occasional comment regarding my parent’s partiality to my brother. My aunt Agnes commented on a trip my mother was going to make out to Monahans and couldn’t come until Saturday, “Your mother and father can’t go anywhere because they live for Danny’s football games and he’s not really as good as they think he is.” My mother’s sister once said, “Yes, Danny is their little fair haired athlete.” My seventh grade girlfriend’s mother later told me, “You know I always resented the way your mother told you to have the house cleaned up before we got home from shopping, while Danny was out in the yard playing.” That was when I began to realize what I was trying to keep in the back of my mind all those years was really true and everyone seemed to know it even if I didn’t want to admit it myself.

While I was trying to scratch out a living in Odessa and having to rent a room in my cousin’s trailer house my great uncle said something about Danny totaling his Oldsmobile. I asked, “What Oldsmobile? Mother and Daddy haven’t owned an Oldsmobile since 1952.” He said something about a black 442 and I was so certain he was wrong I called mother and asked her about it. There was a long pause and she said, “I didn’t want to mention it because Danny was so upset about it, but we did buy him one and he wrecked it.” Turns out they had bought him a used one and he rolled it four times three days later and mother had forgotten to call her insurance company to have the car added to their policy. She only got around it by calling them and lying, telling them she’d traded her Mercury for it, so they would cover the replacement cost. I was livid because here I was struggling to make ends meet, but I was hurt too because they’d never done anything like that for me.

Danny wasn’t totally thoughtless. The Christmas I was home after my doomed stint in the Air Force he came home one day with a stack of albums. They were those awful acid rock groups that I hated. As I worked my way down expressing my disgust for each one at the bottom of the stack was the brand new album “Mahogany” by Diana Ross. I stopped because I was truly speechless and he said, “Merry Christmas! I had to chase some black girl around the store for it, but I managed to get it away from her.” It was the only Christmas present he ever bought me and I still have it.

By 1974 my parent’s five year old Mercury had cratered on them and despite money being tight they somehow managed to buy a new dark blue 1974 Plymouth Fury. Danny was without a car again, either because he’d wrecked his, or destroyed the engine I can’t remember. He was constantly drag racing the Plymouth even my mother could tell by the sound when he’d turn the top of the air cleaner over to make it run faster. After his friend Mike got drunk and threw up in it mother would still let him drive it. One night a girl at a dance backed into the right rear door and Danny refused to tell them who’d done it because the girl cried and he wanted to be a hero. He would have rather my financially strapped parents have to scrape together the money to have it fixed than to tell on the girl. Mother told him he wasn’t going to be allowed to drive the car anymore and he said, “Fine, then I won’t babysit Stacy anymore.” and he refused to back down. Mother said, “I just can’t believe your brother is acting this way.” She finally tricked one of his friends into telling her who hit the car, so she could call her parent’s and get their insurance to fix it.

