I like to think that my relationship with my brother was stronger and deeper than most sisters could claim and it is true. It isn’t that we naturally loved each other more or got along better; it is because during those formative years, we leaned on each other exclusively. Mutual need can create an unbelievable bond.
He is three and a half years older than me and that created the groundwork for my dependence on him through many of life’s detours, potholes and adventures. It is natural for a younger sibling to look to the older one for guidance, since it is likely that they have already gone through the scary experience before. He assured me that my first day of school was nothing to get all worked up about. It was the most fearful experience that I could imagine and his wizened advice was calming for me. Of course, since we were both going to the same one-roomed school and sharing the same classroom (albeit different grade levels) I was greatly relieved to see him just a few rows away from mine. He was very involved in some complicated math problems and I was diddling with the alphabet. It was challenge enough for me.
We were living with my father’s parents in Lithium, Missouri, a remote town not far from the Mississippi River. Lithium was so small that in 2001, the US Post Office declared its zipcode as invalid. We were there because neither of our parents could handle the responsibilities of youngsters at the time. So it was a safe haven for us. For me, anyplace my brother was, was a safe haven. I didn’t remember either of my parents and for now was getting to know my grandparents…my brother-- he was there for as long as I could remember. We spent lots of time together, romping through the countryside, doing farm chores, walking to school and teasing each other as only sister and brother could do.
After some years our father took us away to live with him in Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was a really big city so we stuck together a lot there because it would have been easy for either of us to get lost. The kinds of play changed dramatically; the only outside fun I remember is when the fire hydrants were turned on in the summer and we enjoyed the spray for as long as it lasted. I was in second grade.
Later we moved to Forked River, New Jersey and for the first time we went to different schools. I went to a two room school-house; he went to some regional school that required getting on a bus and a long trip. I sat in awe of his stories. I didn’t know that my brother was turning into a showman; I just ate up everything he had to say. He was my hero.
There was lots of stuff going on in the family that I didn’t really understand. He did. So when the custody battle was really underway for us, I looked to him for support and comfort. We didn’t agree on whom we should stay with. I thought dad was best. Not for his parenting ability or his ability to provide for us, for neither was very good. It was just that I was getting to know him, and that was enough for me. My brother was getting to know him too. They did not see eye-to-eye on many things; so he hoped life with mom would be better. She won and we went to live with her and her new husband.
To say that life was different is an understatement. We lived in an apartment in a two family house in Paterson, New Jersey. Mom didn’t seem to want to spend any time with us now that she won and our step-father played the role of a drill sergeant rather than that of father; life became very different very quickly. We lived in constant fear of retribution for not doing something we were told or doing it wrong. The punishments included being grounded for weeks, no television, eating foods that were totally disagreeable, doing really repulsive chores and for really bad things: beatings with the razor strop.
This was, by far, the biggest city I had ever lived in and the culture was different from anything I had seen so far. People here were more educated and distant, something that I would spend a good deal of time getting used to. I found myself clinging more than ever to my brother.
We continued to go to different schools and soon enough he had his own friends and I had one or two of my own. We were finding our way in the world. The good times we used to know were becoming a thing of the past very quickly. I often found myself remembering the fun we had and how things were just never the same now. It comes with growing up, but it was still hard to accept. I knew we would never have the kind of fun that we used to and yet I hoped for one more chance.
It came when I least expected it. We were still sharing a bedroom and we had gone to bed on a Sunday night at 9PM sharp. We had bunk beds; he was on the top one. At some point well into the night, he leaned over from above and whispered my name ‘till I woke up. He said we could go sledding in the new deep snow that had fallen. I knew for sure he had gone nuts. Was he suggesting that we leave the house at 1:00AM, walk seven blocks to Eastside Park (in the very deep snow), sled and somehow get back home and not have the ‘Drill Sergeant’ find out about it!? He was indeed! This could very well be our last adventure or the death of both of us.
OK. I’m in.
We got to the park and it was empty. What makes this place so special is the lay of the land. The center of the park is a hilltop that is crisscrossed with roads. So once you are to the top of the hill with your sled, you could actually sled the downhill tiers over three different roadbeds and then the final downhill which ends with a baseball field and is bordered on the far side with a highway.
The distance one could travel on the sled probably approximated a half mile! We were sledding for hours, all alone in the middle of the night. It was heaven. Once I actually made it to the highway.
After what seemed like forever we decided it was time to get back home and trudged the seven long blocks back put the sleds away, crept up the stairs and back into our beds. How relieved we were that we were able to get back without being found out. We were both asleep as soon as we hit the pillows.
Sadly, we got back at 5:30 and the alarm went off at 6 for us to get up and get ready for school. I regretted our all night sled-fest for the entire next day and carried the adventure in my soul for the rest of my life.