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The day I left home

Sunday, May 16, 2010

I was two weeks into my last year of high school. I had the coolest, hippiest friends in the world, and I finally, FINALLY had a boyfriend.

I had tolerably annoying parents, a jocky asshole of a slightly younger brother and another, littler brother. It was his birthday, the littlest one. He was thirteen.

While the birthday boy did his homework, my other brother and I were watching television, arguing about who got to choose what to watch. It was probably something like Facts of Life versus Cheers.

Give me the remote control, fuck you, loser, asshole, I hate you, I don't care, you chose the last show, fuck you, loser, asshole. Something along those lines.

These fights, of course, happened all the time.

One fight, a year or two earlier, had also ended badly, with a couple of blows to my left temple, and a mild concussion that meant I couldn't open my mouth wide enough to eat normally for a month. Accused of faking it when I was eating and chewing strangely, my mom insisted I go to the hospital to prove that something was wrong. We went, I was offended, she got her proof.

This fight, on my little brother's 13th birthday, started with a call to turn off the TV and set the table for our birthday dinner. I stomped around angrily, into the kitchen to get the plates, into the dining room to set them around the table.

On the way through the narrow arch that separated the kitchen and the dining room, my brother and I collided. Then he shoved me hard, with both arms, and I reeled backward. I was M-A-D. Outraged.

In my memory this part is silent, all action. But I'm sure I was not keeping quiet. I'm sure I was yelling or crying or both. That was my thing. Not pushing or hitting or wanting to. My thing was yelling and crying (still is).

I tried to get past him again, my hands holding a pile of plates, my shoulder and elbow and hip prepared to help get me through the narrow space.

I don't know if it was an open hand or a closed fist, but I remember it being like a karate chop. To that same left temple. Twice. Hard.

Yelling and crying my way through, I made it to the table to set down the plates, made it to the telephone, and ran into the living room to call my boyfriend. Tears and snot streaming down my face, trying to catch my breath, I told him that my brother, the asshole, had just hit me in the head.

Coming to see what the fuss was all about, my mother overheard me on the phone.

"Oh come on. He did not hit you. You two were just fighting."

Even now, when I think about this moment, I feel a tight ball grow in my stomach and push its way up through my chest into my throat. I feel the most uncontrollable shriek in my throat, pure disbelief, and I feel how it gathers steam and incoherence and rage as it bubbles out, struggling to get past the tight ball that blocks its path. I carried that tight ball, and that shriek, for so long.

I can't think of any other memory, of any other moment in my life, that I recall so physically.

I remember screaming at my mother that it was true, that he had hit me and that it wasn't okay. She asked my brother what had happened, and he shrugged and said that I had shoved him first. And that satisfied my mom.

I had an uncontrollable urge to hurl the cordless phone in my hand against the wall. Uncontrollable, except that I controlled it, absurdly worried about the consequences. Instead, I told my boyfriend that I was headed across the city to his place, that I couldn't stay home any longer.

A minute later I was out the door, my backpack full of my school stuff and a change of clothes. I walked quickly, crying hysterically, unable to catch my breath.

I didn't even think about the fact that I was leaving home. I didn't hesitate, and I didn't look back.

We were in the middle of a transit strike. I walked and walked. It was Rosh Hashanah, with the whole neighbourhood—all of my childhood bullies and their families—walking home from synagogue, showing off their outfits.

Standing on a busy corner, tears streaming down my face, looking impossibly for a taxi, a man pulled up and asked me if I needed a ride. I stepped into his car and told him I would pay him $20 if he would take me downtown to my boyfriend's house.

"I just left home," I told him.

He wouldn't take my money. He told me my brother was an idiot to hit a girl with such nice legs. A hero and a creep. He took me downtown, and I walked a few blocks to my boyfriend's house. I walked up the steps, bawling again, and my boyfriend's mom gave me a big hug and made me a cup of tea.

There was so much anger, and hurt, and loss, for so long.

And two regrets: not having smashed that phone against the wall, and taking a year to reach out to my littlest brother after I left.


This piece was inspired by the third topic - Memory - in Momalom's Five for Ten blogfest.


Deborah said...

I'm lost for words, Mama in Macondo. I'm so sorry. What a wretched thing to happen to you. And I'm guessing that it wasn't just a couple of incidents, but a whole lot of ongoing bullying, of which these horrible events were just the most physically obvious.

Thank you for sharing this story.

Julie said...


macondo mama said...

Thanks Deborah, it is incredibly reassuring to hear you call this bullying, and to recognize how much of it went on. Thank you, really.

Jen said...

I'm at a loss for words. (This is rare.) We all have pasts, of course. But no one assumes someone else's past to be so informed by a memory such as yours. The courage you showed to leave and to write about this time in your life is is is, I can't even say. Remarkable, I guess. Yes. Remarkable!

macondo mama said...

Thanks Jen. It was surprisingly easy to write, actually, it just all came out. I realize I've come a long, long way, though I did feel the same pit in my stomach and shriek in my voice as wrote it.

Deborah said...

it is incredibly reassuring to hear you call this bullying

Alas, I recognise the kind of thing that went on, but not the degree. I have a very dominating older brother, who was intellectually and emotionally bullying. I only recognised it for what is was years later when my husband said something that was so similar to what my brother used to say, and I flared up, because it was safe for me to do so. NB: I am so not trying to say that I've been there too, with respect to your story, because it just wasn't anything like the level of what you experienced. A faint echo of it perhaps, which is why I recognised it.

I get on well enough with my brother these days, because he lives 3 days drive away from me, so I only speak to him a couple of times a year.

macondo mama said...

Deborah, my experience with my brother was also largely one of intellectual and emotional bullying. The physical aspect was just an added bonus, which I guess helped me to stand up to it and get out of there.

My brother actually apologized to me about ten years later (though not actually admitting to much), and while I'm happy to live far away from him, he is a great uncle to my kids, and they adore him.

You have only just now made me think about what kind of more subtle triggers I must have from all of this. Definitely something to think about.

Flo said...

Thanks for posting this story. I really related to your anger at your mum (or am I projecting here?) for not believing you or standing up for you. Such betrayal and very hard to forgive as an adult. Is that something that's an issue for you in regards to this matter? I mean, your brother certainly bullied you - how much do you hold it against her (if at all) for allowing it to happen? For not stepping in? And does it inform the way that you deal with your own children? I don't want to presume anything about this but I am interested in how you've moved through it into adulthood.

macondo mama said...

Flo, you are not projecting at all. This was so much more about my mom than about my brother. It wasn't at all hard to come to terms with the fact that my brother was an asshole, but being so let down and not protected by my mom (or my dad) destroyed our relationship and really messed me up for quite a while. I definitely put the blame for what happened to me on them, for not handling it differently. Years later they apologized to me, and we have rebuilt our relationship somewhat, but there was definitely lots of damage.

Your question about how I deal with my own children is an excellent one. They are still little, so the sibling rivalry and hitting and pushing is both innocent and supervised (and maddening!). I really hope I am able to deal with it appropriately as they get older, without over-reacting and projecting and screwing things up. And I desperately hope that neither of them becomes a violent asshole!

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