As the years went by and I was busy making good money in Midland he joined the Coast Guard, married, then moved to Puerto Rico and later to New Orleans. I didn’t see him very often except maybe once or twice at my parents for Christmas. My heart problems became worse as I got older and I’d begun to have blackout spells and once I went completely blind while driving home from a wake for a friend. I decided to stop messing around and I insisted my cardiologist send me for more tests where they discovered I had WPW. Then in October, 1987 I was scheduled for open heart surgery in Houston to try and repair my Wolf Parkinson White syndrome. The first one was on the 30th, and it didn’t work, so they rolled me back into the operating room on the 31st, to do it again. The plan was for my mother to stay at my brother’s house in Conroe and drive her mother’s Cadillac while her mother stayed with her sister in Tomball. On the way there my grandmother made a left turn in front of an eighteen wheeler and was partially thrown out of her car and had a broken collar bone, so not only was the Cadillac destroyed, but she was in a hospital in Tomball. Needless to say there was a lot of stress on my mother. Danny came up to the hospital to wait for me to go into surgery and I kidded him about being an East Texas redneck because he was dipping snuff. Then he kept sitting there letting out long exasperating sighs like he wanted to be somewhere else. I said, “Will you please stop doing that? I’m nervous enough already.” I didn’t realize I’d pissed him off, but after I went into the operating room he told my mother she couldn’t use his car to drive back and forth from his house to visit my grandmother and me and he left. When the doctor came out and told my mother I was alright, she burst into tears. The doctor said, “Mrs. Fowler, your son is just fine.” Her sister had to tell him, “Oh, she’s just under a lot of stress right now. After my mother called my father at work, he was the captain of the Big Spring police department and told him what Danny had done. My father immediately took of work and drove to Conroe where he had every intention of whipping my brother’s ass. That night while my parent’s were at his house he didn’t come home until way after they’d gone to bed after he saw my father’s white 1988 GMC truck in the driveway. My father went back home the next day after one of my cousin’s drove down from Dallas and offered to drive mother anywhere she needed to go. Less than two months later in December mother and I had to fly to Toronto and then drive a rented Pontiac to London, Ontario where I had to have another open heart surgery at the University Hospital. When I picked mother up the night before at their home in Sand Springs, my father walked around to the back of the house instead of going back inside because my aunts Ruby and Agnes were there. He had his head down and was crying. Mother told me he’d said, “If that boy dies, I’m not calling his brother.” I was afraid of dying myself, but the first two surgeries hadn’t been that bad. That time I was in surgery for eleven and a half hours the others had only been two hours. The doctor wouldn’t come out and tell mother anything. We later found out that every time they tried to take me off the heart and lung machine my heart would stop and since I was only thirty two they wouldn’t give up on me. When I woke up that time I told mother, “God, I feel like I’m waking up after being dead.” She didn’t mention anything to me until a few days later. I had a huge sore on my mouth where they’d clamped the breathing tube and my throat was so sore that drinking Coke was like drinking battery acid. We flew back on December 23rd, and of course the flight was full. We were sitting in the very back of the plane and the cigarette smoke was killing me. When the flight attendant came around for our drink order I said, “I’d like a Sprite, or a Seven Up and could I have the can?” She told me curtly, “No, the flight is full and we may not have enough.” I turned and told mother in a whisper that I knew she could hear, “Then tell her I want two and if she says anything I’m going to get up and kick her ass!” We had to transfer in Dallas and by the time our flight arrived in Midland I was so glad to get home I said, “I’m not waiting for a damned wheelchair I can walk.” My father was waiting at the bottom of the ramp with a shocked look on his face. He didn’t say anything then, but he later told me, “In all my years in the Army, and on the police, force I’ve seen my share of dead people, but I’d never seen anyone look as bad as you still walking around.”

A month or two later my parent’s came to see me one evening and we went to “El Chico’s” for dinner. When the subject of Danny came up my father said, “Your brother is an asshole.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing coming out of his mouth. He said, “You always had a job and worked for everything, your clothes, your car, your spending money, and Danny never worked for a damn thing. Your mother and I paid for every car he ever had and all he did was wreck them and tear them up. He never appreciated a Goddamn thing.” I could tell by the look on my mother’s face that she wanted the ground to open up and swallow her right there. Here my father was telling me things she’d denied for years and she’d have given anything if he hadn’t told me, but my father was disgusted with him. He got over it later, but it took a while.

At my grandmother’s funeral in 1989, Danny and I sat side by side and my mother later told me, “I’m so proud of you boys. You didn’t act up or get in an argument or anything.” I reminded her, “I was never mad, he was the one who got his panties in a wad.” She said, “Well, I guess that’s true.” I spent Christmas 1995 with my parent’s at Danny’s house. His wife shopped all year long for presents and hid them all over the house. The twin girls were sitting in the floor opening gifts so fast you’d have thought it was a contest. They’d tear into a package, look at it for a second, and then toss the present to one side while tossing the wrapping paper to the other side in a heap. Soon you almost couldn’t see them for the huge pile of wrappings. I happened to glance over at Danny he wasn’t aware I was looking and he was slowly shaking his head from side to side. It was a pitiful sight, like sharks in a feeding frenzy surrounded by blood. I wasn’t sure if he was thinking of the over indulgence or the fact that our Christmas’s never looked like that. I personally think it was the sheer volume of presents and the lack of appreciation on the children’s part. I didn’t stay long because it seemed the entire family screamed at each other constantly and it got on my nerves, but I did feel that when I left a fence had been somehow mended and we would see more of each other than we had in the past few years.

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