Saturday, August 21, 2010

Shit Rolls Downhill

The family dynamic. Oh, the volumes that have been written to describe issues such as “Middle Child Syndrome” or “Is your twin Satan?” or whatever. Psychologists have lined countless bookshelves with tomes on why your big brother made you smell his farts under the bedsheets or why little sister microwaved big sister’s Barbie doll. For my family, there was a very simple explanation for this behavior –

Shit rolls downhill.

Yeah, I am the youngest. We were born girl-boy-girl-boy, which I have categorized as my family’s version of the rhythm method. So I have two older sisters and an older brother. And this is going to be a story about the family dynamic from the viewpoint where it seemed most of the shit settled.

The timing of our births tells a lot. The oldest, Barb, was born in 1950. Then in rapid succession came Kenny and Patty in 1953 & 1954. There was a four-year lag (where mom had to rest up I am sure) before I was born in 1958. Picture two bookends with two volumes – The History of World War I and World War II – in between, and you get a rough scope of the dynamic.

I do not mean that as some kind of slap to Kenny & Patty. They were stuck in the middle, and stuck together. They were the team. Barb and I were separated by age from this cabal. Now, in Barb’s case, being the older one, she was mostly above the fray. While Kenny & Patty were plotting overthrows of small countries – or at least of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio – Barb was off to Wendy Ward Charm School, learning how a ‘lady’ walks and which side the salad fork goes on. She got married at age 19, and was gone.

That left Kenny, Patty…and me. Two against one. And that ‘one’ was five or four years younger than them. So picture a 14-year-old Kenny, a 13-year-old Patty…and a 9-year old Jerry. They had pet names for me. Kenny called me Nimrod, and Patty lovingly referred to me as Ricky Retardo. At that point in time, at least 6 city blocks were under their control, and their empire was spreading. I was just trying to figure out which end was up. And not surprisingly, I tailed them around. That did not go over well. Often, three would leave the house and two would return, and mom would ask, “Where’s Jerry?”

Tied to a telephone pole at Harrington Field would have been a good guess.

Patty, being the next-youngest, was often saddled with the task of babysitting me. THAT did not go over well either. Her actions at the time, which I took as abject hatred towards my very existence, were resentments for being separated from her friends in order to watch me. Of course, I did not realize this at the time – “Why does Patty hate me?” was a common refrain. The answer – because I was there. It wasn’t her fault – but it became her responsibility. And as I have come to find out, the worst thing you can do to a 13-year-old girl that wants only to talk on the phone & squeal at the arrival of a piece of fan mail from the Dino Desi & Billy Fan Club, was to babysit Ricky Retardo.

Kenny. Oh my. My CPU will give out long before I can keypunch out our dynamic. But roughly, it was this – I looked up to him for all the wrong reasons. Reasons, to this very day, affect me. But at the formative time of our teen years, Kenny was the man. He got the girls, was naturally cool, confident. I was none of those things - I was nervous, fidgety and a total dork. I wanted to be Kenny. The lesson, some thirty years later, is I cannot be what I am not. Because, to Kenny, they were natural. He didn’t learn them – he was them. And I have slowly learned to be not Kenny’s Little Brother but my own person. Our relationship, to put it midly, has been a combustive one.

Also not surprising are how our personalities have evolved from these formative years. Kenny and Patty are very social creatures. I am not. When Patty turned 50 her friends threw a surprise birthday bash for her. When I turned 50 there were no parties. Because I do not have a large group of friends. Patty plays in a Monday Night golf league with 30-odd friends. I play golf alone. I am not trying to elicit pity - it's just the product of our personalities and where we fit in the family dynamic.

So I write this with a bit of a ‘back through the looking-glass’ mentality. I could never understand why there was shit, why it rolled downhill, and why I was at the bottom collecting it all.

As I found out, the answer was simple.

Because someone had to.

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