Monday, January 19, 2015

I Nearly Blinded My Brother With A Flute

In polite society, my parents won't mention I had a temper growing up. Beneath a pleasant disposition and penchant for snuggling, I harbored rage that was often directed toward my brother, Will. I don't know why, and I don't know where the rage came from, but it was there, and Will often reciprocated with more rage. We've never done any one thing to create an irrevocable rift between us (that I know of) so perhaps like most rage and hatred, it was pointless and random.  Regardless, we both have a childhood furnished with literal and emotional scars. One of William's bottom teeth is off-colored due to the time I pushed his face into a hardwood floor, and I have an anxiety about bumping my shins into things ever since Will bit one of mine so hard a pool of purple blood swelled around his teeth marks.

What's odd is that I think we enjoyed it. Sue me, but the only things I really regret about that era are the times I hurt Will's feelings--the moments when cruelty truly reared its gaunt, clown-like face in full. But the times we got sand in our eyes, or getting a pine-cone smacked into our temples are events I wish we had filmed. Those memories are tucked snuggly in a pocket of my brain unoriginally labeled "boyhood."*

Will and I packed enough physical violence into our daily life that even if we didn't want to hurt each other, we did.

Take the time my parents made the dire mistake of purchasing me this:

The recorder, Satan's flute.
To be fair, my entire third-grade class was required to own a recorder for school. Mine was the only white one out of all 25 of us, because we had already had one somehow. If my life were a movie, this would have been referred to as "foreshadowing," or an "omen," or a "benign signal of imminent disaster." But life is not a movie, and we had no idea.

I took to it fairly quick, playing Hot Cross Buns daily and without end. I learned new songs fast and could twirl it in my fingers like a small baton. The twirling was actually the first trick I learned to do with it before school even started. When our teacher asked if anyone knew how to use it on the first day back, I shot my hand up. As I got up in front of the class and started to spin it instead of blow air into the mouth piece, my classmates lost their minds. OOOHHH, they bellowed, eyes wide like cats who had never seen a ribbon before. Our teacher realized she needed to ask more specific questions if her herd of little assholes were going to properly learn how to play the recorder and torment their families at home.

What she, nor anyone, could have foreseen was the need to inform us (me) of the instruments physical properties--that since the recorder comes in three pieces and can easily be assembled, it can also become unassembled just as easily. Had I known, I could have prevented one of the worst moments in projectile-caused injury in the history of my family. But as I said, there was no way for any right-minded human to imagine I would use my recorder as both a musical instrument and a baseball bat.

It happened on a Saturday afternoon in the kinder months of Summer. Will and I watched TV at our grandparents' house while our parents ran errands. During commercial breaks, I played my recorder while Will slouched further and further into our grandfather's armchair. In an act of false security, we were left unattended (the fools). Neither Pepa, nor Mema checked in while we grew bored. They did not pop in while I crumpled a piece of construction paper into a ball, and began bunting it across the floor with my recorder. They hadn't called down as I grew tired with bunting and excited with the prospect of hitting a mini home run.

As Will reached for his Gameboy, I tossed the ball of paper into the air once more, and with all of my fucking might, I swung. I heard the mouth-piece whistle as it bee-lined for Will's face. I stood stock still for a second, holding the beheaded recorder in terror. Will's hand shot over his right eye and the other eye grew wide and dark. Out of all the infinite points of trajectory in that room, the disembodied mouthpiece took a linear, lightning-fast path to my brother's eyeball. Time and space slowed, like when the lead character in a war movie stops fighting to watch mayhem ensue in all directions.

What followed was a sound I will never forget--the only sound in the world that would make me grateful for dementia later in life. Imagine a tea-kettle coming to a boil, only, instead of a whistle, an air-raid alarm is attached to the spout, and instead of water, magma from the Earth's core is setting it off. That was William's scream. He was so loud and pained it melted my brain stem. It called forth the countless fights, insults and injuries of our past and compressed them into one mental flash-card that read,


As I ran down the hall, screaming for my grandparents, and an ambulance and God himself, I couldn't help but consider the odds of this happening at all. The moment had gone from slow-motion to fast forward: both grandparents entering the room, applying cold compresses to Will's eye, calling my parents, calling the hospital, parents arriving, parents leaving with Will, and grandparents asking me what in the hell happened. When Will returned, he walked through the door wearing an eye patch and an expression that telepathically forgave me but also told me to go fuck myself. Dad informed us that his eye was bruised, but the projectile mouthpiece just barely missed destroying his sense of right-eye vision completely. In that moment, we both aged to adulthood and back.

While the incident forced me to vow more caution and less rough-housing, William's eye continued to suffer. Through no intention of my own, shit kept becoming air-born and smacking him in the same wounded eyeball. I sorted some old comic books and tossed one toward a trash can: it flapped open, changed its flight path and sliced Will's eyebrow. I unbuckled my seat belt upon getting home, and flung the buckle over my shoulder: it caught on my pinky finger, lassoed around the seat, and collided with Will's cornea. With Will in toe, I walked through our front door and kicked off my flip flops: both flew in perfect arcs and landed directly on his face. One-Two. It was as if the cosmos had centered an inordinate amount of energy toward my brother's bruised eye-socket. His wound was a black hole and all free-flying debris would be sucked in.

My father separated us, realizing I was a threat to Will under any circumstance.

"I didn't mean to!" I wailed. This being the desperate plea of all pre-teens. You can't be mad because it was an accident, God Damn it! AN ACCIDENT!!

"I don't care," my dad said, slicing his flat hand through the air, palm down. "You stay on this side of the house, and Will, you go next door. Cover your face."

Poor Willy. He was inured and fate kept salting the wound. The sheer guilt, pain, drama and fucking coincidence of it all forced me to question whether God and Satan were split personalities of the same psychopath. Did I mention this happened a week before Christmas? It did. Will wore an eye patch for three family gatherings and for each pirate-related comment he received, I felt his good eye burn a curse into the back of my neck.

Several Christmases later, I received a delayed karmic punishment by slicing my finger open while cutting carrots. I thought it might be interesting to cut the carrot from the middle by pushing the blade through the carrot's exposed center. I attended three family meals with a bandage the size of a rabbit foot freezing my finger in a permanent point. As I struggled to use a fork, Will regarded me from across the table, wearing a grin that squeezed his massive brown eyes into glimmering, chocolaty slits. He was either pleased that karma had finally sought balance, or that his will to curse me had worked and that he might be a witch. Jury's still out on that one, though it's probably both.


*Girls allowed.

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